We were in and out of at least two military camps each day during the tour. One of the most interesting camp visits was towards the end of our adventure — the Queen’s Palace.
The palace was constructed in the early 1920s, built mostly of marble and granite. Even back then, it came equipped with indoor plumbing and electricity, which I’m sure few other homes in Afghanistan had at that time.
I spotted the Queen’s Palace from the air as we swooped by in a Black Hawk helicopter. The roof damage was severe, but I was still taken by the grandeur of what was once the home of the Queen of Afghanistan.
The palace was taken over by the Russians in the 1950s, and they built an officers’ compound in a nearby area outside Kabul. The lovely old mansion has changed owners twice since then. Al-Qaida claimed it for a while until the United States and our allies took control of it and gave it back to the Afghan people, who keep a squad of watchful guards over it now.
The temperature that day was way beyond hot, but we were anxious to see more of this once magnificent structure that bore so many scars and held so much history. We were told there was as much of the palace below ground as there was on the surface. The king’s castle was on another hill well over a mile away. Underground tunnels connected the two.
I took this photo standing at the palace. You can see the king’s castle (left) in the distance, as well as the Russian officers’ compound. Razor wire and bomb shelters surround the place today.
My tour companions and armed escorts walked the winding road to the top of Palace Hill. Bomb squads swept the roadway and its sides, using white spray paint to mark where an explosive device could be buried.
We stopped to sip water and check out the view halfway up the hill. The Afghan guard on duty offered his seat in the shade to us. It was the only bit of shade found anywhere nearby. We were anxious to see the palace so we thanked him and trudged on.
I couldn’t resist sitting in the queen’s bathtub. The tub is lined with a single piece of hollowed marble.
Every floor, every room was a wonderful discovery tour back in time. It was easy to imagine gala parties and happier times in the large open areas. The winding marble stairways with wrought iron banisters connected the floors, as did a primitive elevator. The many open-air verandas offered views of the surrounding countryside.
Almost all the rooms were spacious and well lit with natural light pouring in from abundant windows. The walls of the palace were several feet thick in some places, which made the interior very comfortable compared to the relentless sun bearing down outside.
The outside of the palace tells a grim story. The bombed-out roof grids look skeletal above dangling mortar and brick balconies. It just made the Stars and Stripes look brighter and more beautiful.
Our visit to the Queen’s Palace evoked so many emotions. We ooh’d and aah’d at its magnificence. We marveled at the skills it must have taken to build it. We imagined what life might have been like living there in its heyday.
Mostly, however, we mourned over the sadness of war and how it can destroy even the mightiest of kingdoms.