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CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN BA MIYAN &

120 BAMIYAN ••

Sleeping

stray from the well-worn path. The path quickly steepens and becomes increasingly exposed to strong crosswinds. A rusting anti-aircraft gun and abandoned soldier’s post market the summit. The views over the confluence of the two

rivers are awesome, with their thin strips of cultivated green providing a stark contrast to the dry pink and tan of the mountains. The location’s strategic value is immedi- ately apparent, and the heights seemingly impregnable to all except Genghis. Shahr-e Zohak is around 9km from

Bamiyan. To get there take any westbound transport out of Bamiyan. As the confluence of the Bamiyan and Kalu rivers is where the roads from the Shibar and Hajigak Passes meet, any transport should be able to drop you there. Ask to be let out at Tupchi vil- lage (40Afg, 25 minutes) or the checkpoint at Shashpul half a kilometre after it, which is next to the confluence. The soldiers here will check you have a ticket from the Direc- tor of Information and Culture in Bamiyan (see p117 ). From here, walk about 1km fol- lowing the Kalu, until you can see a simple wood-and-earth bridge, roughly level with the last of the citadel’s towers (if your vehi- cle is going in the Hajigak Pass direction – the nearest villages to ask for are Dahane Khushkak, Paymuri or Sawzaw – you can be dropped at this point). A short walk along the edge of a field brings you to a pass leading up to the towers. Hiring a vehicle from Bamiyan will cost around 1100Afg return, depending on your haggling skills.

Darya Ajdahar

Five kilometres west of Bamiyan lies Darya Ajdahar, or Valley of the Dragon, where you’ll find the petrified remains of a mons- trous creature that once terrorised the region.

The dragon took up residence in Bamiyan in pagan times, and fed daily on a diet of vir- gins and camels provided by the browbeaten population. All attempts to slay it ended in a fiery end. Only Ali, the Prophet Moham- med’s son-in-law, fresh from creating the Band-e Amir lakes (see p123 ), could manage the task. The dragon’s burning breath turned to tulip petals as they licked around the hero, whereupon he drew his great sword Zulfiqar and cleaved the monster in two.

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The dragon can clearly be seen and only those lacking poetry would remark that its body is merely a vast whaleback of volcanic rock split by an ancient earth- quake. Others would point instead to the 2m-high horns and the two springs at its head – one running clear with the dragon’s tears, the other red with its blood. The springs run the length of the great fissure and bending quietly down next to it, you can sometimes hear the groan of the dead beast echoing through the rock. At the far end of the dragon is a simple shrine dedi- cated to Ali. The new village of Ajdahar lies at the head

of the valley, built by the UN for Hazara returnees from Iran and Pakistan. It’s a grim place, with barely a scrap of greenery, but the villagers are trying hard to make a living. The dragon lies at the valley’s far end – look for the white smear on the rock and the spur of the dragon’s horn on the north slope. Wear decent footwear for the short climb. A round trip from Bamiyan to Darya Aj- dahar in a private vehicle will cost around 500Afg. Transport leaves erratically to Aj- dahar village (30Afg, 20 minutes).

SLEEPING

Marco Polo Hotel (Shahr-e Nau; dm 70Afg) More a

chaikhana than a proper hotel, this is a real shoestring option – everyone squeezes into a small room on the ground floor, or retires upstairs to sleep in the restaurant. As with many chaikhanas, there’s no bathroom so you’ll quickly become familiar with Bami- yan’s hammam (20Afg per person).

Mama Najaf (x079 9426 250; Shahr-e Nau; dm 300Afg)

Two communal rooms sit above a chaikhana, up some extremely rickety wooden stairs. There’s a simple bathroom and toilet, but for hot water you’ll need to head for the hammam (20Afg per person) across the street .

Zohak Hotel (x079 9235 298; Shahr-e Nau; s/d/tr

US$20/40/50) Bamiyan’s best budget option by some degree. The old upstairs dorm has been turned into a restaurant, while the ad- dition of the rooftop shower with piping hot water is very welcome. Rooms are compact and basic, but clean. Food is good, with large plates of rice, vegetables and meat for around 150Afg.

