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Yogi's Travel Diary

Architect Georgios Toubekis from RWTH travel 6 weeks through the Bamiyan region. In this blog here he reports his experiences and findings.


14th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 29, 2007
14th Day

Niche of the Small Buddha in Bamiyan 2007

Today I travel back to Kabul by plane together with the Italian Rockengineers who are to examine the condition of the backwall of the Buddha niches. They arrived the day ealier from Dubai where their luggage has been lost. They desperately await some information on when they can receive it as important equipment needed for the examinations on site are in the lost suitcases. In a joint visit on the site together with the ICOMOS restorer and the italian experts the sucess of the previous consolidation works is confirmed. All of us are convinced that further security measures have to be implemented in the next phase. A mayor threat for the whole site is the permanent ongoing erosion process of the cliff, that weakens and washes out the soft components of the conglomerate material. As a result large surface shallows desintegrate and fall down to the ground. The erosion process of the whole cliff is a natural process visible everywhere which addresses new issues on the long term protection for the site.

11th-13th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 29, 2007

Since the bomb explosion this morning all plans for my stay in Kabul have to be changed again. The security situation has been worse since ever in the last days. As an effect people try to avoid movements on the street. As a result the Kabul traffic is less than usual but in return the telephone network collapses. It is almost impossible to make a phone call without loosing the connection in the middle of the conversation several times. I have to cancel my visit to ISAF Headquaters after a security advice issued by the UN Security and several embassies to avoid Jalalabad road. I do not leave the house and try to organize the transport of the scaffold material deposited in the ISAF camp by other means. I spent several hours on the phone until the delivery has been resheduled. In the following days I have frutiful talks with UNESCO on some of their future activities in Bamiyan. Together with the Governors office and local UNAMA they prepare a proposal that is aimed to promote a sustanaible and cutural sensitive tourism in the Bamiyan Valley in order to generate income possibilities for the people in this area. Previous to that a complete deminig of the Bamiyan Valley has to take place. There have been accidents with unexploded ordnance (UXO) recently in which 3 children have been killed that played with remainings of the war from years ago. Also some old cluster bombs have been found recently in the area of the airfield again by playing children. The Government of Japan is going to provide the necessary funding for this activity that will take some years until it will be completed. As I cannot leave my accomodation to often due to security reasons I use the opportunity to make some tests on the community website. The guesthouse provides internet connection as long the generator of the Guesthouse is running. The generator is switched of during the night when city electricity comes. The internet connection is around 40kbps but it is very unstable and breaks down completely when city electricity comes. Also the download of even very simple pages has to be repeated several times as the connection to server gets lost quite often. As a result the upload of content becomes a painstaiking effort and I try to adapt by reducing the size to images to a minimum. I achieve good upload results with images sizes less than 100KB. The more time an action takes the higher is the risk to loose the connection and start the whole upload procedure again. In the worst case also the text content gets lost and I have to start everything from the beginning again.

10th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 19, 2007
10th Day

Trip to Kabul through Shibar Pass, Ghorband Valley and Parwan District. Although it is just 160 km the trip takes time as the road condtions in the Gorband Valley are quiet devastating. Floods have relocated the riverbed. For some kilometers the road has dissappeared in the flushing water. A narrow path has been opened just enough for one truck to pass. If two cars meet incidentelly one has to stop or to pull back leaving the other to pass by along the dangerous edge. An old man equipped with just a shovel fills the holes that the tires leave in the soft conglomerate stone. His action prevents this provisional road to close completly. Passengers passing by throw some coins out of the window to reward the effort. I am told by the driver that this used to be common in old times when there were hardly machinery available. Driver is going very fast, we make it in just 7 hours from Bamiyan to Kabul City center. When we enter in Kulola Pushta Road around noon we are all surprised to meet a car from FAO coming from the Kabul airport. Insided the car some experts that left Bamiyan around one hour ago and returned to Kabul by Helicopter.

