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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bamiyan: a hidden gem

by Sarah-Jean Cunningham on 04 2nd, 2011

When people think of Afghanistan they think of the 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 positive, optimistic and beautiful; a side that exists both, in an overwhelming abundance and in the most unexpected corners of the country. Bamiyan, 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 Bamiyan.

Rah-e-Abraisham, an Afghan tour company based in Bamiyan, is one of the first in country which specialises in outdoor activities. Bamiyan 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 Afghanistan is that inevitably you end up hiking through minefields. Cleared ones, but nonetheless, minefields. Actually I have learned a lot about navigating my way through minefields since arriving in Afghanistan. You are 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) was stunning and instantly took us back to the thirteenth 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.

So then came the skiing. And 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 going up the mountain, it was undoubtedly enthralling to be the only people on the mountain absorbing the fresh air and stunning views. Although, I must admit, that the strong, spring sun made skiiing difficult as the snow had started to melt.

Our ski guide, Nando, was an Italian mountaineer flown in by the Aga Khan Foundation to support this tourism project and promote skiing in the province. Our Italian certainly was a character, whipping his Afghan team into shape with in a harsh but pedagogical tone while warmly admitting that they had become like family to him during his three months in the country.

The local children looked on in amazement at the foreigners dressed in strange outfits, while they comfortably walked 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 Bamiyan ‘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, Bamiyan is still a long way from being a top tourist destination. However, it’s moving in the right direction and has the perfect mix of relaxation, stunning scenery and fun activities. Who knows, with the arrival on the long-rumoured international airport, Bamiyan in the future could be bustling with tourists hungry for an adventure and a dose of the peaceful side to Afghanistan.




Sarah-Jean Cunningham is half-Egyptian, half-British who recently moved to Afghanistan to pursue her passion for development. Trying to understand the country is her newest and most difficult challenge yet! She blogs at: www.sjcunningham.com

Source,
http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/02/bamiyan-a-hidden-gem.html

*Photography by Lorenzo Tugnoli

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