Shahr e Gholghola, the City of Screams
Updated July 2021, Shahr e Gholghola, the City of Screams was originally written in May 2019
Shahr e Gholghola was Bamyan’s last stand against the Mongols during the spring 1221 Siege of Bamyan.
After the death of Mutukhan at the Ghorid fortress of Shahr e Zohak Genghis swiftly pushed west to Bamyan himself to reign down a fury of terror on Bamyan like none before to avenge his beloved grandson’s demise.
July 2021 update: Given the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, visiting anywhere in the Bamyan Province is not recommended at this time. The Taliban has gained control of the main Ghorband Road from Kabul over the summer and the stretch of road through Parwan Province has seen fighting between Taliban and government forces. If you are trying to plan a trip anywhere in Bamyan right now, I recommend getting in contact with a local guide to get the most up-to-date information on the status of getting to Bamyan as the situation changes all the time.
Read more about Shahr e Zohak, the Ghorid Dynasty & the Siege of Bamyan
But first, let’s step back a few centuries…
Like the citadel of Shahr e Zohak, Shahr e Gholghola was built by Buddhist Ghorids during the Sassanian Period in the 6th century. Shahr e Gholghola was the beating heart of ancient Bamyan, the center of the valley. Even as Buddhism reached its decline in the 8th century and Islam took hold of Bamyanis it remained the center.
Start planning your trip here: The Afghanistan Travel Guide
The Siege Of Bamyan
In the spring of 1221, the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan descended on Bamyan via Shikari Valley after crossing the Amu Darya successfully destroying Balkh. Genghis sent his grandson Mutukhan, estimated at 15 years old at the time ahead to sack Bamyan.
Unfortunately for Genghis, Mutukhan would meet his early demise as he entered Bamyan Valley at Shahr e Zohak. An arrow shot from within the besieged walls of the citadel would claim Mutukhan’s life.
Word reached Genghis, enraged he descended down on Bamyan Valley in a fury- ordering his men to kill any and everything in Bamyan- men, women, livestock, children.
First Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde would destroy Shahr e Zohak to avenge Mutukhan’s death staining the rocks red with Ghorid blood. He’d move on to sack all of Bamyan, except the impenetrable Shahr e Gholghola. The Mongols surrounded Shahr e Gholghola for several months launching attack after attack to no avail.
The man ruling over the Ghorids in 1221 under the Khorezemids was Jalaladin Mingburnu who governed from his capital of Ghor. Jalaladin had recently remarried a bride from Ghazni, angering his daughter who lived a short distance down the valley at Qala e Dokhtar.
Jalaladin’s daughter in anger shot an arrow to Genghis with a message written on a scroll attached. The letter had two demands: 1: I will show you the secret entrance to Shahr e Gholghola if you promise not to destroy my fortress, and 2: You must marry me.
Naturally, Genghis agreed. He was quickly pointed towards the canal leading to the citadel and instructed to dam up the water leading into it and that would reveal the entrance to the citadel. Genghis and his Horde were able to successfully stop the water and gain entrance to Shahr e Gholghola.
Heading to Bamyan? Check out the Bamyan Travel Guide
The City Of Screams
The Mongols laid siege to the citadel, destroying it and killing everyone inside. The screams of the dying victims could be heard all throughout Bamyan Valley earning Shahr e Gholghola the nickname ‘the City of Screams‘.
But Genghis did not trust Jalaladin’s daughter. After Gholghola was destroyed he went to her and told her “You killed your own father, how can I trust you to not meet another man and kill me? I cannot.”
Some accounts claim that he killed her right there using only his sword, while others believe he with the help of his men rolled her up in a carpet, wrapped her in a sack, and tied it to a horse that carried her off in an Afghan-Buzkashi-match-meets-Vlad-Țepeș torture fashion.
But he didn’t destroy Qala e Dokhtar– at least the wicked overlord kept his word.
After the fall of Shahr e Gholghola and the murder of his betrayess of a daughter, Jalaladin Mingburnu was forced to flee Ghor to India where he lived in exile for three years until building an army and returning to Persia with hopes to reestablish the Khorezm Empire.
He eventually reached Iran once again and moved on to Georgia, massacring Christians and churches in his path. Jalaladin spent his final years in constant battles with the Mongols and the Seljuk Turks reaching as far west Akhlat in Turkey.
Jalaladin would eventually escape to Diyarbakir by 1230 as Ögedei Khan’s army swept the remains of the Khorezmian army and out of confusion continued on to Azerbaijan. Jalaladin would be murdered in 1231 by a Kurd as he fled from Diyarbakir in fear of the Mongol army.
The Citadel That Remains
Sunset is the best time to visit Shahr e Gholghola with the golden afternoon light glimmering over Bamyan Valley with the sun flashing a rouge onto the cliffs that Salsal and Shamama, the destroyed Buddhas of Bamyan are carved into. Shahr e Gholghola is a pock-marked hill when viewed from a distance, surrounded by fields of wheat and vegetables.
Follow the clear path up to the top. Take care to not stray far from a beaten path as Shahr e Gholghola was landmined in the past and unexploded mines may still exist.
How To Get To Shahr e Gholghola
From the Bamyan Bazaar, head west until the end of Bazaar Road and turn left at the roundabout onto Sayadabad Street. Shahr e Gholghola will be on the left side of the road. It’s only a 1.5 kilometer walk from the bazaar, but you can grab a taxi from the bazaar for a few AFS.
There is a police checkpoint at Shahr e Gholghola where you’ll be asked for your Bamyan Entrance Ticket, so make sure you have it with you. Entrance Tickets can be purchased at the Director of Information & Culture located right in front of the Buddha Niches. Entrance tickets are 300 AFS and include the Buddha Niches, Shahr e Zohak and Shahr e Gholghola.
I recommend Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan for those looking to be guided in Bamyan and the whole of Afghanistan.
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