Afghans Prepare For Tourism Development
By Antoine Blua
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
October 5, 2009
The Bamiyan Valley is nestled among green
fields, ochre cliffs, and eroded geological
wonders in Afghanistan's central highlands.
In recent history, it is best-known for the
Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in
2001. The dynamiting of the two giant statues,
carved into sandstone cliffs along the ancient
Silk Road in the sixth century, sparked an
But tourists continue to be attracted to the
site's cultural riches and ancient ruins that
remain, including the network of caves dug into
the rock face by Buddhist monks.
Another attraction is nearby Band-e Amir, a
series of deep blue lakes that became the
centerpiece of Afghanistan's first national park
earlier this year. The park is home to the ibex
goat and to the urial sheep, along with the
Afghan snow finch, the only bird found
exclusively in Afghanistan.
But continued instability and violence in the
country and the lack of proper infrastructure is
certainly not helping the tourism business in
Bamiyan, a remote but generally safe place.
"For foreigners, the security situation is
not good in Afghanistan. Bamiyan itself is
peaceful; but, you know, there's no direct
flights from foreign countries, so everybody
must [come through] Kabul by road," says Hiromi
Yasui, the owner of Hotel Silk Road Bamiyan.
"It's very bumpy [and it takes] around
eight-nine hours. In 2007, we had some tour
groups from Japan, America, England, but after
that the situation [got] very bad."
Yasui arrived in Afghanistan in the 1990s,
taking on work as a freelance photojournalist
and as tour leader for a Japanese travel
In 2002, she and her Afghan husband, with the
help of a Japanese investor, purchased a plot of
land in the central city of Bamiyan to build a
hotel that is now in its second year of
With rooms costing at least $100 a night,
Hotel Silk Road Bamiyan attracts mainly
foreigners working in Afghanistan, including
workers for nongovernmental organizations,
diplomats, and United Nations officials.
Returning To Bamiyan
During the 1960s and 1970s, Afghanistan was a
destination for foreign visitors ranging from
archaeologists and ethnographers to Western
youth looking for adventure.
Three decades of fighting slowed the inflow
to a virtual halt, but the situation is showing
some signs of life.
The Bamiyan central highlands today draw
thousands of Afghan tourists annually (as well
as foreigners living and working in the
country). And the nonprofit Aga Khan Development
Network (AKDN) is implementing a program to help
local people to welcome foreign visitors back.
The Bamiyan Ecotourism Program, funded by the
government of New Zealand, got under way this
year. It involves the preparation of brochures
and a website, as well as the training of local
guides. Training will also help establish
private guesthouses and upgrade the quality of
services at hotels and restaurants.
A tourist information office has also been
established, which, in cooperation with the
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO), organized a
workshop in late September on the protection of
monuments and the promotion of tourism in the
Bamiyan Governor Habiba Sarabi attended the
launching ceremony of the workshop, in which 35
officials, elders, and UN representatives
"If we keep our monuments, tourism could
develop and it will be very valuable for the
next generations. Sarabi told RFE/RL's Radio
"And it is very important that the local
residents, police, and all other administration
understand the importance of tourism and try
preserve historical monuments."
The Bamiyan Valley was added to UNESCO's List
of World Heritage in Danger in 2003.
Besides Bamiyan, AKDN runs a similar
eco-tourism program in the remote, peaceful
northeastern Wakhan Corridor, sandwiched between
Pakistan, China, and Tajikistan.
Adventurous travelers can explore the valley
of the upper Amu Darya River, surrounded by some
of the highest mountains of the Hindu Kush, by
vehicle, by horse, by yak, or by foot. They can
camp in yurts in the high summer pastures of
Getting to Wakhan takes more than three days
and involves a propeller-plane flight from
Kabul, a trip by vehicle, and trekking by pony
over a mountain pass.
Visitors can also get to the valley via
Ishkashim, a border crossing from Tajikistan's
eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region.
The AKDN, which supports an eco-tourism
program in the Tajik Pamirs, hopes that tourists
visiting Tajikistan will make an excursion into
Areas that have generally remained safe are
feeling the violence spreading across
Afghanistan. In recent months, Taliban militants
have been increasingly active on Bamiyan's
provincial borders, but Yasui remains
"This is like a gamble. In the future, peace
will come to Afghanistan and Bamiyan [will
become] a very, very touristic place," she says.
"Before the war, every day 2,000 or 3,000
tourists came to Bamiyan. So we are dreaming
that, in the future, who wants to come, come[s]
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed
to this report