Afghan archaeologists race to study Buddhist site before destruction

We all remember the Bamiyan statues, those giant stone Buddhas the Taliban blew up in 2001. One of the 1,500 year-old statues is pictured here. Pictures are all we have left of them.

Now another Buddhist site in Afghanistan is under threat of destruction. This time the danger isn’t the Taliban, but a Chinese mining company. The site of Mes Aynak in eastern Afghanistan was home to a thriving Buddhist monastery in the seventh century. It’s also right next to an abandoned Soviet mine that may have the world’s second-largest reserve of copper. A Chinese mining company has invested $3.5 billion to exploit the mine and Afghan officials are eager for work to get underway.

A team of Afghani archaeologists is busy excavating the site and has found an entire monastery complex with more than 150 statues. They were originally given three years, a woefully inadequate length of time for a team of barely forty people, and now they’re being pressured to finish by the end of this year. The archaeologists fear that once the miners move in, the monastery will get wrecked.

The mine will bring much-needed jobs and wealth to Afghanistan, which is also courting adventure tours, so the in the rush to yank copper out of their land they might want to think about preserving some of their past.

[Photo courtesy Marco Bonavoglia via Wikimedia Commons]

China Closes Tibet To Travelers

Earlier this week China once again took steps to close off the borders of Tibet once again, as the region prepares for a new round of tensions as we approach the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai Lama. The move mirrors similar steps that were taken last year, when protests by Buddhist monks turned violent.

British newspaper The Telegraph is reporting in this story published a few days back that tourist operators in Tibet have been told to cancel all upcoming trips for the foreseeable future, and most expect that it will be some time before normal travel resumes.

Tibet is a popular tourist spot with the backpacker and adventure travel crowd. Its proximity to the Himalaya and its Buddhist culture have long held an allure with visitors from the West, with many making the journey to see the ancient temples and to visit the famous Everest base camp on the North Side of the mountain. As such, tourism has become the most important aspect of the Tibetan economy, employing thousands of people, either directly or indirectly, but for a second year in a row, it looks as if those people will be scrambling to find another way to make a living during what is traditionally one of their busiest times of the year.

The travel restrictions on Tibet aren’t limited to just the tourists however, as foreign journalists have also been denied access. Many had hoped to come to cover the anniversary events, but now have been denied as well. It looks like for now, Tibet is once again closed off to the world.

The land of badly behaving Buddhists

Cambodia’s dictator for life prime minister, Hun Sen, recently appealed to the country’s Buddhist clergy, telling them to clean up their act. The PM told a convention of top religious leaders that the actions and poor judgment of individual monks has given the whole religion a black eye.

He cited several situations including monks accepting roles as dancers in a music video and an abbot using offerings of money to buy himself a new car. Also, disputes between monks and laypeople are on the rise, according to an independent social analyst.

Hun Sen concluded his address to the holy people by saying “These are individual monks making problems. Citizens should not consider it an issue of the whole religion, but equally, we must not be careless about this issue.”

Buddhist monks have long been revered in Cambodia. Many have become involved in various forms of social work. However, it seems that the recent economic development has affected the religious world as much as the general public.

[via Phnom Penh Post]