9th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 18, 2007
9th Day

Small Buddha June 2007

Today friday again, no formal obligations or meeting to attend so time to inspect the site of the Buddhas carefully. As a first surprise the gate to the Small/Eastern Buddha is wide open. Some young people have climb around the staircases and the galleries. The old problem uncontrolled access without accompaning guard to instruct visitor where to go and even more important where not to go. Together with my collegue we check the installed scaffold. The installed fenced has been broken and some wooden pillars disappeared. Minor incidents, but the fencing has definetly to be improved. We check the path leading up to the Buddha rainfalls have left their traces and the edges of the small path have been weakend. Before a loader can go up we have to repair the wall a little bit. Taking a closer look to the instable backside of the niche with start a long discussion on the preservation strategy for this case. Loose shallow parts impose a danger and have to be consolidated. The decision if these parts have to be nailed to the backwall or removed carefully has to taken by the joint expert group which will meet hopefully again by the end of the year. Until then some strategies have to be elaborated and prepared for open discussion.

8th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 16, 2007
8th Day

View from east towards Shar-e Gholghola

This morning I present myself at the office of the Bamiyan Governor Dr. Habiba Sarabi. The lays out her recent activities on preservation of the Bamiyan Site which should follow up our Master Plan Conference of 2006. Wiht funds of New Zeeland (NZAID) she successfully installed a proffessional training program that is aimed to strengthen capacities of govermental staff officials. The next training course is sheduled to take place on 9th to 12th of July and will focus on Cultural Heritage Preseravation and Protection of the Cultural Landscape of Bamiyan. Later there is a meeting with Head of UNAMA ofice in Bamiyan Ms. Heran Song. She is responsible and very active in the coordination of UN-activities in the valley. She explains that there are discussions going on to bring a major sustainable tourism program to Bamiyan that should combine the promotion of cultural diversity and income generation possibilities for the population with a duration of several years. But first the complete demininig of Bamiyan must be realised as most heritage sites are still heavily mined as the old city of Shahr-e Gholghola. In this conversation I mention the low response on our efforts to set up a community system for the development community in Bamiyan. As she is convinced that this freelance initiative is very important for the coordination of activities she assures her appreciation for the project and asks me to transmit many thanks to everybody who is involved in this project. She admits that her personal computer skills and those of many others in Bamiyan are not far developed. She is aware that such a tool requiere a certain effort from the users side in order to understand its functionalities and benefits. We agree to focus on an workshop on the usage of the system in around two weeks. UNAMA will provide the space and the trainees I will think of some tasks the group should perform.

7th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 13, 2007
7th Day

NZ-PRT soldiers on the roof

Early in the morning UNAMA security give instructions to avoid bazaar area and governmental headquaters during the morning hours. An announced demonstration will take place as solidarity expression of the local population for some villageres behinde the Koh-e Baba mountains in a neighbouring province which have lost their houses in violent clash of different ethnic groups. Some New Zeeland PRT soldiers observe the scene and use the roof of our Cultural Center as observation point as it provides a wonderul view on the scenery of the Bamiyan Valley. Ethnic tensions have rised recently but a local engineer calms me down. "We are used to shoot and to hit each other that is nothing. When you see rockets flying than you know it is severe." I really do not feel much relieved from this statement as it reveals to which dergree agression and hostility is regarded as "normal" in this country. I wonder if this country will gain enough time so that it citizens obtain the opportunity to experience other means of coexistence than those usual today.

6th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 13, 2007
6th Day

UN-Helicopter

I arrived in Bamiyan after a 50 minutes UNAMA helicopter ride. The ride is much more interesting then going by plane as you have time to explore the landscape beaneath you. It is even less bumpy but the noise and the vibrations are more than irritating as they change during the flight and you have no idea why. The landing of this russian machine was a scaring surprise as it has also separate flight engines so it touched ground with unxecpected velocity as an airplane does. An other surprise was the 150 people delegation that lined up in front of the helicopter. All of us the nine passengers of the heli looked at each other in order to identify who the person is that so much honor is given. Finally it turned out that a VIP guest was expected, the director of Afghan Wireless the second largest Afghan Telecom Provider. He turned up half an hour later with two governmental helicopter for the inauguration of the second mobile phone network in Bamiyan central Valley. A new antenna stands now high above the hill behind the airport. I am told that National TV is also broadcasting now and that Roshan the leading mobile carrier in Afghanistan has set up more antennas in Bamiyan Valley so that you can have now phonecalls from the peaks of the Koh-e Baba mountain range at an altitude of 4000m. Mobile phone market is radipdly growing in Afghanistan. In Kabul the market competition has led to technical innovation (at leat according to national standards). New providers provide low budget SIM Cards and charge in 1/sec intervalls, a vary interesting feature as connection cut offs are quite common here. Mobile phones are of course status symbols and you sometime really wonder where the literally poor man finds the cash to charge his mobile phone credit.

