Bamyan - a hidden gem
By Sarah-Jean Cunningham and
When people think of Afghanistan they usually think of the decades of war, of the dirty politics, of the corruption and the images of poverty, death and misery.
I like to show a different side to the story in my blog. A side that is light, optimistic and beautiful; a side that exists both in an overwhelming abundance and in the most unexpected corners of the country. Bamyan, best known for its historic Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban 10 years ago, is one of those gems of beauty. A short but turbulent helicopter ride to the central highland’s province took me and the talented photographer Lorenzo Tugnoli
on a mini ski adventure in the glorious mountains that surround the centre of Bamyan.
Rah-e-Abrisham, an Afghan tour company based in Bamyan is one of the first in Afghanistan that specialises in outdoor activities. Bamyan is one of the safest provinces in the country and the relaxed vibe of the small town makes for the perfect weekend get-away for us Kabulis. The thing about tourism in Agfghanistan is that inevitably you end up hiking through minefields. Cleared ones, but nonetheless minefields. Actually I have learnt a lot of navigating my way through minefields since arriving in the country. You’re supposed to stay between the white rocks and avoid the red ones. Unfortunately the red and white rocks lay scattered in a haphazard way after the winter rains and snow washes them away, leaving us guesstimating the correct path.
Besides the excitement of dodging land mines, the sight of the forgotten Shahr-e-Gholgola (the City of Screams) were stunning and instantly brought us back to the 13th century when the massacre of the city by Gengis Khan took place in revenge for the murder of his favourite grandson, which eerily lead to the city being renamed the City of Screams.
The City of Screams
In the Buddha caves
Volleyball at the foot of the City of Screams
So then came the skiing. So when I say skiing, what I actually mean is a hell of a lot of hiking up a snowy mountain with heavy equipment and then a short but sweet ski downhill. Despite the physically strenuous challenge of getting up the mountain, it was undoubtedly enthralling to be the only people on the mountain absorbing the fresh air and stunning views. Though the snow made for difficult skiing as the strong spring sun was already melting the winter snow.
Our ski guide was an Italian mountaineer, flown in by the Agha Khan Foundation to support this tourism project and promote ski in the province. Our Italian certainly was a character, whipping his Afghan team into shape with in a harsh but pedagogical tone whilst warmly admitting that they had become like family to him during his three months in the country.
'Nando' the extraordinary mountain guide
The local children looked on in amazement at the foreigners dressed in strange outfits, whilst they trod around in the snow in flimsy-looking shoes and a shalwar kameez. One boy had ingeniously put together a pair of make-shift skis, made from planks of wood bound to his boots with rope. Apparently Nando spotted some raw talent in the boy and immediately arranged for him to join the Bamyan ‘ski school’ and be trained to become a ski guide in time for the next ski season in Afghanistan. The boy, although somewhat reserved, seemed to show a hint of excitement at the prospect.
Still lacking electricity, decent roads, and other amenities, Bamyan is still a long way from being a top touristic destination. However, it’s moving in the right direction and has the perfect mix of relaxation, stunning scenery and fun activities, already having hosted Afghanistan's first winter games last year. Who knows, with the arrival on the long-rumoured international airport, Bamyan in the future could be bustling with tourists hungry for an adventure and a dose of the peaceful side to Afghanistan.
Full slideshow here