Afghan palace emerges from ruins as centenary nears

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Above, the exterior of Darulaman Palace, which is undergoing a complete renovation, in Kabul. (AFP)
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Laborers work on the exterior renovation of Darulaman Palace in Kabul. (AFP)
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Laborers work on the exterior renovation of Darulaman Palace in Kabul. (AFP)
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Laborers work on the renovation of Darulaman Palace in Kabul. (AFP)
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Laborers work on grounds of Darulaman Palace, which is undergoing a complete renovation, in Kabul. (AFP)
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Above, the exterior of Darulaman Palace, which is undergoing a complete renovation, in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2019

Afghan palace emerges from ruins as centenary nears

  • Darulaman Palace, a hulking showpiece of Afghan architecture, came to symbolize the country’s turmoils during decades of war
  • Work at the famed palace must be completed by August 19, the date marking 100 years of Afghan independence from Britain

KABUL: Inside an imposing building in Kabul, a team of welders hastily fuse a sweeping metal bannister to a grand staircase. Outside, gardeners spray torrents of water over the parched earth, willing the grass to grow.
They have just days to finish a total renovation of the once-ruined Darulaman Palace, a hulking showpiece of Afghan architecture that came to symbolize the country’s turmoils during decades of war.
With questions looming over Afghanistan’s future and a possible deal between the US and the Taliban imminent, the war-torn nation is this month hoping to briefly celebrate its past — and Darulaman will be the centerpiece.
Work at the famed palace must be completed by August 19, the date marking 100 years of Afghan independence from Britain, when President Ashraf Ghani will inaugurate the newly renovated structure.
The final use for Darulaman — which means “Abode of Peace” — has not been finalized, but at least part will be turned into a museum.
Perched on a hill with an imposing view of Kabul, Darulaman was a total wreck until recently. Its roof was destroyed, its walls crumbling and pock-marked by bullet holes, and the once-magnificent neo-classical exterior covered in graffiti and appearing close to collapse.

But in 2016 Ghani ordered the palace’s renovation and, after finalizing design plans, construction work began in earnest in March 2018.
Project manager Javid Hammad said reconstructing Darulaman is vital to Afghanistan, as the work promises a new beginning after so much conflict.
“The message of the Darulaman Palace is a message of peace, security, brotherhood and coexistence,” Hammad said during a recent tour of the site, where about 500 workers are toiling round the clock to get the job done.
The $10.5-million renovation has been a boon to Kabul’s workforce. Cedar trimmings in high-ceilinged rooms that come from Kunar province in the west, and marble fittings from the western city of Herat mean businesses around the country have benefitted.
But not everyone is happy the palace is being returned to its former glory, wondering if the money could have been put to better use in one of the world’s poorest countries.
“It is a good thing to rebuild Darulaman Palace, but if this money would have been spent on solving people’s problems that would have been better,” local shopkeeper Ali said.
Another Kabul resident, Ghulam Mohammad, said the battered palace should have been left in its eerie, ruined condition as a testament to Afghan’s troubled past.
“It should have remained the same so people can remember how brutal the war was,” Mohammad said.
“Prior to the reconstruction, the palace was beautiful.”
On August 19, 1919, London and Kabul signed the Anglo-Afghan Treaty in which Britain recognized Afghan independence and vowed that British India would not extend west beyond the Khyber Pass.
Designed by German engineers for King Amanullah Khan in the early 1920s, Darulaman Palace was originally intended to be the location for Afghanistan’s new parliament.
But over the years, due to shifting political currents, it has also seen a string of other uses including as a home for various government ministries, a medical school and a museum.
It was gutted by fire in 1968, and since then has been repeatedly caught up in Afghanistan’s conflicts.
It was again set ablaze during a coup attempt in 1978, and was subsequently shelled during fighting in the 1990s.
Afghans today are nervously awaiting the outcome of a deal between the US and the Taliban.
The Pentagon is widely expected to cut its troop presence in return for various guarantees from its longtime foe, but many in Afghanistan do not trust the insurgents and worry they will try to seize power.


Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on January 24, 2019 shows men with henna-dyed beards in Dhaka on December 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

  • It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard

DHAKA, BANGLADESH: From shades of startling red to hues of vivid tangerine, brightly colored beards have become a fashion statement on the streets of Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
Facial hair of sunset tones is now the go-to look for older men wanting to take off the years, with an array of henna options available to the style-conscious.
“I have been using it on my hair for the last two months. I like it,” says Mahbubul Bashar, in his 50s, whose smile reflected his joy at his new look.
Abul Mia, a 60-year-old porter at a local vegetable market, agrees that the vibrant coloring can be transformative.
“I love it. My family says I look a lot younger and handsome,” he adds.
While henna has been used widely in the country for decades, it has reached new heights of popularity. It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard.
Orange hair — whether it’s beards, moustaches or on heads — is everywhere, thanks to the popularity of the colored dye produced by the flowering henna plant.
“Putting henna on has become a fashion choice in recent years for elder men,” confirms Didarul Dipu, head fashion journalist at Canvas magazine.
“The powder is easily found in neighborhood stores and easy to put on,” he adds.
But the quest for youth is not the only reason why more and more Dhaka barbers are adding beard and hair coloring to their services.
Top imams also increasingly use henna powder color in what experts say is a move to prove their Muslim credentials as some religious texts say the prophet Mohammed dyed his hair.
In Bangladesh most of the population of 168 million is Muslim.
“I heard from clerics that the prophet Mohammed used henna on his beard. I am just following,” says Dhaka resident Abu Taher.

Henna has long been a tradition at South Asian weddings. Brides and grooms use henna paste to trace intricate patterns on their hands for wedding parties.
It has also long been used in Muslim communities in Asia and the Middle East for beards.
Previously, aficionados created the dye by crushing henna leaves to form a paste. It was messy and time-consuming but modern henna powder is far more user-friendly.
Taher, who goes by one name, believes the dye has given his beard added vigour.
“Look at this growth. Isn’t it strong?” he exclaims pointing to his chin.
“The powder turns the grey hair red but does not change the remaining black hair,” he explains.
Some believe henna powder has health benefits and, as it is natural rather than created using man-made chemicals like some dyes, does not cause any medical issues.
The new trend has also boosted barbers’ fortunes — more men feel compelled to dye their hair and to do it more often at the salons.
“In the past we hardly would get any customers for this,” recalls Shuvo Das, who works at the Mahin Hairdressers in Dhaka’s Shaheenbagh neighborhood.
“But now there are clients who come every week to get their beard dyed,” he says.
“It takes about 40 minutes to make the beard reddish and shiny. It is also cheap. A pack cost only 15 taka (four US cents),” Das explains as he massages the dye mixture — imported from India — into a customer’s beard.
According to Dhaka University sociology professor Monirul Islam Khan, the growing number of henna beards “is a sign of increasing Muslim fervor in Bangladeshi society.”
But, he adds, even those who are not strict followers do it.
He explains: “They want to look younger. Even the women are getting fond of it as it makes their hair glitter.”