Search For the Lost Treasure of Afghanistan

search for the lost treasure of afghanistan

This unique film sees travel writer and documentary maker Tahir Shah journey to the heart of Afghanistan on a personal odyssey to find the greatest lost treasure in human history –that of Ahmad Shah Durrani, first king of Afghanistan.

Following a series of clues passed down through his ancestors, Tahir seeks out an ancient cave complex concealed somewhere in Afghanistan. It is here that he hopes to find Ahmad Shah Durrani’s treasure –worth an estimated $500 billion in today’s money. His task will not be easy: travelling through such demanding terrain is an arduous experience at the best of times, but today, with Taliban positions dotted throughout the country, Afghanistan is one of the most perilous places on earth. Tahir, however, is undeterred: “The chance of locating the immense treasure helps me put up with the ever-present danger,” he says.

The treasure originates from Mughal India. Durrani was a general in the service of the Persian emperor who sacked Delhi in 1739. Having forced the treasury open and loaded its contents onto a vast caravan, the emperor was assassinated. Durrani took control of the caravan and led it to Afghanistan, where he was crowned king in 1747. Amongst the treasure was the Kohinoor diamond, a stone which now sits in the crown jewels at the Tower of London, but the rest remains hidden.

Using a notebook written by his grandfather 70 years ago during his own search for the treasure, Tahir sets out on his quest. After just one day in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, he is optimistic: “Searching for the treasure is, at least in part, a euphemism for finding Afghanistan,” he explains. “The treasure has brought me home.” But the country’s complex bureaucracy provides some problems: Tahir is told that his search is illegal and is threatened with arrest. Luckily, he is able to draw on the influence of a local ambassador –an old family friend –and can continue his journey.

He heads north to the Balkh province to visit the Shrine of Ali –a huge temple covered in elaborate decorations. These decorations, Tahir explains, make up a geometric system that represents a complex code. “It’s a system of ciphers that can have innumerable levels,” he says. Any number of interpretations can be read from the patterns but, having studied them for a week, Tahir’s grandfather was led south to a lost Buddhist monastery. It is here that Tahir travels next, and is amazed to find an ancient cave complex where monks once lived. “I’m almost lost for words!” he exclaims: this is just this sort of network that might house the treasure.

Having returned to Kabul to pick up a hoopoe bird from a market to bring him good luck, Tahir decides to fly to Herat in the west of the country. Carrying his new companion in a cage, he heads for a hill on the north side of the city, from which point he can see the five towers of Mussalla. His grandfather believed that these ancient buildings served as a sort of primitive compass, pointing towards the treasure. However, hours of studying the code on the base of the towers leaves Tahir with no more ideas as to the location of the caves.

It is not until he enlists the help of Reza, an young Afghan archaeologist, that Tahir begins to make real progress. Reza knows a great deal about the Buddhist history of the country and is able to lead Tahir to the mountains of central Afghanistan where, he is sure, Durrani’s treasure once passed. But getting to the Bamyan valley is fraught with danger: three German journalists were shot dead by bandits there two days ago.

Following a tense day of driving through what is known locally as ‘bloodbath alley’, Tahir and his team make it to the Bamyan valley. “Now,” says Tahir, “we just have to find the treasure caves!” But he may have more to contend with than just the search for the caves: noting that his guide is unwilling to speak of the treasure to any of the locals, Tahir fears that Reza may be hiding something from him. Having come so near, is Tahir destined to fail in his quest?

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