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On June 4, 2015, I packed a small bag and headed to Bamyan. Why? Because that weekend, Bamyian was to be officially declared as SAARC’s cultural capital for 2015. Much has been written about this prestigious title across big and small media around the world

But I have a question, and I know many others do to, which is, why Bamyan? Why not Kabul, or Balkh, or Herat, or Jalalabad or any other city?

Of course, we Afghans know that Bamyan and Balkh are among some of the most ancient cities of Afghanistan, but I wasn’t satisfied with just that reason. I wanted to know more, so I went to Bamyan to find out for myself.

Here are some reasons why I think that Bamyan is indeed the ideal choice:

If you want to go by the way of road, you have two options. Either you go from asphalted way that passes Ghorband or a half asphalted road of Kotale Hajigak. If I were to go from Ghorband, it would take me six and half hours, while via Hajigak, it would take around four hours. We decided to take the Hajigak route which I knew was very scenic. I had travelled this road three years ago and I was happy we had chosen this path again.

People claim that both roads are dangerous and that there is probability of being kidnapped by Taliban. But interestingly though, these roads are more prone to accidents than Taliban.

Unlike Hajigak route, on Ghorband’s route, it is unclear as to which areas are held by real Taliban!.Some of drivers say that of the six hours, at least one hour of the Ghorband route is dangerous. Everybody knows where the Taliban exist on Hajigak route; the Takana district in Wardak province. However, there is a check point every 200 meters there is a police checkpoint.

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Security on the way to Bamiyan had been strengthened. This is the last check point at the Wardak province.

When we entered this province, I quickly hid all my modern technology tools, even my glasses since the Taliban are known to identify and target travellers carrying such gadgets. Passing this district takes around 20-25 minutes. Had the Taliban not destroyed the sides of roads, it would have been possible to pass it faster. The next district is Jalrez, and around the first 10 minutes at the beginning of this district is dangerous. You find fewer police check points as you reach to next district, Seya Khak, and even the conditions of road seems to get better. Interestngly, Takana and Jalrez are known for their excellent quality of apples.

This photo is from the last police checkpoint. Here onwards, there was no police stopovers till Bamyan.

When you enter Seyah Khak, it feels like you have entered another country. From humans to nature, everything is different! Asphalted roads, security, the architecture, distances between homes; everything is different.

While passing Se

While passing Seyah Kak Bazaar

As you get closer to the central mountains of Afghanistan, you in breath fresh air. There is no danger from here to Bamyan city; so I took out my mobile and took several photographs till the city arrived.

A little but important observation of Seyah Khak was the ruined parts at the beginning of this bazaar that shows the impact of Taliban attacks, a reminiscence of the days that resulted into the destruction of biggest archeological sites.

It was 6:30am and this school girl was sitting on the roadside and it looked like she was resting. In Afghanistan, most schools start at 7:30am or 8:00am. It looked to me like this girl had a long way to go!

A little girl takes a break on her long journey to schools

A little girl takes a break on her long journey to schools

We left Kabul at 5:00am and we reached Hajigak pass at 7:30am. The road before Hajigak is asphalted, but gets rough as you get closer to the pass.

Hajigak pass; we are 3700 meters above sea. Baba mountain are located at the front and the famous mine of Hajigak is on the left side.

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Hajigak mines located in the Baba mountains

Hajigak mine is one of the resources that can aide our national gross domestic profit. In 2011, there was a contract signed between India and Afghanistan for investment of 10.7 billion dollars over next 30 years. But, it is still to be implemented.

Trip to mountain: the most enjoyable part of the trip was when we passed the many beautiful landscapes. I felt like I could touch the peaks of the mountains.

The plenty and beautiful mountains along the way make the route very scenic

The plenty and beautiful mountains along the way make the route very scenic

When you descend from Hajigak pass, till Bamyan, the roads are not asphalted. There are children who work on the streets.

Several road are still under constructions

Several road are still under constructions

As you reach closer the Bamyan city, before reaching Shah Pol, the first thing you see are the red mountains of the legendary city of Zahak.

The ancient city of Zahak

The ancient city of Zahak

Shah Pol also links to the Ghorband and Hajigak ways. At 9:00am we reached a check point where the security forces were checking every car. This was the first police checkpoint that I saw since Jalrez district.

Interestingly, the attitude of the people as well as the security forces behavior was pleasant. There was a mutual respect that we rarely witness. Security forces were happy and you could see the smile on their commanders’ lips. If people had questions, they were answering it respectfully and with a smile. I also asked a question on whether I can take pictures. He politely replied that I could take pictures beyond the mountains but not at the checkpoint. At all checkpoints, the security forces always mentioned apologetically that the inconvenience was for our own safety. Similarly, people, too, took a moment to appreciate their work. In fact, they were checking women as well, and people did not seem to mind. After about 3 or 4 checkpoints, we reached the city.

