Bamiyan is said to derive its name from the ancient Dari word Bamikan, which means the “middle roof.” As a passage into the Hindu Kush and an important subsidiary route of the Silk Road, the Bamiyan Valley was, for over two thousand years, a centre of trade between East and West and a place of cultural and religious exchange.
Today, Bamiyan still embraces the memories of a glorious past in its tranquillity. Giant Buddhas niches carved in the red cliff overlooking the valley indelibly marked Bamiyan as a Buddhist centre of pilgrimage where pilgrims gathered to share and partake in rites of life and eternity. The vivid silhouette of Shahr-i Ghulghulah still suggest the ancient citadel fighting off invasions. You can travel to the waters of Band- e-Amir, where natural dams have created a string of vivid blue lakes set in the starkest of landscapes.
To travel here is to discover something of an older world inhabited by merchants, pilgrims and conquerors from half of Asia. . You will encounter the “heart” of Afghanistan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and discover one of the safest, greatest and least known destinations of Asia, now opening up to the world once more.
Places to Visit in Bamiyan
Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan
Believed to be the burial site of important saints, Bamiyan was a Buddhist centre under the Kushan Emperors. The famous Giant Buddhas were carved into the cliffs of Bamiyan between the 3rd and the 6th centuries CE. Historical documents mention that celebrations were held every year attracting numerous pilgrims eager to pay devotion and make their offerings to the Buddhas -- the Western “Big” Buddha, a 55 metre-high “Salsal Buddha,” and the Eastern “Small” Buddha, a 38 metre-high “Shamama Buddha.” Although the statues were destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban, the site is a historical complex with outstanding universal value, and has been classified as such by UNESCO. Stairways that lead to the head of the Buddhas, presumably used by the pilgrims to pray and bring their offerings, and over 500 caves with traces of murals and carved decorations from over a thousand years await visitors.
Islamic architectures in Bamiyan
Islamic art and architecture were introduced to Bamiyan in the 11th century CE. The town of Bamiyan followed the model of cities from the Khorassan region. Under the rule of the Ghurids (1155-1212), the development of the city included the fortified settlements of Shahr-i Ghulghulah, Shahr-i-Zuhak and Shahr-i-Sarkhoshak.
A twenty-minute walk to the southeast of the modern bazaar, punctuating the centre of the valley basin to the south of the great cliff are the remains of the fortress of Shahr-i Ghulghulah. Dating from the 6th to 10th centuries CE, this marks the original settlement of Bamiyan as stopping place on the branch of the Silk Route, which linked China and India via ancient Bactria.
Further east, along the Bamiyan Valley, are the remains of fortification walls and settlements, dating from the 6th to 8th centuries, called Shahr-i-Zuhak (the “Red City”). The earlier remains of the site are overlaid by later constructions from the 10th to 13th centuries erected under the rule of the Islamic Ghaznavid and Ghorid dynasties. Climbing 150 metres up the cliff, the site offers spectacular views up the Hajigak Valley and to the Kuh-e-Baba mountains. Just south of the main road, close to Shahr-i-Zuhak, stands a ruined but substantial caravanserai. Little is known about its history, but it is probably 18th-20th century in origin.
The dramatic series of six lakes known as Band-e-Amir is one of Afghanistan’s best known natural sites. Located in a wild plateau about 70 km west of Bamiyan town, the lakes have been proposed as the centre of the country’s first national park. Separated by natural dams, each lake is several metres lower than the one above it. The largest lake, Zulfiqar, measures 490 hectares. The dams separating the lakes are formed of travertine, a form of calcium carbonate. Band-e-Amir is one of the world’s most significant examples of this type of formation.
Waterfalls form where water pours over the lip of the dams, freezing into dramatic ice formations in winter. Shrubs and marshland around the lakes make them an important habitat for migratory birds.
The site plays an important role in local tradition. A lakeside shrine, visited by thousands of faithful in the summer, marks the place where Hazrat Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, is said to have prayed.
The Ajar Valley, overlooked by mountains rising to 4300 metres, has some of the most spectacular scenery in Afghanistan. This secluded valley of the rugged Hindu Kush lies a day’s journey to the north of Bamiyan town. At the spring of Chiltan, the Ajar river flows directly from the canyon wall. For most of the 20th century, Ajar was protected as a royal hunting preserve and offered an undisturbed habitat for large populations of urial sheep, Siberian ibex, Bactrian deer, common leopard and lynx. These species have seen their numbers severely reduced by overhunting in recent years, but the Afghan government, non-government organisations and local communities are now working to protect the valley as a wildlife reserve.
Shah Foladi (5,143 metres) is the highest mountain in the Kuh-e-Baba range rising to the south of the Bamiyan valley. Its lofty peak lies at the end of Foladi valley where a series of high-altitude lakes awaits the adventurous hiker on a day trip from Bamiyan.
Bamiyan Tourism Information Centre (BTIC) in front of the Giant Buddhas, Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
The Bamiyan Tourism Information Centre (BTIC) provides information about tourist sites and activities in Bamiyan. The Centre, run by the Bamiyan Department of the Ministry of Information and Culture (DoIC), is located in front of the Giant Buddha site. Promotional materials such as brochures, leaflets and guide books both in Dari and English are available there.
©Fardin Waezi | The Afghanistan We Are Proud Of
©Jalil Yosufi | The Afghanistan We Are Proud Of
©Mohammad Ali Sheida | The Afghanistan We Are Proud Of