Crossing the Friendship Bridge

Here are some links to various articles on the Friendship Bridge, which carries the railway from Termiz/Termez in Uzbekistan, over the Amu Darya river to a freight terminal at Hairaton/Hayraton/(and various other transliterations) in Afghanistan. The nearest town to the Uzbek end is Mangusar.

Friendship BridgeU.S. Army Civil Affairs personnel visit the Termez bridge to assess its usability for supporting the transport of humanitarian aid from Uzbekistan, to the northern provinces of Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Dec. 18, 2001. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

War Zones for Idiots describes American Tom Bissell’s journey into Afghanistan over the Friendship bridge: A trim two-lane span with shallow train tracks running down the center, the bridge was splendid, solid, clean – until we came to its indisputably Afghan side. Suddenly graffiti streaked along the girders, all of it scrawled in indecipherable Arabic-alphabet Persian.

Travelling from Termez, he found

A converse silhouette of crosshatched white girders, the bridge was perhaps five hundred yards from where we stood. Before us a grassy bay of thigh-high vegetation swung back and forth in the breeze. A quarter-mile away, on the other side of the motionless Amu Darya River—as unremarkable as I imagined the view of North Dakota might appear from South Dakota—was Afghanistan.

Some cows, looking legless in the tall grass, drank from pools of swampy standing water near the river, which was itself blocked off with electrified fence and cyclonic coils of barbed wire. Michael thought that some great photos of the Friendship Bridge could be snapped from deeper in the field, and convinced me to follow him.

“Nyet, nyet!” our driver Sobir yelled. We turned, already up to our knees in the grass. He began calling out a single word in Russian while performing an ominous-looking hand motion. I asked Michael what this word meant. He said nothing, his mouth squirming thoughtfully within his blond goatee. He looked at his feet, and then around them.

“He’s saying,” Michael began, “that there are landmines here.”

In this travel blog tourists leave Afghanistan in 2007. Includes a photo of the deck showing the railway.

There is photo of the Russians leaving in 1989 (here is a news report from the Guardian archive), and also a rug design possibly inspired by the bridge, on an Australian website which has almost everything you could possibly need to know about Afghan War Rugs [now there is something which conjures up a strange image – coming next, the Doormats of Mass Destruction?].

A news article on reopening of the bridge in 2001.

Photo, collection of five pictures of the bridge area. I think the armoured vehicles in the river could be BTR-70s, but identification of drowned military kit isn’t exactly my speciality.