Yasin, Reese, his friend Maiwand and I were in Bamiyan for a few days to check on our projects and get a much-needed escape from Kabul’s hectic city life. Even for a trip of a few days Bamiyan makes for a perfectly revitalizing vacation – clean air, open space, fresh weather, great security, friendly people – what more could one ask for.
We arrived and spent Monday and Tuesday morning with Zahra and Taher, who run our Bamiyan PARSA office, and visited some of our project sites including our schools in the cave communities to make sure they were up and running for the school season. Then Tuesday afternoon we decided to drive out to Afghanistan’s most famous lake, Band-e-Amir, to do a hike into the national park and an overnight camping trip. Bamiyan is one of the few places in Afghanistan where it is safe enough for foreigners/city folk to travel freely in the countryside, and we all wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity.
We drove along the muddy dirt road beside the picturesque lake until we found a stream crossing our path that we decided would be good to hike along. We parked the car so it was hidden from the road, and walked in the beautiful, sunny weather, surrounded on one side by high cliffs and on the other by snowy mountains, up a valley until we found a good basecamp in the remains of a century-old house that looked like it was now used by shepherds and their herds.
Reese set up the main tent there for himself, Taher and Maiwand, and Yasin and I trekked on to set up our own tents further up the valley. We ended up climbing up an avalanche shoot almost to the top of the cliffs, and were only deterred when a little bird that had been sitting on a stone started a mini-avalanche that sent huge rocks shooting down some meters away from us. However the most interesting part of that climb, besides the incredible view, was that we found fossilized seashells at the tops of the cliffs. The whole region was once under water.
When we got back down Reese started a fire and we cooked ourselves a potato stew for dinner, and drank coffee out of our big bowls. Until then everything was great, we had forgotten we were in the heart of a country “at-war” and had enjoyed the peaceful nature, not another person in sight. Then night came.
Reese and I were at least nominally prepared. My gear is three-seasons, and it held up well against the freezing rain, and even did okay against the slushy snow that followed, but the others weren’t so lucky. Their tents were only summer tents, and Yasin, who faired the worst, said he spent his entire night crouched in the center of his tent while it literally rained (then snowed) around him (inside his tent!). By morning his blanket looked like it had spend the night soaking in the stream.
Everyone woke up at first light (except me who was still for the most part dry and warm, and not in any hurry to get out of my warm sleeping bag and into the snow), and despite the bad weather and their freezing nights, still in happy moods. We packed up camp and hiked back to the car, happy to be warm, and enjoying the views of the snowy mountains and low clouds that made the scenery look like a gateway to heaven. Reese did an epic job off-roading us back to the main road, despite the deep mud and crevices in the road.
All-in-all it was a great excursion as part of a great trip. It serves as a reminder that even though the overall security situation in Afghanistan is quite bad, it is still a beautiful country with pristine landscape where one can find places that are just as peaceful as any other country has to offer. What a great trip!