There are about 3000 caves around the giant Buddha statues on the mountain cliff in Bamyan. Centuries ago, Buddhist monks used to live in these caves, whenever they traveled the valley. The visiting monks used to stay there at nights during pilgrimage to the sacred Buddha statues for temporary periods. Evidences prove Budhist monks lived in these caves till seventh century.
Today there are over 300 families currently in these caves living a life of stone-age. Most of these families are victims of Taliban brutality, whose houses and belongings were burnt down. Some are survivors of Afshar Massacre of 1993.
Chaman Ali, 65, with his eight children lives in the caves near the Buddha statues since last eight years. His elder brother and son were killed by Taliban. Talking about it he says, “When they (Taliban) killed my brother and son, they arrested me. I was injured with a bullet on my hips. They put me in prison for over a month without food and water.”
This is not only the story of cave dwellers, but of almost every family in Bamyan. Human Rights Watch says war crimes of Taliban in Bamyan were the worst by them. Thousands were massacred. Local population of Bamyan Center had fled to nearby mountains of Koh-e-Baba.
Most of these war-affected cave dwellers earn a livelihood through daily wages laboring on agricultural lands or constructions. Chaman Ali can not work. His son from second wife–widow of his brother who was killed by Taliban–works in Ghazni Province with a transportation company. He earns $3 a day and visits home after each six months due to travel cost. “There is only one breadwinner in our family. I am disabled, can’t walk properly due to that bullet,” said Chaman.
When asked how he passes the day, he laughed and said, “I have to do nothing. Indeed I can’t do anything, play with my grandchildren. In extreme winter of Bamyan I pass the day sitting inside my cave room, and in summer sit in front of sunrays counting the hours of the day.”
Husnia, 7, is the daughter of Chaman’s brother. She studies in grade three in a nearby primary school. She knows that her father was killed by Taliban. After coming from school in the evening, she fetches drinking water from nearby spring. In the morning, she looks after her younger brother, Esmatullah, who is three years old.
When asked what she likes or plays, she said “We live on mountain (caves). I am always with my brother. In school I play sometimes with my class fellows. We love rope-skipping.” Husnia’s younger brother, 3 is at the initial stage of learning to speak. He can only speak some words like mother and food. Hussnia plays with him and takes him to nearby agricultural fields.
Live is difficult for these tiny dwellers of caves. In -30 degree centigrade temperature when everywhere is covered with heavy snowfall, life becomes frozen for cave dwellers.
UNESCO had launched a project to settle the cave dwellers from beneath the Buddha statues, after it was declared as World Heritage Site. Though the families living beneath the statues have been evacuated, but there are hundreds of others living in surrounding caves.
Chaman Ali said once the Governor had come promising to grant them homes, but yet they are waiting for a proper shelter.