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113

Bamiyan & Central Afghanistan

ﺰﺮﻣ نﺎﺘﺴﻧﺎﻐﻓا و نﺎﻴﻣﺎﺑ

The massed peaks of the Hindu Kush form a huge tangled knot in the centre of the country, aptly known as the Koh-e Baba – the Grandfather of Mountains. It’s also the Hazarajat, the home of the country’s minority Hazara population. Today it’s a remote and marginal area, but was once the crucible for some of Afghanistan’s greatest cul- tural achievements.

Buddhism flowered in the green Bamiyan valley 1500 years ago; a centre of art and pilgrimage that reached its apogee in the creation of the giant statues of Buddha, which overlooked the town until their cruel destruction by the Taliban in 2001. Even deeper into the mountains, the fabulous Minaret of Jam still stands as a testament to the glories of later Muslim dynasties.

But the scenery is the real star of central Afghanistan – an unending procession of rocky mountaintops, deep gorges and verdant river valleys. The bright light and crisp mountain air makes the landscape sing, not least the incredible blue lakes of Band-e Amir.

The roads can be as bad as the views are spectacular, and visitors should prepare for bumpy travel and some chilly nights at high altitude. You’ll need to time your trip for the warmer months: many communities become cut off once the snows of winter arrive, with roads impassable until after the spring melt.

HIGHLIGHTS

 Stand in awe beneath the giant empty Buddha niches of Bamiyan ( p114 )

 Dip your toes in the sapphire-blue lakes of the Band-e Amir ( p122 )

 Climb the ancient ruined citadel of Shahr-e Zohak ( p119 ), guardian of the Bamiyan valley

 Bump along the remote and spectacular back-roads of Afghanistan’s central route ( p124 )

 Scale the lost Minaret of Jam ( p126 ), hidden in the folds of the Hindu Kush

of Jam Minaret

Band-e Amir

Route Central

Shahr-e Zohak Bamiyan

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