Bamian, Afghanistan

Bamian (also known Bamiyan or Bamyan) lay on one of the silk routes and was an important religious site for the Gandharan Empire that included Takht e Bhai and Taxila in Pakistan.

The cliffs overlooking the town are riddled with large numbers of caves in which Buddhist monks lived and worshipped. They were often highly decorated with Buddhist motifs including large statues of the Buddha. The giant Buddhas of Bamian were completed in the 6th century AD and standing at 55 and 37m high respectively, they were for nearly 1,500 years the highest standing Buddha statues in the world.

In the 11th century, Buddhism was replaced by Islam in the region, Bamian became less important and the Buddhas fell into disrepair.

The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb destroyed the legs of the largest Buddha in the 17th century and the Persian, Nadir Shah fired a cannon at them in the 18th century. Despite this, the statues retained their world-renowned status until March 2001 when the Taliban used artillery, anti-tank mines and finally dynamite to destroy the Buddhas over a month-long period.

Even without the Buddhas themselves, the valley of Bamian is still striking, the ruins of 2 forts guard the entrance to the valley and at sunset, the rock takes on a beautiful hue. It is also possible to climb into the caves and view the valley from where the largest Buddha’s head would have been.

Isn’t Afghanistan dangerous?

As you may know, Afghanistan is a melting pot of different religious and ethnic groups. Whilst this is one of the reasons for it’s troubled history it is also why certain areas of the country can be quite safe (or at least no riskier than other Asian developing countries) to visit whilst others would be extremely dangerous.

Without simplifying it too much, the dangerous areas are generally Pashtun. The Pashtuns are the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan and the Taliban are Pashtun. Whilst the President is also Pashtun, much of the official political power in Afghanistan is held by people from other minorities (Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek). This results in instability in Pashtun areas for political reasons as much as ideological ones.

Bamian, in the centre of Afghanistan, is really quite safe. The Hazaras that live there are Shi’a and really do not get on with the Sunni Pashtuns. It is a political and geographic backwater and has no insurgency.

Untamed Borders have extensive experience in arranging guided travel into Afghanistan. You can read more about travelling to the country on their website.

Alpine Afghanistan

Bamian is also emerging as an unlikely ski resort, attracting both local and foreign ski enthusiasts to its virgin snow slopes and warm hospitality.

Every March the province hosts the Afghan Ski Challenge, the country’s only ski race which is open to all.