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Notes from Afghanistan: Bamiyan

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Our friend NPR's Renee Montagne has just returned from a month-long reporting trip to Afghanistan. She joins us in our studio to give us a peak inside of her Reporter's Notebook.

Renee, welcome back.

RENEE MONTAGNE: Well, thanks, Scott. Glad to be back.

SIMON: And I want to talk to you about Bamiyan, a place where very notably the Taliban destroyed these two enormous statues of Buddha that were carved in the hills. My producer, Peter Breslow, and I were there in earlier 2002, not long after the Taliban had fled, and were just so overwhelmed by the emotional power of the place. Now, I understand that you had a hard time just getting there?

MONTAGNE: Scott, it was a 10-hour drive through the mountains up to Bamiyan from Kabul. And it speaks a little to some of the conditions in Afghanistan and how things have not been fixed up. Because I think, you know, it took you six hours back in 2002.

SIMON: Something like that.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Well, the roads have deteriorated. Nothing has really been much done. Lots of promises made. In fact, a paved road is in the works come this spring, for, say, a third of the trip to Bamiyan, and then it's over. And more money needs to be found. But once you get there - and you saw this, Scott - it is the most astonishing site.

SIMON: Yeah. What do the Buddhas or the absence of the Buddhas look like now? I just remember these great gouged spaces in the hills.

MONTAGNE: Yes. It silhouettes, if you will. Huge, tall, tall, spaces. We were able, and I think this - in fact, I know this happened with you because I remember your story. We able to go up, crawl up, walk up actually, in the catacombs...

SIMON: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: ...in the caves that are kind of webbed in the rocks, inside the rocks, behind the Buddhas. And you walk up to the top and you find yourself inside the caves behind the Buddha. And there is one spot - now, at this point in time - it would be the very top of the back of the Buddha's head. It's only about three feet, four feet, but there cannot be more than four inches that you can touch your tip of your toes on. And I'm telling you, Scott, I cannot remember being afraid in that one - like that when I got into the middle and let my hand on the soft rock...

SIMON: You are on the top of the world at that point.

MONTAGNE: I was.

SIMON: I mean, you understand what they say about that mountain range, that it belongs to the sky and not to the ground.

MONTAGNE: That's how it felt. And I felt like one little slip of my toe and - it would be a wonderful way to go, though, actually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, we'd get a lot of hits on our Web site, I'm sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, thanks. NPR's Renee Montagne.

MONTAGNE: Scott, it was a pleasure to be with you.

SIMON: You're going to be able to hear her full report from Bamiyan next week on MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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