Band E Amir – Afghanistan’s First National Park
It’s a shame that Afghanistan is more known for war than it’s natural beauty. Travel just 4 hours by road from the chaos of Kabul and you can find a side to the country that is completely at odds with the stereotype. Band E Amir National Park is Afghanistan’s first, and only national park, gaining it’s status in 2009. Band e Amir covers 230 square miles and is known as Afghanistan’s Grand Canyon and is a popular holiday destination for domestic and international tourists alike.
The worlds second highest mountain range; the Hindu Kush houses Band e Amir 3000m up in it’s foothills. The area consists of six pristine lakes all with interesting names; Lake of the slaves, Lake of Caliph Ali’s slave, Lake of grandiose, Lake of cheese, Lake of wild mint, Lake of the sword of Ali. The lakes of Band E Amir are nestled amidst imposing limestone cliffs which are almost completely devoid of vegetation. Each lake has a slightly different colour, from a light turquoise to rich blue. The result is a landscape of contrasts. The rich colours of the lakes against the baron mountains surrounding them create a truly unique environment.
According to legend, the Prophet Mohammed’s son in law, Ali, created the lake by a series of miracles. The landscape impressed the king so much, that he immediately converted to Islam. A temple dedicated to Ali was built to honour this on the shore of Band e Haibat, where it stands today.
Getting to Band e Amir
Band E Amir is remote. Very remote. The best way to get there is to base yourself at the settlement of Bamiyan. From here minivans leave every Thursday afternoon and Friday morning in the high season at a cost of 150 Afg (approx us$1.30) They only depart if they have enough passengers so it’s advisable to build a few days flexibility into any itinerary into Band e Amir. The alternative is to get a mini van from Bamiyan heading towards Yakawlang, and get off at the turn off to the lakes. From here it’s a good 3 hour walk in the heat, so make sure you have plenty of water.
Facilities In Band e Amir
The park has very little in the way of facilities. Most people opt to camp, but you will need to carry all your own equipment and food. There are fresh water springs in the park, which should be safe to drink, however we recommend taking a portable water filter to be safe.
The only form of any accommodation in Band e Amir is in a Chaikhana (basic tea house) called the Dir Hotel. This is located at Band-e Haibat, along with a few very basic shops selling juice, biscuits and batteries. The Dir Hotel has floor mats in a shared room, for 100 Afn (Approx US$ 1.30 per night). If you want privacy then they have floor mats in private rooms in the building next door. They’re very basic, often dirty, and can get quite cold. Price is also 100 Afn (Approx US$ 1.30 per night).
The Dir hotel also offers the only place to get meals in the area. A simple local fish meal can be bought for 160Afn (approx us$2.30), expect tasty but simple food. They also offer an area to camp, next to the only public toilets in the whole park.
Things To See In Band e Amir
All 6 lakes in the park are equally fascinating, however the most accessible is Band e Haibat. One of the most picturesque spots in the Band e Amir is at the top of the mountain in Band e Haibat. The best time to get there is sunrise, around 5:30am. Here you get striking views of Band e Amir, and if the lakes are calm, you get some amazing reflections of the surrounding Hindu Kush mountains. To get here you need to take the small trail that leads up the hill from behind the Dir Hotel. It’s only a 20 minute walk and gives you a fantastic view of the surrounding area. Limestone walls surround the lake and drop 12 meters vertically, create a unique landscape.
Also located on at Band e Haibat is The Tomb of Ali. This small mosque like temple is dedicated to the son in law of the Prophet Mohammed, who impressed the local king so much that he converted to Islam.
Swimming in the lake only permitted for males. Located behind the Tomb of Ali is ‘Women’s Beach’. It is the only place in the park where women are permitted to enter the water. Bear in mind however, Band e Haibat is fiendishly cold and should only be attempted by good swimmers. A dip in the lakes will cure you from diseases apparently, however the rubbish and waste that seems to end up in the lakes would suggest otherwise. If you want to brave the waters, but don’t fancy a swim, then it’s possible to rent a swan paddle boat for around usd $0.10 an hour from Band e Haibat.
Band e Amir is a wilderness. As such medical help is a long way away. Dehydration can be a major problem as temperatures can hit 32 C (88 F) in the summer months. Common sense applies and if you’re planning to walk large distances then make sure you take water with you. The other safety issue is the threat of landmines. The Taliban littered the area with landmines. Especially the road from Bamiyan. While they have been cleared, visitors are strongly advised to not venture off established paths.
When Afghanistan manages to shake off it’s war torn image, and develop a tourist industry Band e Amir will surely become one of it’s highlights.