The Bamyan valley: the beauty of this city is not limited to the archeological sites. The nature around the city is overwhelming.

Welcome to the Bamyan valley

Welcome to the Bamyan valley

Bamyan is a small city with lot of natural beauty and impressive archeological sites. There are plenty of places to visit like the big statue of Bamyan, the valley of dragon ‘Darre Azhdaha’, Shahre Sokhta (Gholghola), the city of Zahak and Buddhist monks’ caves.

Big statues of Bamyan: the biggest statue of Buddhas were destroyed by Taliban in 2001. The antiquity of these statue dates back 2500 years.

The site of the giant statues of Buddha that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001

The site of the giant statues of Buddha that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001

There are still many cave that are reaming from days of Buddhist monk. But now, poor homeless families live there.

This little girl offered a welcoming smile when I pulled out my camera to take a photo.

A girl at Maghara smiles for the camera

A girl at Maghara smiles for the camera

You can see the remains of the castle; probably remnants of an era when Bamyan used to be a major city on the Silk Road. You can see traces of ancient monuments, alongside modern additions of internet cables and antennas.

Remnants of Afghan history

Remnants of Afghan history

I could not visit many beautiful places during my short two-day stay due to security reasons. I could not even visit the little statue of Buddha. But I did got to Darrae Azhdaha, the “valley of dragon”, that is located outside the city. On the top of this beautiful valley, there are small but long hills that are separated from inside.

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Darrae Azhdaha, the “valley of dragon”, that is located outside the city

Legend has it that Imam Ali, the first Imam of Shiites, killed a dragon there! This hill stretches far and people say that is the place where the impression of Hazrat Ali’s sword strike that killed the dragon is still there. But according to science, the hills were created because underground water bodies.

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Legend has it that Imam Ali, the first Imam of Shiites, killed a dragon at Darrae Azhdaha

At the end of the hill, there are two lump of rocks that at the first glance look like bull’s horn.

There are many other beautiful places in Bamyan. For instance, there is a place in Yakawlang district called Chihl Borj, where the famous fictional story of Shirin and Farhad is based, and the natives here will narrate it to you.

On the way to Band-e-Ameer, there are some more checkpoints. Eventually, I was permitted to take picture of them checking the passengers.

Another checkpoint with friendly security officers

Another checkpoint on the way to Band-e-Ameer with friendly security officers

Before reaching Band-e-Ameer, between Dasht-e-Shahidan and Dasht-e-Shebertoo lots of people had come to watch the Buzkashi match. The driver told us that people of this area always try to find a reason to hold a Buzkashi match. This match was for the SAARC ceremony.

A buzkashi match organised on the occasion of the SAARC event

A Buzkashi match organised on the occasion of the SAARC event

Two team struggle in Buzkashi match; when a team take the goat from the circle at one end of the ground and cross the flag at the other end of the ground and throw the goat carcass back inside the circle. The opponent team tries to stop them and the best Chap Andaz is awarded at the end.

The "goal" for the Buzkashi, a game considered as the national sport of Afghanistan

The “goal” for the Buzkashi, a game considered as the national sport of Afghanistan

Band-e-Ameer is made of five big and several small dams and is located inside Hindu Kush and a series of Baba Mountains at the central Afghanistan. The native of Bamyan believe that these dams were made by Hazrat Ali’s miracle. The famous dams are: Ghulaman, Paneer, Podina, Haibad, Qanbar, and Zulfiqar dam.

Haibat dam is the most deepest and beautiful dam of this collection.

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Band-e-Ameer: Haibat dam

There are beautiful hills and walls of different colours around the Haibad dam which make for a spectacular view.

From Podina’s dam, the water flows to Zulfiqar dam, then to Paneer dam. And later  it flows into Haibat dam.

Haibat dam

Band-e-Ameer: Haibat dam

Paneer, which means cheese, is named because of its beautiful white walls.

Band-e-Ameer: Haibat dam

Band-e-Ameer: Lake Paneer, which means cheese, named for it white walls

Different types of herbs/vegetables grow around Podina’s dam. The different nature of each dam has made it nationally and internationally famous.

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Band-e-Ameer: Haibat dam

Zulfiqar dam is named after Hazrat-e-Ali’s sword and is the biggest dam in this collection.

Band-e-Ameer

Band-e-Ameer: Zulfiqar dam, named after Hazrat-e-Ali’s sword

Well, I have visited Bamyan six times and have been to Band-e-Ameer three of those times, and I have to say that this legendary province, with people who narrated endless legendary stories, is new to me every time. Every time is like the first time.

Lake Band-e-Ameer

Lake Band-e-Ameer

With so much beauty, serenity, history and culture, I can confidently say that Bamyan was the best choice as capital for SAARC.

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Why Bamyan is the ideal choice for SAARC’s cultural capital

About The Author
- I am a citizen journalist based in Kabul