Visiting The Tomb Of Ahmad Shah Massoud. The Mujahideen were painted as courageous and resilient freedom fighters as they defended their lands from the Soviet invaders in the 1980s. None were more lionized than Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud was an Afghan politician and a military commander who led the guerrilla resistance in the Panjshir Valley. And for many years after, Massoud battled the Taliban as they sought complete control of Afghanistan. Massoud and his Mujahideen preserved the independence of his lands from both the Soviets and the Taliban over two decades of war.
Massoud’s home, the Panjshir Valley, is only 93 miles (150 km) from the capital of Kabul. It is about a three-hour drive with the opportunity to pass by the vast Baghram US military base. Over 1,000,000 people make their home in the valley with Afghanistan’s largest population of ethnic Tajiks. Panjshir means Valley of the Five Lions and Massoud is known as the Lion of Panjshir. The Panjshir is a stable and secure area, compared to the rest of Afghanistan.
The Lion of Panjshir was heralded as a tenacious military commander but he was also a scholar. Massoud was schooled in France and was fluent in four languages. The CIA officers (as quoted by author Steve Coll in Ghost Wars) admired Massoud greatly. “They saw him as a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage. Massoud was a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability, they thought. … In his house there were thousands of books: Persian poetry, histories of the Afghan war in multiple languages, biographies of other military and guerilla leaders. In their meetings Massoud wove sophisticated, measured references to Afghan history and global politics into his arguments. He was quiet, forceful, reserved, and full of dignity, but also light in spirit. The CIA team had gone into the Panshjir as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened.”
The Lion was tragically assassinated on September 9, 2001. The assassination is thought to have been organized by Osama bin Laden in anticipation of the terror attacks on 9/11. Bin Laden killed Massoud to protect Bin Laden’s allies, the Taliban, and to ensure their cooperation as a continued protector with the anticipated future attack of the US after Bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Center. The assassins deceptively posed as journalists hoping to interview Massoud. Upon meeting him, the assassins detonated a bomb hidden in their camera. Later that year, Afghan President Karzai awarded Massoud the title of “Hero of the Afghan Nation”.
On a cool, crisp autumn morning in November, our group of travelers departed our generic, guest house in Kabul. Our group of eight (six travelers and two guides) spread ourselves over three battered cars. The rationale was for our group to blend in, not to stick out in brand-new, black Land Rovers with tinted windows.
I traveled with Untamed Borders, who specializes in challenging locales like Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan. Untamed Borders was the sponsor of my adventure in Afghanistan. The traffic in Kabul is thick, overflowing with vehicles of every size. Smoke and fumes seem to continually waft into my car, making me wish for clean air
We exited the city and followed the road to Panjshir Valley. While there were less cars, the traffic was no better. The roads were not built for this slew of cars. We passed small villages, a tank graveyard, and military bases as we progressed to the valley.
We entered the mouth of the valley and we stopped at a military checkpoint. A group of soldiers with smiles looked over our passports, a bit surprised of our visit. The mountains provided a natural barrier for Massoud to protect his people. And this military checkpoint served the same purpose. These soldiers controlled who came in and out of the valley.
The road winded through the mountains and hugged the Panjshir River. We passed a handful of villages, one just a remnant after being destroyed by the Russians years ago. And occasionally, we noted the shell of a tank dotting the landscape. Portraits of Massoud are ubiquitous, his profile maybe the most well-known in all of Afghanistan. He is commemorated across the nation every September 9 on Massoud Day. Visiting The Tomb Of Ahmad Shah Massoud.
The cars snaked up a final twist and the group arrived on top of a hill overlooking the valley. While not complete, I had arrived at the Tomb of Massoud complex. The tomb complex had been constructed to honor and house the remains of the Lion of Panjshir. I strolled down a stone path with unfilled fountains and entered the complex mausoleum.
A giant photo of Massoud greeted me as I entered the complex mausoleum.
I entered an open area with a 75-foot stone tower facing me, complete with arches and a dome. This was the Tomb of Massoud.
After taking off my shoes, I entered the compact room. I came face to face with a somber black tomb. The final resting place of Ahmad Shah Massoud.
On the edge of the hill’s plateau were two mini-tank graveyards, showcasing the defeat of the Soviet Union with a collection of Soviet tanks and guns.
On the far end of the valley, you could spy Massoud’s home.
Outside of the complex was a nearly finished mosque. Construction worries scurried around the holy structure.
And like any good monument around the world, there is of course a gift shop.
I took a spin around the Mausoleum Store and found the expected chotskies of books, commemorative plates, and t-shirts all bearing the likeness of Massoud.
But oddly, the souvenir shop doubled as an average convenient food store, stocked with the latest shampoos, glassware, and even frying pans. I did purchase and eat a tasty Snickers bar.
We headed back on the road. The group had a light lunch at a restaurant next to the river and then returned to Kabul, taking a different route which passed the massive US military base, Baghram. Two surveillance blimps floated over the base during the twilight of the evening. The base sat back from the road, surrounded by walls, brightly lit up. In darkness, we arrived back in our guest house in dark, tired but satisfied with our adventure to the Panjshir Valley.
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