Photos from Afghanistan

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Around Herat, western Afghanistan

The countryside around Herat contrasts with a relatively green city. It is quite barren and dusty, but here are the fields where farmers till the soil with their wooden ploughs. And the markets in the city testify to their success. But the drought is, of course, an always present threat. There used to be an elaborate network of irrigation channels in Herat’s heyday, but these had largely fallen into disrepair during the city’s violent episodes.

Kuchi women
Small Kuchi girl
Mud brick houses
Mosque outside Herat
Guard of the Tomb
Kuchi nomad camp
Kuchi nomads
Kuchi carpet making
Making a carpet
Kukchi nomad girl
The broken minarets
Musalla Complex
Mud brick fortress
Farmer at work
Farming near Herat
Ploughing the field
Relaxing near Herat

Just outside the city is the Musallah Complex, founded by Empress Gawhar Shad, the wife of Timurid ruler Shah Rukh (1405-1447) in 1417. The madrasa (theological school) was probably built in 1417 and a mosque in 1426. Sultan Husain’s Madrasa was most likely built around 1493. In 1863, the tops of the minarets were destroyed by artillery fire. In 1885, Amir ’Abd ar-Rahman (1880-1901), the British supported Amir of Afghanistan, razed the ruins in an attempt to prevent its use as a base by the Russian army. The four huge broken minarets are all that remains of the madrasa.

In the shadow of those minarets were the black tents of a family of Kuchi nomads. Kuchis (from the Persian word Koch meaning “migration”), are Pashtun nomads, mostly from the Ghilzai, Kakar, Lodi, Ahmadzai as well as some Durrani tribes. Expert carpet weavers, the women do not wear the all-enveloping “chaderi” or “burqa”. There are three million Kuchis in Afghanistan, with at least 60% remaining fully nomadic. They have however suffered greatly in the past two decades of war and destruction; for most Kuchi life means poverty, war, shrinking access to land, ethnic tensions and leftover land mines.