The Taliban may have wrought havoc on the mountains with their dynamite, but they could not kill the music.Normally, the mood in Bamiyan is sleepier, and it doesn’t take much to get away from people altogether.There are few security forces around, a rare sight in Afghanistan.What little security there is seems more occupied with helping Ibrahim keep the two sides of a vein-popping tug-of-war competition in place rather than with any sort of crowd control.During winter, when the temperature drops far below zero and most hotels close because of frozen pipes, Bamiyan even boasts the country’s only ski slope (no lift or après ski just yet).Ibrahim has condensed all of this into an effective sales pitch that he feeds me several times over the two days we spend together. Luring tourists from outside the country is a different matter entirely.Ibrahim can point to enough attractions in Bamiyan to put your average tourist trap to shame.Yes, it is known for the two giant Buddha statues, blown up during the reign of the Taliban, but Bamiyan is also home to magnificent ruin cities, caves featuring some of the oldest oil paintings in the world, and Afghanistan’s first national park.
Since the ouster in 2001 of the Taliban who drove Hazaras out of the area, many of them have returned to Bamiyan.As manager of Bamiyan’s tourism association, Ibrahim is the brains and muscle behind a push to convince foreigners to visit a town made internationally famous by one of the worst acts of cultural terrorism in recent history.Having enjoyed years of relative stability, Bamiyan wants to open up its cultural heritage to intrepid travelers curious to see more of the country than war.After 50 miles westward, Ibrahim leaves the highway and muscles the car down a dirt road leading into Band-e Amir, Afghanistan’s first national park.
Reddish tablelands curve smoothly down leather colored mountainsides into dusty valleys where the park spreads out around six deep blue freshwater lakes.
Boys riding cheap Iranian motorbikes kick up the dust that settles over roadside stalls, coating vegetables in grit.