Bamiyan Hotel (x079 9212 543; Teppe Baba Shah; r

US$30, yurts US$40) This is Bamiyan’s oldest hotel and one of the few still run by the ATO.

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The luxury yurts the hotel boasted in the 1970s have been rebuilt, offering one of Afghanistan’s most novel accommodation options. Standard rooms in the main hotel have shared bathrooms. There’s a pleasant garden, although the high perimeter walls block great views across the valley. The res- taurant is Bamiyan’s best eating choice; a three-course meal with soup and fruit costs around 200Afg.

Bamika Hotel (x079 9398 162; Sir Asyab; r US$40)

This pleasant hotel suffers from poor sign- ing – it’s some way into Sir Asyab village, 200m past the ICRC compound. Once there, it’s both spacious and spotless. Rooms are large and, unusually for Bamiyan, en suite (with hot-water heater.)

Roof of Bamiyan Hotel (x079 9235 292; Sir

Asyab; r US$40-60) If it’s location you’re after, head here – this hotel offers fantastic views over the Bamiyan valley. Clean bathrooms are shared, with the cheaper rooms in a separate annexe. There’s a restaurant, plus a series of yurts that were under construction when we visited. The manager, an Afghan veteran of the hippy trail, can organise reli- able vehicle hire and the like.

EATING

Across Afghanistan, Bamiyan is known for two things – potatoes and krut. Krut is dried yoghurt made into balls, which can be reconstituted into a sauce, or sucked on as a snack when travelling or working. It’s an acquired taste. The potatoes make a pleas- ant change from rice, however, particularly when made into chips. Bamiyan only has a few restaurants, all along the main bazaar in Shahr-e Nau, and all offering standard chaikhana fare for 50Afg to 70Afg: kebabs, pulao and shorwa (soup). None stand out over any others; try the Ghulghula Hotel, the Kabul Restau- rant or the Sakhi Restaurant. All are 1st- floor affairs, with steps leading up from the street, making window space a good place to watch the world go by. The restaurants at the Zohak, Bamiyan and Roof of Bamiyan Hotels offer more va- riety, although you’ll need to give advance notice when you want to eat. The shops along Shahr-e Nau bazaar are

stocked with food staples and a few treats. The fruit and vegetable market runs parallel to the main street, one block to the north.

BAMIYAN ••

Eating 121

GETTING THERE & AWAY

Minibuses depart from the area around Mama Najaf hotel. Transport to Kabul (400Afg, nine to 11 hours), leaves around 4am to 5am, so it’s important to check what’s available the day before travel. Note that Kabul transport generally takes the south- erly road via the Hajigak and Unai Passes, which at the time of research was not con- sidered safe for travel for foreigners since it passes through restive Wardak Province. The northern road, via the Shibar Pass, is the more secure (and picturesque) option, but get up-to-date advice before travelling. Both roads are very poor quality – something of a political issue in the province. Direct minibuses to Band-e Amir (150Afg, three hours) tend to be restricted to Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A large Millie bus also runs this route every Friday morning (40Afg, 3½ hours). Heading west, minibuses travel most days to Yawkawlang (200Afg, five hours) according to demand, but transport beyond Yawkawlang is hard to find unless you’re prepared to hire your own vehicle. Snowfall and floods can make the road west from Bamiyan extremely difficult from Novem- ber to as late as May. For more on travel ling this route see p124 . There’s no public transport heading north from Bamiyan, making it easier (and quicker) to go to via Kabul and the Salang Tunnel. With your own transport, the di- rect road is slow and remote, albeit with good mountain views. From Bamiyan, take the Shibar Pass road and turn north where the road splits at Shikari. The road passes the ruined ramparts of Sar Khoshak (de- stroyed by Genghis Khan) and the entrance

THE SHIBAR PASS

As the narrow road bumps over the Shibar Pass (2960m) spare a thought for Alexander the Great’s soldiers who slogged over it in the winter of 327 BC. Cold and tired, they didn’t know (or probably care) that they were crossing a continental watershed, where the Indian subcontinent is divided from Central Asia. Rivers to the east of the Shibar Pass ultimately join the Indus river system, while those on the west flow to- wards the Amu Darya.

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