Band-e Amir National Park
|Band-e Amir National Park|
Band-e Amir National Park, known as Afghanistan's Grand Canyon
|Location||Bamyan Province, Afghanistan|
|Governing body||National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC)|
Band-e Amir National Park (Persian: بند امیر) is Afghanistan's first national park, located in the Bamyan Province. It is a series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit. The lakes are situated in the Hindu Kush mountains of central Afghanistan at approximately 3000 m of elevation, west of the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan.
They were created by the carbon dioxide rich water oozing out of the faults and fractures to deposit calcium carbonate precipitate in the form of travertine walls that today store the water of these lakes. Band-e Amir is one of the few rare natural lakes in the world which are created by travertine systems. The site of Band-e Amir has been described as Afghanistan's Grand Canyon, and draws thousands of tourists a year.
The name Band-e Amir literally means "Commander's Dam" which is believed by some to be a reference to Ali, the fourth Caliph of the Muslims. The area is dominated by ethnic Hazaras, who make up around 8-15% of Afghanistan's population and the most of them are followers of Shia Islam.
Band-e Amir was to become Afghanistan's first national park in the 1960s but this was delayed due to political crises and the decades of wars. Parts of the 1975 Bollywood film Dharmatma, with Feroz Khan and Hema Malini, were filmed at the Band-e Amir National Park.
In 2004, Band-e Amir was submitted for recognition as a World Heritage site. In 2009, Band-e Amir was finally declared Afghanistan's first national park. As of 2013, about 6,000 local tourists visit the Band-e Amir National Park every year. The area is protected by a small number of park rangers.
Band-e Amir is situated at approximately 75 km to the north-west of the ancient city of Bamyan, close to the town of Yakawlang. Together with Bamiyan Vally, they are the heart of Afghanistan's tourism, attracting thousands of tourists every year and from every corner of the world. The six constituent lakes of Band-e Amir are:
- Band-e Gholaman (Lake of the slaves)
- Band-e Qambar (Lake of Caliph Ali's slave)
- Band-e Haibat (Lake of grandiose)
- Band-e Panir (Lake of cheese)
- Band-e Pudina (Lake of wild mint)
- Band-e Zulfiqar (Lake of the sword of Ali)
The white travertine dams created by fault lines, which are prevalent in the Band-e Amir Valley, form the barriers between the lakes.
Another comparable lake is Band-e Azhdahar (The Dragon), located a few kilometres southeast of the town of Bamyan, which has also been created as a result of carbon dioxide rich water oozing out of the faults underground and depositing calcium carbonate precipitate to form the travertine walls of Band-e Amir.
The Band-e Amir lakes are primarily a late spring and summertime tourism destination, as the high elevation central Hazarajat region of Afghanistan is extremely cold in winter, with temperatures reaching as low as -20C.
The problems facing the visitors are harsh terrain, rocky plateau, and lack of accommodation. The surrounding roads were heavily mined by the local militias and the Taliban during their respective reigns. Only a thin track is clear from mines and is in use by traffic.
The only available bazaar is a tiny one situated by the side of Band-e Haibat, where a couple of basics can be purchased. Due to the lack of attention and the absence of any maintenance authority, increasing number of visitors pose a threat to the ecological balance of these lakes which include unregulated grazing and uprooting of shrubs which can result in serious soil erosion and even landslides. Fishing using electricity from mobile generators and explosives such as grenades has damaged the aquatic ecosystem. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, much of the park's wildlife has been lost. In 2008 the Afghan government banned the use of boats with gasoline engines on the lakes.
- "Afghans get first national park". BBC News. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 2012-10-21.
- "Afghanistan's 'Grand Canyon' drawing tourists, money". CBS. 25 May 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
- Band-E-Amir - UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Submitted on 2004-09-08. Retrieved on 2008-07-15 from http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/1946/.
- Leithead, Alastair (2008-07-15). Getting tourists to Afghanistan's 'Grand Canyon'. BBC News. Retrieved on 2008-07-15 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7506146.stm.
- Dupree, Nancy Hatch (1977): An Historical Guide to Afghanistan. 1st Edition: 1970. 2nd Edition. Revised and Enlarged. Afghan Tourist Organization.
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