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AFGHANISTAN'S BAMIYAN PROVINCE TOURIST DESTINATION


  Although it may seem bizarre to be promoting tourism during the current economic crisis, Afghanistan's central Bamiyan province is doing just that. Many nature seekers are traveling to Afghanistan despite the ongoing war. In the Afghan culture, hosts do not charge their guests; the hosts provide hot tea and homemade butter and bread for the infrequent visitors. Visitors travel to central Bamiyan province to experience the nearby lakes of Band-i-Amir. But with a new eco-tourism project underway, some of these unwritten traditions of hospitality might change.


Although it may seem bizarre to be promoting tourism during the current economic crisis, Afghanistan’s central Bamiyan province is doing just that. Many nature seekers are traveling to Afghanistan despite the ongoing war. In the Afghan culture, hosts do not charge their guests;  the hosts provide hot tea and homemade butter and bread for the infrequent visitors. Visitors travel to central Bamiyan province to experience the nearby lakes of Band-i-Amir. But with a new eco-tourism project underway, some of these unwritten traditions of hospitality might change.

Recently, New Zealand granted the Bamiyan province $1.2 million to launch an eco-tourism development program, since New Zealand troops maintain a small military outpost in the province. This comes after officials and non-government organizations, in Afghanistan, have actively sought potential investors. The development initiative aims to build a sustainable environment for visitors and protect the livelihood of the people.

The initial plan was implemented by the Aga Kahn Foundation (AKF) in liaison with the provincial government. The eco-tourism project looks to preserve the region’s unique natural and cultural heritage while assisting locals to enhance their skills to meet the needs of visiting tourists. This is not the first time AKF has sought communities like Bamiyan, they have in fact implemented several community-based tourism projects in other areas of Central Asia. The plan is to focus on capacity building, enhancing local handicraft production and constructing basic facilities for travelers. The basic facilities could range from basic roadside hostels to luxury accommodations.

There is speculation that Bamiyan will be connected to Kabul within the next three years.

Three years has now become the official time line to build Bamiyan as a tourist destination. Members working on the project acknowledge the current security situation in Afghanistan but believe that in three years time the nation will be more stable due to efforts from the international community and the Afghan government. The potential for the success of the project is based on past statistics. Despite the drop in tourism the last two years, officially there were 44,000 local and foreign visitors in the area in 2006. The province is known for its natural beauty, local legends, religious piety and the thrill of adventure. The main attraction in the area is a series of interlocking lakes that emit varying degrees of blues and green.

Bayiman province is a destination full of history and legendary myths, such as the massacres carried out by Genghis Kahn. A rich history combined with the beautiful geography have created a unique experience for tourists.

But due to the rise of modern commerce, trade and travel, this old sector of the Silk Road soon became ignored thus isolating the province. The isolation worsened during Sunni Islam’s rise as the predominant religious force in the region. Since the province is largely populated by Sh’ia-practicing ethnic Hazaras, during the Sunni Islam reign of power many Bamiyans faced massacres under the Taliban regime. Presently, Hazaras are the most welcoming of foreigners in Afghanistan.

The isolation, however, has ended due to Taliban’s action last year where the regime blew up two of the area’s giant Buddhas. The action drew international outrage. Due to the media attention the two Buddha’s received, the end of the Tabliban regime has left many people interested in the statues and has hence attracted thousands of visitors. The combination of the friendliness of the locals and relatively  increased safety has made this destination an iconic sight of every foreigner and tourist in Afghanistan, including large Japanese tours.

Despite all the intrigue in this area, there are currently no commercial flights and the road to Kabul is unpaved. A car ride that should only be three hours often ends up taking eight to twelve hours. Many visitors reach the area through aircrafts serving UN, NGO’s and other donor communities.

The community itself believes that the only thing that they require from the international community and the Afghan government is security and accessibility. After all, the beauty of the area is  likely going to make Band-i Amir the first national park in Afghanistan.

Source: www.AsiaEcon.org
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Source: www.asiaecon.org |


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