Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Trees of Kabul

The sun is well overhead, but you would not know it by this picture.
The trees almost intertwine over this road.
In places such as this in Kabul where there are one-way streets,
a tree-filled park often fills the space between the roadways.

A couple people have commented on how dry things look here. And yes, especially this time of year, there is not much rain. It spits on occasion – usually in the evening. Most of the precipitation that falls comes in the form of snow…lots of snow…during the winter months. There are, however, well-stocked aquifers below the surface. The problem is getting it to the surface in quantities useful for agriculture. The Afghans once had that problem fixed, but first the Mongols (back in the 1200's) and then the Soviets wrecked the irrigation systems.

A broad one-way avenue with a park to the left and vendor's stalls placed beneath the trees on the right. Note the wet pavement on the right. Kabul residents tend to be a bit free with water since they have it in abundance. Even with the city six times larger than before the wars, there is no shortage of water.

A closeup of the jungle, I mean park, just off the roadway.

Villages tend to be built where the water is closer to the surface and therefore easier to extract. Kabul has existed for perhaps 3,000 – 5,000 years. The city is near the base of the Hindu Kush next to the Kabul River, which during summer months is little more than a stream. The city benefits from the spring snow melt, but much of the water disappears below the surface long before it reaches Kabul. However, that water still reaches Kabul because the city sits on top of a very large aquifer. The aquifer is so close to the surface that trees – large trees – thrive here.

This median is filled with trees, though some of the older ones in this picture bear the scars of war. The median is at best six feet wide. If it is possible to grow a tree at all in a particular patch of soil, the Kabul residents will plant one there and nurture it.

Kabul once had many more trees, but the Soviets cut down most for security reasons (the mujahadeen hid in them to snipe at the Soviets). After the Soviets left and the warlords fell to fighting one another, the city was shelled for almost three straight years from 1993 to 1996, destorying or damaging more trees. Then when the Taliban was in power, they paid little attention to planting new trees. Since the Taliban’s fall, trees are being planted at a dizzying pace.

Another tree-filled neighborhood.

Most of my earlier pictures haven’t shown lots of trees, or they were of the smallish variety. So today I’m putting up pictures of tree-lined streets and parks. Afghans love their trees, but Kabul residents take that love to a different level. They are exceedingly proud of their trees – rather like proud parents. The fact that the Soviets cut down so many trees almost angers the locals more than all the other damage.

Late afternoon sun barely touches this Kabul street.
The overall effect of so many trees is that Kabul is cooler than it
may have been otherwise regardless of altitude.


Charles Gramlich said...

Amazing to think of a place so ancient as 3, to 5 THOUSAND years. Such history.

Travis Erwin said...

Great shots and information. You are giving me an education and a new way to think about the area.

J. L. Krueger said...


This country is also full of archealogical wonders. Once the insurgency is defeated and security more assured, I can see this country being developed for archealogical and geological tourism.


In your copious spare time, read "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns", by Khaled Hosseini. Though both books are fiction, they provide some excellent insights to the Afghan culture.

It is sometimes hard to believe, given the vast store of information that is available and the tools for finding that information, that so little is known of so many places on this planet.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Coming from someone who is losing a town full of trees (not to mention Rocky Mountain National Park) to Pine Beetle destruction, I understand their outrage.

I've always felt an affinity for Afghanistan because pix I've seen reminds me of Colorado. I'd better finally read The Kite Runner.

J. L. Krueger said...


Yes, the mountains are pretty majestic here. Supposedly the slopes were once covered with trees, but millenia of human habitation have taken their toll.

On a clear day from the top of Darulaman Mountain we can see the Hindu Kush with its snow-capped peaks.

The Muse said...

Those are magnificent trees! I never knew how beautiful it was there until now--thanks to you.

Take care!

Ello said...

Great photos! Amazing history. The previous post and this really gave me such a juxtaposition of old and new, west and east. You have to tell us what an average day is like for you there.

J. L. Krueger said...


There is a lot of beauty here in spite of the war and other ugliness. The tourist possibilities are endless...if we can get control of the violence.


More pictures to come along with more on my day here in a later's on my "to do" list. I will say briefly that from 06:00 in the morning until about 19:00 (7PM) I am "outside the wire" or "out among them". Very few of our soldiers get to see the Afghans "in their natural habitat". It is quite an experience.

J. L. Krueger said...


Oh, I did forget to mention that I am guarded by Americans or NATO guys for a total of about 3 hours each 24 hour period. The rest of the time, including when I am asleep, I am protected by Afghans. My driver is an Afghan. I live in an Afghan house in the middle of an Afghan neighborhood "somewhere" in Kabul (can't say for security reasons).

Most of the time I have to trust my Afghan friends and I work to "blend in" when I'm out and about.