Bamyan Recovers From Taliban Terror

by Abdul Haleem, Jawid Omid

BAMYAN, Afghanistan (Xinhua) — “Its natural beauty, panoramic landscapes, historical monuments, hospitable people and, above all, its peaceful environment, has lured me to Bamyan,” tourist Mohammad Haroon told Xinhua recently.

Visiting the site of the giant Buddha ruins and lambasting the Taliban for blowing up the cultural heritage with dynamite, Haroon protested that the hardliner group, by destroying a Buddha effigy, had committed a crime against humanity.

Located in central Afghanistan and surrounded by mountains, half rocky hilltops, plain flats, green valleys, clean streams and boasting countless monuments, Bamyan is widely regarded as the most peaceful province in militancy-plagued Afghanistan.

In addition to having cultural heritages including the famous giant Buddhas and thousands of nearby caves historically used by monks before reaching Mecca and Medina in the years after the 7th century, Afghanistan’s first-ever national park, the Band-e-Amir, comprises seven natural blue lakes which add to its outstanding beauty.

Although there are few facilities and amenities to accommodate tourists in the national park, hundreds of nature lovers visit the Band-e-Amir every day in autumn and winter, according to locals residing around the sapphire blue lakes.

The numbers of visitors, including foreigners, spikes in the earlier months, however, reaching more than 1,000 people everyday in spring and summer to the resplendent national park.

Located just two km away from the seven blue lakes of Band-e-Amir are hilltops used by skiers in winter to enjoy the sport and countless numbers of males and females are breaking with tradition and learning how to ski.

“We thank God that the number of tourists including foreigners has been on a constant rise in Bamyan province over the past couple of years,” Ishaq Azizi, director of the Tourism Department and acting director of the Culture Office in Bamyan, told Xinhua.

He also added that some 4,500 local tourists and more than 300 foreign sightseers visited Bamyan in 2015 and that the number has increased in the current year.

Many of the tourists visiting Bamyan are interested in seeing the giant Buddhas, the official said, adding that he is hopeful to see the monuments restored to their former splendor, with support for the international community.

Restoration of the Buddhas, according to Azizi, would increase the number of tourists to Bamyan.

Although he could not give an exact figure of future revenue estimates from tourism, he said hundreds of thousands of people benefit directly and indirectly from tourism in the region.

“The number of local tourists to Bamyan has increased to 5,700 so far in 2016 compared to 4,500 in 2015,” Abdul Hamid Jalya, director of protecting historical monuments in Bamyan province, told Xinhua.

In addition to local sightseers touring Bamyan in the current year, 422 foreign tourists have also visited the province in 2016.

“A total of 422 foreign tourists, of which 66 were American, 50 French and 12 Chinese, visited Bamyan’s tourist sites and especially the Buddhas’ ruins,” Jalya said.

In 2015, according to the official, only 320 foreign tourists visited Bamyan.

Jalya, who is also in charge of monitoring the work for construction of protective walls to keep the destroyed Buddha from further crumbling, said he was hopeful that the restoration of the Buddhas would attract more local and foreign tourists to Bamyan.

Both the 53-meter and 35-meter tall Buddhas carved in the fourth and fifth centuries by devotees into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley were vandalized by Taliban militants in March 2001, leading to harsh criticism and strong oppositions by both Afghan and the international community.

The prominent factors that differentiate Bamyan from other provinces and attract so many tourists is its peaceful environment, law-obedient people and its hardworking men and women.

Contrary to other parts of the conservative country, women in Bamyan contribute to building their families’ economy.

The first female governor in Afghanistan was based in Bamyan some four years ago and presently women are leading their own businesses and have handicraft shops in Bamyan city.

“We have local and foreign customers and at least 10 foreigners visit my shop everyday and buy my products,” Masooma Ibrahim, a local businesswoman who runs a handicrafts shop in “Women Market” said.

“The peaceful surroundings, warm hospitality, historical monuments and such beautiful landscape see us returning here year after year, we love Bamyan so very much,” a visiting couple from the Netherlands told Xinhua.

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