Gold Winner

Afghanistan - Graveyard of Empires

Photographer

Christiaan van Heijst

Category

Nature Photography - Aerial/Drone

Company

jpcvanheijst

Submission Group

Professional

Year

2022

Country / Region

Netherlands

My heart is breaking: Afghanistan has been overrun by Taliban in an unbelievable and suspicious pace, taking over the entire country and undoing all the work of two very bloody decades. So many lives wasted over absolutely nothing. The old Taliban saying 'You guys have watches, we have the time.' is a brutal truth.



When I first set foot on the apron of Kabul, I was ready for whatever adventures might present itself, but nothing prepared me for the beauty of this place. The legendary snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains surrounding the ancient city, a deep cobalt-blue sky above.



I used to fly a turboprop from Kabul all over Afghanistan for a Dutch company as a military contractor. Circling over the city to slowly gain altitude before barely crossing the treacherous mountains in our heavy bird, finding our way to runways that barely deserve such a classification.



Suffice to say it was the experience of a lifetime and I'm extremely fortunate I left without so much as a scratch.



From the cold winter snow to blazing hot summer dust bowls, navigating through valleys and canyons, avoid getting shot down and finding our way back to Kabul at the end of a long day. Eat, sleep, repeat. Even during my last few visits in the 747, it was clear this unforgiving place is not for the faint of heart: absolutely zero room for mistakes.



Nonetheless, Afghanistan still holds a special place in my heart. The rare times I dream about flying, I always find myself back there, gliding over all those familiar valleys and hills.



Its sad, though understandable, that Afghanistan has such an awful reputation. But her unseen side has an incredibly rich and interesting history, breathtaking sceneries and so many good people out there, simply trying to live their lives. I can only wish my images show another side of this traumatized country far, far away.



Let's hope the coming decades will prove to be more peaceful than what we fear right now, though I'm doubtful. Fingers crossed for the future.

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