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The Valley Of Light

The Valley Of Light

Witnessing the pristine beauty of Afghanistan's Bamiyan Province in 16 images.

Marian Brehmer

The scenery is so beautiful, it literally makes my breath slow down. The purity of the landscape seems almost surreal to me. In front of me lies a panorama of snow-capped mountains, deep brown potato fields with slender trees, snow-capped summits at the horizon, and in the midst of it all the famous perforated rocky sandstone cliffs that look like oversized termite mounds.

And the light! Everything is immersed in a magical orange-golden light. The air is so fresh and clear, it instantly makes me feel present and awake; although it's very early in the morning. Groups of schoolchildren with textbooks in their arms hop and hop across the fields, like playful dots of color.

It's an early November morning in the central Afghan town of Bamiyan, roughly 180 kilometres west of Kabul.

Bamiyan Province is the heartland of the Hazaras, a Shiite minority group within the rich cultural mosaic of Afghanistan. The people of Bamiyan are among the most friendly and humble humans I've met. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 the area has enjoyed stability and peace despite being materially poor. Side note: Afghanistan always made me question our definitions of wealth and poverty.

Many families in Bamiyan work in agriculture. About 60,000 farmers in the province make their living from growing potatos. Potato exports go to neighboring countries like Pakistan or Tajikistan, but green vegetables are usually imported from other provinces.

On the main bazaar street in the center of Bamiyan.
Bazaar with Bamiyan's characteristic sandstone rocks in the background.
A frame with prayers protects this bakery selling traditional bread.

From the roof terrace of my hotel I can clearly see the rock niches in which the 2500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan stood until March 2001. Back then, the Taliban filled the statues – which were the tallest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world – with tons of dynamite and blew them up. It was the first time this radical group with their screwed-up version of Islam caught the attention of the world press.

Now the niches of the Buddhas are empty, filled with a sense of deep sadness for the immensely destructive force of human ignorance. However, natural beauty prevails.

Boys playing near the Buddha niches bring joy and lightness where there are traces of destruction and heaviness.
Village panorama with the remnants of the citadel of Shahr-e Zuhak, a historic city near Bamiyan which used to be home to 3,000 people before its destruction by Genghis Khan.

To get to the famous Band-e Amir, a chain of six lakes and Bamiyan's landmark, we have to pass through a snowy sea of white.

There is a legend locals like to tell about the lakes: One day, Ali – the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad – fled from enemies to the region. He was attacked by local people. To defend himself, Ali rolled a rock towards them. The rock landed on the local river and dammed the water, creating the first of the six lakes, Lake Haibat.

Deep blue at Lake Haibat, Band-e Amir.
A suburbian scene in Bamiyan.

When peace returns to Afghanistan – let's say inshallah, although it doesn't seem very close at the moment – Bamiyan would be the first place to attract visitors. It deserves more people to witness its pristine beauty and warm hospitality.