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Sunday, March 20, 2011

NZ turns unhappy valley into skifield

MICHAEL FIELD Last updated 05:00 20/03/2011




Photo: Reuters Snow business: Ecotourism could create income in a poor region.
Relevant offersNEW ZEALAND taxpayers are building a ski field in a war zone largely inaccessible to tourists.

The odd scheme on Afghanistan's ancient Silk Road offers adventurous skiing in Bamiyan, the same province where New Zealand soldiers have suffered casualties.

New Zealand aid is also building two guesthouses in the mountains and a camping ground at the remote Band-e Amir lakes.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs aid programme said that this year it would spend $100,000 developing skiing in Bamiyan, targeting the elite population from Kabul, 130km away.

"Ecotourism offers one of the few existing opportunities for economic development and poverty reduction in Bamiyan," a programme spokeswoman told the Sunday Star-Times.

"New Zealand is helping to maximise Bamiyan's sustainable returns from the tourism sector and build commercially viable enterprises."

The three summits of Koh-e-Baba, Bamiyan's ski area, overlook the cliffs where a decade ago the Taliban destroyed large Buddha statues carved into rock.

Agence France Presse, reporting on the skiing aid, described travelling to the ski slopes as "a risky business due to the adverse security situation in the war-torn country".

AFP says "while it is short on apres-ski and lifts, organisers are hopeful that adventurous travellers could have their interest piqued by Bamiyan's dramatic beauty and the promise of wild, ungroomed runs".

Visiting Pakistan-born British writer and intellecutal Tariq Ali, who is critical of foreign involvment in Afghanistan, described the New Zealand aid project as "so absurd...the peasants will be just queuing up to go".

New Zealand's skiing aid is "a new initiative part" of the Bamiyan Ecotourism Programme, which also gets funding from the Bamiyan provincial government and the Aga Khan Foundation.

As well as skiing, New Zealand is paying for information brochures, a tourist information centre and establishing a tourism website.

Twenty-two young male and female Afghans were trained under the scheme to become professional tour guides.

"Bamiyan's comparative security and unparalleled natural and manmade attractions means it is well placed to provide income opportunities for local communities through ecotourism initiatives targeted primarily towards Afghan nationals, and international residents living in Afghanistan," Mfat said.

Henry Charles, a British security worker who skis Bamiyan, told AFP that demand was growing for country skiing without crowds of people on the same slopes.

"That is a trend, and Bamiyan is all about that... you get your own line in fresh powder snow, that's great.

"We're at 2500 metres so the snow stays very well, like sugar, for several days."

Before the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Bamiyan used to attract 65,000 tourists a year, many to see the Buddhas.

Last year just 3300 tourists got to the area, include 805 foreigners.

The roads are infamously bad – just 3km of them are paved – and there are no commercial airlinks.


Source,
http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/news/4788453/NZ-turns-unhappy-valley-into-skifield

michael.field@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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