Bamiyan Central Afghanistan

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 cultural 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 (pi 14)

Dip your toes in the sapphire-blue lakes of the Band-e Amir (pi 22)

Climb the ancient ruined citadel of

Shahr-e Zohak (pi 19), guardian of the

Bamiyan valley

Bump along the remote and spectacular back-roads of Afghanistan's central route (pi 24)

Scale the lost Minaret of Jam (pi 26), hidden in the folds of the Hindu Kush

Shahr-e Zohak

Band-e Aniiri

Bamiyan

Minaret of Jam Jf

^fc^-Central Route

RISK ASSESSMENT

Bamiyan has consistently remained one of the calmest provinces in Afghanistan, with no major security incidents. Travellers are advised to avoid the southern route to Bamiyan from Kabul via the Hajigak Pass and Maidan Shahr in Wardak Province due to poor security, where there have been repeated abduction threats made against internationals.

The central route is reasonably secure but very remote. There have been regular reports of robberies against private vehicles in the Chist-e Sharif and Obey areas.

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