There are two entries in Wikipedia for Chaghcharan.
Chaghcharān (Persian: چغچران) is a town and district in central Afghanistan, as well as the capital of Ghor Province. It was formerly known as Ahangaran. The main inhabitants of Chaghcharan are Tajiks. It is located on the southern side of the Hari River, at an altitude of 2,280 meters above sea level. Approximately 15,000 people live in the town, making it the largest in the province. Chaghcharan is linked by a 380-kilometre-long highway with Herat to the west and about the same distance with Kabul to the east. Due to severe weather, the road is often closed during winter and even in summer it can take three full days to drive from Chagcharan to Kabul.
There is an airstrip, located north and west of the Hari River, one mile east/northeast of Chaghcharan. It is approximately 1800 metres in length, unpaved and capable of supporting small to medium sized aircraft.
In 2004, an independent FM radio station راديو صداي صلح or ‘Voice of Peace Radio’ opened in the town, the first independent media in this part of Afghanistan.
Chaghcharan District is one of the most populated districts in Ghor Province (115,000 in 2005). It is a mountainous district. The winter is severe and the roads are inaccessible because of the snow. The district center Chaghcharan is also the capital of the province. It is situated at at 2268 m elevation. The drought seriously affected the agriculture — the main source of income. There are a hospital and secondary schools in the district center, but because of the bad roads and severe weather they are hardly accessible to the rural population. Most of the population is Aimaq Hazara.
The first states that the people are mostly Tajik. The second correctly states that the people of Chagcharan are mostly Aimaq. The Aimaq are a Shi’a people closely related to the Hazara of Afghanistans Hazarajat.
I have been trying to get to Chaghcharan for the past 18 months to train the ANP Province Logistics Cadre. Always before some problem arose. Some unseen event would halt our progress and keep us away. Either personnel on the ground were busy or out of the net or the winter snows would forestall progress in our travel. We’d get bumped from the flight. The flight would be cancelled due to weather or the aircraft would break down on the flight line or be re-routed. Something would happen to keep us from getting there. All plans came to naught.
Finally, Shoaib and I made it up there. I didn’t trust it until we actually landed. Kept waiting for a sudden snow storm or the aircraft to run out of fuel and need to re-direct to Bagram or Kabul or worse, yet, Qandahar. Who knows. It’s happened before.
Heading out on leave, I was flown from Herat to Kabul. Somehow, we were re-routed to Qandahar for a fuel stop. We landed. I looked out the window and told my fellow passengers that we were in Qandahar. They thought I was crazy. I recognized the place though because I’d been there a couple of times with another company. I just started laughing as the flight crew stepped back to apologize for the landing and explained that neither Kabul or Herat had fuel readily available so we had to land in Qandahar to fuel up. That pit stop turned a 1 hour 45 minute flight into a 5 hour ordeal. Making matters worse was that we had been on the flight line for 10 hours prior to that flight because 3 other flights had been canceled that day. We were happy as hell, though, when we landed in Kabul. Not a complaint one. We were just happy to finally make it and be in position to make it out for our respective R&Rs.
Back to Chaghcharan…
We board a Canadian ISAF flight to Chaghcharan from Herat. Shoaib and I are both afraid to get our hopes up. We both want to get up into the mountains and finally do some work in Chor Province. Shoaib had lived and worked there previously. He was a Terp for the Lithuanian contingent. He’d spent two years up there. I am fascinated by the history of the region and would really like to experience as much of Afghanistan as possible before I finally give up this region and head home or wherever I end up after the Stan.
The Canandians are funny. A little female NCO comes and briefs us and clears the military passengers weapons. She gives us the safety brief and tells us that it’s a short flight so we should keep our IBA and Helmets on for the whole of the flight. Then. She leads us to the aircraft. We climb aboard.
We roll down the tarmac and go wheels up. Almost safe.
I don’t think they turned the heat on during the flight. No matter. I was prepared and bundled up in my fleece, Palestinian scarf and combat gloves. I was warm. I strap myself in. Put my helmet on and prepare to catch a nap.
Shoaib sits on the web seating and tries to work the seat belt. I watch him as he stares at it befuddled and then show him how to work the clasp. All the while chuckling. I had assumed that he’d been on a C130 before.
Apparently, he hadn’t.
45 minutes later, we land.
I’m excited as hell.
We made it.
18 months in the making. We’re in Chaghcharan. I’ve read about the place and never thought I’d ever actually make it there.
We climb down the stairs to exit the aircraft and walk onto the dirt runway.
There are three little buildings. One of which is an outhouse. The other two are locked up and look to have been out of commission for quite a few years.
We’re greeted by the PRT welcome wagon. A mix of US and Coalition soldiers from Lithuania, Denmark and Croatia. They load our bags into some Toyota pick up trucks and we jump in for the short ride to the FOB.
