|Tourism is in its infancy in Bamyan so there are many activities still waiting to be discovered by the adventurous traveller. The area offers wonderful possibilities for trekking, horseriding, mountain biking, cultural touring and photography. |
The Bamyan valley and the lakes of Band-e-Amir offer numerous day hikes to explore the historical and cultural attractions. The Koh-e-Baba mountains rising to nearly 5000 metres south of the main valley, are little known to anyone but local shepherds so offer considerable scope for exploration.
There is great potential for horseriding, whether exploring the villages or venturing on longer horse trips with a local guide. One route which can be completed in two days is a trail between Bamyan town and Band-e-Amir. Another from Band-e-Amir to the Ajar valley can be hiked on foot or by horse in two to three days.
The possibilities of mountain biking in the hills and gullies around Bamyan are waiting to be explored. Chinese mountain bikes can be bought in Kabul for less than $100 – but otherwise, bring your own.
Cars with drivers can be rented locally for day tours. Choose a solid-looking car and be sure to fix the price before setting out. The Bamyan valley is endlessly photographic, with its red cliffs, green fields, ruined forts and the many fascinations of daily life. But remember that women rarely like to be photographed. This is a serious matter in Afghanistan and you must not photograph women without permission.
Bamyan has an abundance of natural and historical attractions. You can find out more details about all of the following sights at the Tourism Office located near the great Buddhas, just outside the main bazaar in Bamyan.
The monumental Buddha statues were Bamyan’s greatest attraction until their destruction by the Taleban in 2001. Dating back to about AD 500, they were the largest standing Buddha statues in the world. The western Buddha stood 53m high while the eastern one was 38m high. The huge alcoves where they stood and the associated network of caves used by the monks are still a fascinating attraction.
The ruins of the ancient city of Bamyan, destroyed by Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes in the 13th century, are known as Shahr-e-Gholghola, the “City of Screams”, or “City of Lamentation”. The ruins are on a prominent hill, 20 minutes’ walk southeast of the modern bazaar. The name recalls the Mongols’ massacre of the unfortunate city’s inhabitants. (NOTE: This site and Shahr-e-Zohak were mined during the war. They have been cleared but it is still best to stay on obvious paths.) A short walk south from Shahr-e-Gholghola, the Qala-e-Chehel Dukhtaran (Fort of Forty Maidens) is thought to have been built to accommodate the hand maidens, or perhaps the daughter, of a 13th century ruler of Bamyan.
Just east of Bamyan town, the picturesque Kakrak valley is one of the three main Buddhist sites in the region. (The other two are the site of the great Buddhas and the Foladi valley). A multitude of caves and alcoves, dating from the 6th -13th centuries, are cut into the low cliffs on the eastern side. One large alcove (7m high) formerly contained a sitting Buddha statue which was destroyed by the Taleban. The valley is also a good area for trekking. The Ice Pools (Haus-e-Koh-e-Baba) on the lower slopes of the Koh-e-Baba at the southern end of the valley are a popular destination, with dramatic views over the landscape.
Shahr-e-Zohak (the “Red City”), 15km east of Bamyan town, is an extensive fortified complex dating from the 5th - 16th centuries, with spectacular views up the Hajigak Valley. Just south of the main road close to Shahr-e-Zohak stands a ruined but substantial caravanserai. Little is known of its history, but it probably dates from the 18th o 20th centuries.
Heading west from Bamyan town, the pillared caves of Chehel Situn are in the hillside about 3 km beyond the bazaar. The caves are something of a mystery -- partly the result of 19th and 20th century excavations for building material, some parts may be prehistoric in origin.
The Foladi valley, just west of Bamyan town, is another major Buddhist site. Several hundred alcoves and grottos are cut into the cliffs here. A number of them once had impressive frescoes. This valley is also a good area for walks. From the Qazan side valley, a 40-minute walk will take you up the mountains to another series of spectacular Ice Caves, reputedly with prehistoric origins. A 3-4 hour trek from the valley floor will take you to three more Ice Pools.
The road to Dragon Valley (Darra-e-Azhdahar) branches south from the main road 5 km west of Bamyan town. The valley has a spectacular geological formation associated with a legend of Hazrat Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. A gigantic stone ridge split along its middle is reputed to be the remains of a dragon killed by Hazrat Ali, who clove it in two with his sword, Zulfiqar, thus saving a young girl who had been given as an offering to appease the beast. The site is popular with pilgrims and sightseers.
Further afield, the lakes of Band-e-Amir, 70 km west of Bamyan town, are one of Afghanistan’s natural wonders. This chain of aquamarine lakes set in a stupendous craggy gorge is being established as the centre of one of Afghanistan’s first national parks, with great potential for camping and hiking. (See page 3.)
Continue driving a few hours west beyond Band-e-Amir and you come to the scenic valley and village of Yakaolang. Take the dramatic road to the northwest from Yakaolang and after 45 km you come to Chehel Burj (Forty Towers), an impressive ruined fortress on a conical hill dating from the Ghorid dynasty, which built an empire centred on Afghanistan in the 12th to 13th centuries. The drive from Bamyan to Chehel Burj takes 4 to 5 hours. Half an hour before arriving at Chehel Burj the road passes by the substantial remains of the Buddhist Stupa-e-Killigan, another reminder of pre-Islamic Afghanistan. The stupa has been stripped of its outer decorative brickwork, but the main drum still survives.
North from Bamyan across the main range of the Hindu Kush, the dramatic Ajar Valley is often considered one of the province’s most beautiful areas. This narrow valley 2 km long and hemmed in by stupendous mountains, is reached through a precipitous gorge. It has long been a haven for a variety of wild plants and animals.