Ecotourism in Afghanistan

Tourism in Afghanistan? It’s not what you expect from this remote and beautiful, but troubled Central Asian nation. Most media reports on Afghanistan talk of war and bloodshed, insurgents and explosive devices. What they rarely report is that most of the northern half of the country is in fact quite peaceful and that reconstruction and development are moving forward. Play casino without depositing any of your own money! Almost every casino offers free spins or no deposit bonus casino for new players when opening account.

A trickle of adventurous tourists is already arriving in Afghanistan, reminding Afghans of the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s when their country was a popular destination for thousands of foreign visitors, and tourism was good business. Those who came then ranged from archaeologists and ethnographers to hippies and other Western youth looking for adventure in high Asia.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the world’s largest private development agencies, works extensively in South and Central Asia. In two regions of Afghanistan (and in neighbouring Tajikistan), the Network is now supporting cautious plans to help revive the tourist industry as a way of creating jobs, and also to ensure that the inevitable tourism developments remain under the control of local people. Join our new UK mobile slot site today and get £5 free no deposit required! Play slots and casino games on your desktop, smart phone, tablet.

AKDN has ecotourism programmes in two areas – the remote and mysterious Wakhan Corridor, in the panhandle of northeastern Afghanistan, sandwiched between Pakistan, China and Tajikistan; and in the serenely beautiful Bamyan region of central Afghanistan, site of the giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taleban.

The first concern is, of course, security. Both the Wakhan and Bamyan are generally safe and peaceful. Wakhan is so remote it was virtually untouched by the years of war. Bamyan, high in the Central Highlands, has always been somewhat removed from the mainstream of Afghan politics and has been quiet since the end of the Taleban regime in 2001. These ecotourism programmes are aimed at long-term development, helping local people to prepare for a tourism industry which is already reviving.

Afghanistan is not for the fainthearted traveller, but several thousand expatriates already live and work here. Most are accustomed to the country’s special circumstances and could provide a ready market for the sort of small-scale trekking and adventure tourism which both Wakhan and Bamyan can provide. Apart from foreign tourists, Bamyan is already a popular destination for Afghans who visit the area in large numbers in summer. The ecotourism programme is also aimed at this market, to attract more Afghan visitors and to help them better understand the region’s local culture and ecology.

Of the two regions, Bamyan is better known internationally because the valley was the site of two giant Buddha statues carved into the red cliffs, dating from the 6th century. These were famously destroyed in 2001 by the Taleban. The giant niches where the Buddhas were carved remain, as well as hundreds of caves dug into the cliffs by Buddhist monks in the 1st millennium AD.

Bamyan was then a key transit point through the Hindu Kush mountains for travellers on the Silk Road trade routes which linked China, Europe and India. The Bamyan valley is also rich in other archaeological and historical sites, all set in a sublime landscape of green fields, ochre cliffs, cave complexes and fantastic wind-eroded rock formations reminiscent of Cappadocia in Turkey.

Another well-known site in the Bamyan region is Band-e-Amir, a chain of seven turquoise lakes formed by natural dams which have just become the centrepiece of Afghanistan’s first national park, declared in May 2009. Also nearby is the Ajar Valley, a spectacular secluded valley which was once the private hunting preserve of Afghanistan’s last king.

The Bamyan Ecotourism Programme, funded by the government of New Zealand, and implemented by AKDN, got underway this year. A tourist information office has been established in Bamyan, and brochures, a website and other information materials are being prepared. Local guides are being trained in the history, geology and folklore of the area.

Training is also getting underway to help establish small private guesthouses, and training courses will upgrade the quality of services at local hotels and restaurants. At Band-e-Amir, campsites will be developed, and local people helped to set up horse trekking and other tourist services.

The programme will stress the preservation and development of local culture and the protection of the natural environment as assets which are essential for a profitable tourism industry. In remote, poor areas with few natural resources like Bamyan and Wakhan, such assets as natural beauty and a vibrant indigenous culture can be exploited to attract visitors and money to develop the local economy.

The Wakhan Corridor is very different from Bamyan, culturally, ethnically and geographically, but this great valley of the upper Amu Darya, or Oxus, river was also an important part of the Silk Road since it was one of the chief routes through the mountain ranges of Central Asia on the way to China. Marco Polo became the Wakhan’s most famous early tourist when he travelled along the valley in about 1270. The Wakhan was also a focus of the “Great Game” in the late 19th century when rival British and Russian explorers and spies came to find the source of the Oxus, or to win imperial influence in this little-known region.

The Wakhan Corridor and the Afghan Pamirs is an area tailor-made for the adventurous traveller keen to trek with a horse or a yak through unknown valleys and camp in yurts in the high summer pastures of the last Kyrgyz nomads. A network of small family-run guesthouses has been established along the length of the Wakhan valley which visitors can now use as a base for exploring the region, whether by vehicle, or (preferably) by horse or on foot. Information brochures are being prepared and a website will be ready soon, giving detailed information. Training courses here will also help to improve the standard of food and accommodation, which at present are very basic.

Wakhan also has some of the highest mountains of the Hindu Kush – Mt Noshaq, at 7492 metres, is Afghanistan’s highest peak. Wakhan was emerging as a new mountaineering destination in the 1960s and 70s, until the Soviet invasion of 1979. With the recent publication of a mountaineering guidebook for Wakhan, steps are now underway to develop the region’s mountaineering potential.

In a notable achievement, two local Afghan mountain guides, trained as part of the ecotourism programme, recently became the first Afghans ever to stand on top of their country’s highest mountain, when they climbed to the summit of Mt Noshaq on 19 July this year.

For visitors coming to Afghanistan from outside the country, some are uneasy about travelling through the capital, Kabul, where there have been well-publicised bombings. Fortunately, there is another option for getting to Wakhan – a recently opened border crossing into Afghanistan from the Gorno-Badakhshan region of neighbouring Tajikistan at Ishkashim, the gateway to the Wakhan. AKDN also supports an ecotourism programme in the Tajik Pamirs, so the intention is to enable adventurous tourists visiting Tajikistan to make a short excursion into Afghan Wakhan. Afghan visas can be easily obtained at the Afghan consulate in Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan.

Tourists won’t be flocking to Afghanistan in the near future, but as the country seeks to build a more secure and prosperous future, many Afghans are eager to welcome foreign visitors back to their country. Now is the time to begin preparing.