Band-i-Amir: Number of foreign tourists declines
BAMYAN CITY (Pajhwok): Amid growing highway insecurity, the number of foreigners visiting ancient sites, including Band-i-Amir, in central Bamyan province has dwindled this year, an official said on Wednesday.
Afghanistan's first National Park, Band-i-Amir has a series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertinein the Hindu Kush mountains at approximately 3,000 metres of elevation, west of the famous Buddhas.
One of the few rare natural lakes created by travertine systems, the site has been characterised as Afghanistan's Grand Canyon, and draws streams of tourists. Six years back, it was declared Afghanistan's first national park.
Situated approximately 75km northwest Bamyan Cityin Yakawlang district, the dam is regarded as the heart of Afghanistan's tourism, attracting tourists from all over the world. Brightly coloured fish in the lakes add to their beauty.
More than 20 hotels are operational in the area, where as many guesthouses are also rented to the tourists. This tourism season, beginning in April, has seen fewer foreigners coming to Bamyan’s historical sites and recreational facilities.
Information and Culture Department spokesman Ahmad Hussain Ahmadpur told Pajhwok Afghan News more than 4,800 Afghans and 350 foreigners had received tickets to the rare sites last year. This year, however, 144 foreigners and 2,000 Afghans came to Bamyan.
He explains over 90 percent of tourists do not buy sightseeing tickets, watching the breathtaking scenes from afar. Apart from the Buddha statues, surrounded by 3,000 caves, Azhdar Pass, Ghulghulai and Dahak districts are Bamyan’s major attractions.
Also worth visiting are places like Feroz Bahar, Kalinga stupa, ancient forts like Chehel Dukhtaran (Forty Maidens) and Chehel Burj (Forty Towers). Ahmadpur says registering foreign visitors to Band-i-Amir is National Park’s responsibility.
A ticket costs 150 afs for a foreigner and 100 afs for an Afghan. He adds 68, 000 Afghans, mostly from Bamyan, Kabul, Ghazni, Balkh, Baghlan and Ghor provinces, visited Band-i-Amir this year.
Syed Raza Hashimi, in charge of foreigner registration at the National Park, put the number of non-Afghan visitors at only 10. America’s Wild Conservation Society has embarked on registering foreign tourists.
The exercise is aimed to ascertain the number of National Park visitors, revenue received from them and to prepare a welcome plan for foreigners. Under a 350,000 afs annual contract with the Bamyan Municipality, representatives of the handicapped receive 50 afs in entry fee per vehicle.
Domestic sightseers hire guesthouse equipped with all requisite facilities, including hydel power supply. They can also pitch tents anywhere around the dam without any security concern.
Hotels and shops in the area offer the visitors all items, including tents, delicious food, green tea and much more. Near the dam families and children can be seen enjoying the enormous natural beauty of the site.
Zakia, who has come along with her family from Kabul to Bamyan for the first time, described her visit as memorable. She relished visiting the historical places, hoping the trip will enhance her knowledge about Bamyan.
Legend has it Hazrat Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam, is buried in the area that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) visited. The remote, idyllic locality is dominated by ethnic Hazaras.
A teacher from Daikundi province, Ghulam Sakhi who visited the dam along with 14 companions, says the area is a great recreational spot and Hazrat Ali’s mausoleum is also located there. And that is why people stream to Bamyan all too often.
A healing spring located in the area attracts a large number of people with different ailments. They bathe in the spring or wash their bodies with the water in the hope of regaining health.
One female visitor from northern Balkh province, Rahela, says: “Suffering from epilepsy, I often fall unconscious. I have come to Band-i-Amir, hoping that washing myself with the spring water will heal my ailment.”
Residents of 14 villages around the dam eke out a living by selling the visitors their handicrafts and dairy products. Mutton BBQ and grilled lamb top hotel menu. But many foodie visitors opt for doing it all themselves.
Butcher Syed Mohammad says he has sold only four live lambs over the past two months besides slaughtering four others. In the years past, he would sell more than 30 lambs in two months. The market has really been weak this season, he remarks.
“Other vendors are faced with the same dilemma. Sales of milk, yogurt, whey, cream cheese, caps, handkerchiefs and other items have slumped. Many people are complaining … of declining businesses,” the man continues.
Director of Information and Culture Kabir Dadras links the falling number of foreign tourists to fewer Bamyan flights and road insecurity. Bombings, suicide attacks and increasing insurgent activities in the country are cited as other factors.
The six constituent lakes of Band-i Amir are Ghulaman, Qambar, Haibat, Panir, Pudina and Zulfiqar. Haibat is the biggest and the deepest of the six lakes, with an average depth of approximately 150 metres. The azure blue lakes contrast crisply with the surrounding red cliffs and white dams of travertine.
Decades of conflict in Afghanistan have taken a heavy toll on wildlife as well. Snow leopards have vanished from the area due to hunting, but wild goats, wild sheep, wolves, foxes, fish and a variety of birds are still living close to Band-i-Amir.
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