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The land of Bamiyan Buddhas is a beautiful tourist haven
POSTED | 5:45 AM | 16-09-2015

The land of Bamiyan Buddhas is a beautiful tourist haven

-- By Ruchi Kumar

Ali Mohammad has a little cart near the giant gaps in the mountain that once held the mighty Buddha statues in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan. He sells piping hot chicken soup to the several tourists that visit the historical site every year. “Many foreigners come here to see what’s left of the Buddhas,  especially a lot of Chinese tourists,” says the 19-year-old.

While tourism may not be the first thing you associate with Afghanistan, the country does have much to offer to an avid traveller. And for those who call this country their home, they often have to meet the contradictions of common stereotypes with the famous Afghan hospitality.

But even as the war-torn nation works towards rebuilding itself, a small but thriving tourism industry is attempting to gain roots in several parts of the land.

Bamiyan, the former home to the majestic Buddhas, is one such province in Afghanistan that has opened its doors and hearts to tourists.

Declared as the cultural capital of SAARC for the year 2015, Bamiyan receives several thousand local and international tourists every year. “This year alone we had over 20,000 recorded tourist traffic, a few hundred of whom were foreigners who came to participate in the international skiing competition held earlier this year,” says Reza Mohammad, a former tourism officer at the Bamiyan Eco-Tourism Office.

A safer haven in the land otherwise full of turmoil, this tiny province has taken baby steps towards restoring the tourism industry of Afghanistan.

Interestingly, it is the only province in the country to have its own dedicated tourism board that capitalises on its unique place in the region and history. “This office is a pilot project, but the government hopes to expand it nationally,” added Reza. The office, nestled under the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, is supported by the Aga Khan Development Network and the New Zealand Agency for International Development 

From international skiing competitions to summer festivals and concerts, event organizers have found their investments worthwhile in Bamiyan.

The Buddha statues that were damaged by the Taliban regime in 2001still draw a large number of tourists all year round.

The Silk Road Festival, now in its seventh year, brought large crowds of Afghans and foreigners pouring into the tiny city. The five-day event featured food festival, handicraft exhibitions, sport activities and a variety of entertainment.

Security for these events is wholly managed by the local security forces. “During peak tourist seasons, which is normally around the two major festivals — winter and summer — the Bamiyan Eco-Tourism Office has liaisons with provincial police forces in Bamiyan,” Reza explained.

However, even as hotels, lodges and locals struggled to accommodate the several thousand daily visitors, Hussain, a snack cart vendor selling the Afghan burger, a local delicacy, near the city square admitted that there were fewer tourists than in the previous years. “We’ve seen larger crowds in past years. It was a good boost to our small businesses. But this year, the festival isn’t as big, perhaps because of the security,” he said.

However, even as security situation across the country deteriorates, Bamiyan remains relatively unaffected.

And this is what makes Bamiyan a likely choice for an event as vibrant as a youth concert. Hamdeli, another cultural event, running parallel to the Silk Road, organized several concerts between August 27-29.

Held at the foot of the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan, the live performances by several popular Afghan artists drew large crowds of young men and women. Organizers recorded nearly 20,000 attendants.

The 3D rendition of the Buddha statues by a Chinese couple brought the statues back to life.

Apart from the cultural events, the scenic lakes of Bamiyan are extremely popular among campers.

The towering mountains and the crystal-clear lakes provide a breathtaking view.

That said, Bamiyan is not an exception to what Afghanistan has to offer to travellers. History and beauty traverse across the country. But it is the locals’ unmatched hospitality that wins the hearts and minds of visitors. 

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