FOB Whiskey. PRT Whiskey. Depending on who is talking to you. It’s a smallish FOB in the middle of the Hari Rud river basin. It looks like they diverted the river with a canal the runs around the base and into town. Even so, when the river swells in the wiinter rain months, the FOB floods and the plywood walking planks, I’m told, float as you walk on them.
We should be returning at that time. So we may get to experience the floating planks.
We meet our military sponsors. They show us to our Five Star Hotel. A not well insulated tent with very inadequate heating that is as dusty as the roads out in town. No matter. I’m happy to be there.
It’s a decent FOB. Pretty good chow. Same day laundry service. Decent gym. Surrounded by Hescos, Concertina wire and 12 ft tall fencing. As safe as any place in Afghanistan. Chaghcharan is a pretty sleepy town. Not too much activity of any sort. If the Taliban are there, they’re sleeping and waiting to go somewhere else to cause trouble. FOB Whiskey hasn’t had problems of any sort for almost a year.
We settle in. Grab a bunk and are given a tour of the FOB. Not much to see and won’t go into it here. The highlight is the MWR house with pool tables–Russian and regular. It also houses a small internet cafe with intermittent internet access. Every Thursday, the Coalition forces have a beer night. 3 beer limit. The US forces can not imbibe. General Order #1 prohibits the consumption of alcohol in Afghanistan. That lovely throwback to our puritan roots that makes absolutely no sense to me.
I sit down with my military sponsor and we put together a plan. He briefs me on the Ghor Province Commander and Logistics Cadre. Giving me a rundown of shortcomings and items that he’d like me to include in my instruciton. Fuel and Accountability. We talk about the usual problems that he has noted during his tour in Chaghcharan. We plan out the next two weeks.
By that time, it’s getting late. I head off to bed.
I can’t talk too much about our routes and training. So I’ll leave that part out of here for now.
The rest of the week is left to coordinating travel.
As we travel around to various sites, we drive through the town of Chaghcharan to and from the Province HQ. We visit the Generals house. Hit up a few check points to see if they are supplied correctly or manned at all. All seems well.
I always carry my camera on these trips. Along the way, I snap random photos.
We drove up to a check point and supply point in the hills surrounding Chaghcharan. On the way to one of them, we stop at an old Russian Fort. It looks old. Like Great Game old. Late 1800s or so. I grab my camera and take pictures of the surrounding area. It’s beautiful country. Greenery. Desert. Mountains. Roads heading off towards places like Sagar and Pasaband. A road that one can follow straight to Kabul. The same road that took the author of The Places In Between from Herat to Kabul. Beautiful. It’s like being on top of the world up there. You can see for miles in every direction.
After we finish with our mission of training the ANP Logistics Cadre, it’s time for us to head back. We manifest for a Sunday flight. That flight gets canceled. I get a little worried. Next flight out is Tuesday. So that Sunday, we head back to the PHQ to mentor the Province Logistics Commander.
Tuesday. We make the flight. Early flight. We rise at OH DARK Thirty. Pack our bags and equipment on a Toyota truck and head out to the airfield. We are getting a ride on the mail flight. It’s a Blackwater flight. Old Russian Bird. We wait out on the airstrip for about 45 minutes and she lands. We climb aboard.
What a difference in conditions. It’s a heated civilian bird. Seats like a 747. But big and cushy. HEAT! EXCELLENT HEAT! Best of all….WINDOWS!
I can take photos along the way on the flight back to Herat. I must have taken a couple of hundred photos. Some are below. I’m pretty syked about this. I know somewhere in our flight path is Jam and it’s 1000 year old Minaret. I would love to visit this site. Get down there and touch it, smell it. Get a feel for it. It was built by the rulers of the Ghorid Empire sometime during their reign in the area. 1088 or so. It’s one of those places that was forgotten and re-discovered. It’s a 60m tall Minaret with the Mary Sura from the Qu’ran written around the whole of the body of the Minaret. It’s in surprisingly good shape for a monument from antiquity.
We had a smooth flight and an even smoother landing. Once we land, Shoaib and I jump off the aircraft. Offload our bags and drag them to the pick up point. I send Shoaib home and wait for my ride. First order of business when I land is to call my boss and let him know that I’m “home.”
Then I call Habibi. It’s been a little over a week since I’ve talked to my diminutive sweetheart and I can’t wait to talk to her. I call her up and…get her answering service. She’s at work and has her phone turned off. I laugh. I guess I’ll have to wait to talk to Unny.
I sit down, pull out my book and wait for my ride back to homebase. Two hours later, I’m in my hooch relaxing.
Later that night, I finally get through to Unny and my heart smiles to finally hear her voice. 54 more days and I’ll be with her in Bangkok. We’ll have our party at Bedsupper Club on Soi 11. Then we head out for our 9 day tour of Vietnam. Backpacker style.
Very excited about this trip.
Below are the pictures that I took along the way in Chaghcharan. Lots of pics. I took approximately fifteen hundred photos up there. I’ve included a little over a hundred of the best for this blog.
I hope you enjoy them.