5th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 11, 2007
5th Day

Every day is a new challenge in this country as nothing comes the way it is planned. I have been early at the airport for my flight to Bamiyan and wait for hours at the UN-Terminal somewhere between the main airport builduing and the military section of the airport. Finally the flight is cancelled for technical problems. No information when the next flight to Bamiyan will be sheduled. Hanging on the telephone again my contacts in Bamiyan help me to get a ride with official UNAMA delegation going to Bamiyan tommorow morning. The unexpected delay gives opportunity to make some more telephone calls and visits. I pass by the German Embassy to explain to the Culture Departement our programm for the next weeks and to hand over some posters that have been produced during the 5th Bamiyan expert working grouop December 2006 in Aachen University. I also get in contact with an ISAF press officer who will be writing very likely a report on the Buddhas in the course of the summer.

4th Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 10, 2007

Today the warm dusty wind in the city and the heat of the discussions left me exhausted. Severall meetings with our partners at Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Urban Development. The atmosphere is friendly but the problems responsible authorities face are unbelievable. Promising activities cannot be continued because of dispute of procedures coming from Ministry of Finance. Main problem have become those projects that where intended to create income generation for governmental instutions (i.e. the Cultural Center ) as the Ministry of Finance claims all governmental revenues to be transferred to the main governmental accounts from where they cannot be released again. The crisis has come so far that good people we have trained in the past have resigned and give up their responsibilities. It has become obvious that adminstrative procedures which the govermental institutions have to follow have become an obstacle for development. It is the bureaucracy that has eaten up at least the energy and believe of motivated people in this country.

3rd Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 10, 2007
3rd Day

I made a visit to the United Nations Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (UNMACA) an institution that is coordinatind deming activities throughout whole Afghanistan. Due to more than twenty years of military conflict it is the most contaminated country in the world. Thanks to previous information provided by UNESCO to the UNMACA office and the pictures from the last year campaign I showed it was not very difficult to receive assistance for the forthcoming activities in Bamiyan. The ATC#7 has already been deployed to Bamiyan and can be approached for assistance. On my ongoing research on mobile technologies in Afghanistan I received information that Dubais largest national telecommunications provider will soon open business in Afghanistan. They are now the fifth in the row of mobile telephone providers in this country.

2nd Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 08, 2007
2nd Day

Today it is Friday, weekend in this region of the world. I have the pleasure to be invited for lunch in the Serena Hotel, a ressort of high class accomodation and particularly famous for its weekend buffet. Searching the net for some background information on the history of this builduing I come along this 3D Modell http://sketchup.google.de/3dwarehouse/details?mid=4971be241e6710cf532e595dfe6533d8 at Google 3D-Galerie. Looking for more Details I see that the user janitor has created an excessive collection of different SketchUp 3D model from Kabul. I will try to reach the creator of this models to find out of more on his motivation on this project.

1st Day

Posted by gtoubekis Published: Jun 08, 2007
1st Day

Burj Dubai

Despite the chaos that Cyclone Gonu left in Oman and over the Indian ocean I arrived in sunny Kabul after a quiet and smoothe flight from Dubai where I arrived the night before. What has left a remarkable impression on me was not only the air temperature of 34° C at midnight but most of all the emerging Dubai Skyline with its new creation the Burj Dubai tower growing our of the mist. Those not familiar with these project should check http://www.burjdubai.com/. Directly upon my arrival I started with my most common activity trying to get my partners by phone. Before I get rid of my luggage in the late afternoon I manage to settle the opden machinery issue supposed to assisted the recovery work in Bamiyan I receive a phone call from ISAF that our scaffold material will be delivered to Kabul by plane within the next weeek and I meet our partners in UNESCO who give me a brief (2,5h) summary on the recent activities in the cultural field.