City of Screams

Bamiyan, Afghanistan
July 4, 2019
Entering Bamiyan from the east, a small hillock is visible close to the center of town. This, all locals will tell you this is the Shahr-i-Ghoulghoula which translates as the City of Screams. Their eyes light up as they tell you the ghoulish tale. Some add pregnant pauses and dramatic embellishments to garner an appropriate reaction. I hadn’t the heart to disappoint, as I listened.

Chenghiz Khan in his sweeping march across these parts lay waste to much along the way but could not at first breach the moat that surrounded this small kingdom atop the hill. In the best of dramatic traditions, he promised to do so and when he did, vowed to slaughter every living being within, be they man, woman or child. Any such tale can hardly be told without an intriguing love angle and this one is no exception. The legend has it that the daughter of the chieftain falsl in love with one of the Mongol soldiers. Love-struck, she shows them the hidden way into the fortified city. Chengiz Khan keeps his vow and slaughters everyone. The tale goes on to say the screams of the bereaved and dying were so loud that they could be heard from miles around. Not only that, apparently ghosts can outshout the living, because according to local folklore, not a soul could come within miles of this city for years. Hence the name.

Apart from a crumbling watch tower, a few re-built walls and crumbling foundations of the city, nothing remains, but it features prominently on the local tourist trail. It does however have a magnificent 360 degree few from the top. To the north lies the ridge with the Bamiyan Buddhas and the new part of town housing returned refugees, to the southwest is the cave complex of Kanishka, to the south is yet another ridge riddled with caves. And the view to the east stretches all the way to the end of the valley along the road I came by.

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