6:00am in Kabul. A light rain was falling, but Georgian photographer, Mikhail Galustov and I agreed, rain or no rain, let’s go for a bike ride. Our destination? Kabul’s historic Darulamon Palace.
We rode at an easy pace through the streets – Mikhail on his Cannondale, and me on my inaugural ride on a handbuilt bike from the team at Alchemy Bikes. With my name and #001 emblazoned on the frame – it was their first build in Colorado and I was thrilled to spin its tires for the first time in the streets of Afghanistan.
Along the way we rode past Kabul’s newest street art installation, the worldwide Inside Out project created by the street artist, JR and executed by an amazing team of Afghan artists. The images had gone up the day before in three different locations in Kabul.
When we got to Darulamon Palace, Mikhail broke a chain so I decided to play around the outside of the palace. Barbed wire surrounds the palace to keep out trespassers.
It didn’t long before I gathered a crowd of other bikers and formed a bike gang.
Guarded by soldiers of the Afghan National Army, its rare to be allowed inside the palace ruins. The ceilings are collapsing, bullet holes riddle the walls, and Islamic graffiti is scattered throughout as a reminder of recent conflicts during the civil war and Taliban times when the historic building became more fort than palace.
Hoping to break the ice, and perhaps be allowed inside, I asked in Dari, “Hey anyone want to ride a bike?”
Amazingly, one of the guards took me up on the offer. The disc brakes were a rude awakening, but he was still all smiles post-crash. Much to the delight of his comrades.
The palace gardener rode up on his bike – he told us he was 105 years old. Not sure that’s exactly right, but regardless, he has tended the gardens since he was a small boy and was happy to share his stories, and give us a guided tour of the palace interior.
Mikhail’s chain fixed and we climbed up the stairs to the second floor. Marveling at the interior and the incredible views out the second story windows. I worried a little about the ceiling collapsing in on us.
We rode back and forth down hallways amid piles of rubble on all three floors of the palace. Marveling at the architecture, the light, and the incredible history of the place – and the incredible luck to be able to walk, and bike, around inside. An Afghan first to be sure.
photos Warren Buttery