Breathtaking Beauty And Blown-Up Buddha Statues – Afghanistan Part 2

You’ve already heard about my just-in-time arrival in Afghanistan. And I know you’re presuming I got out in time as well.

But before we get to my Afghan exit, we still have a lot of ground to cover in this crucial and complex country — home to everyone from Pashtuns to Uzbeks to Tajiks to Hazaras, but no longer to giant Buddhas. That’s right. In this middle part of my Afghan excursion, you’ll get to see the void these grand Buddhas left behind as we explore the breathtaking beauty of Afghanistan’s central Bamyan region. Are you ready to be surprised? 🤔

Back on the Road

We left off last time opting to take the dangerous overland journey from Kabul to the Bamyan area because flights to that region had all been canceled. The southern road had already been taken over by the Taliban, but the northern route was still okay as long as we were low-key.

An expanded look at my low-key attire

We would have to go very early in the morning and drive very quickly through some villages to avoid the majority of security risks, which were considered uncalculable in the region. Although it would have been faster to fly, it was nice to drive through some of Afghanistan and see the area. The drive from Kabul to the Bamyan area took about three hours in total.

Our first view of the Bamyan valley after a long drive from Kabul

The Buddhas of Bamyan

We dropped off our stuff and took a quick nap at the hotel, and then we were ready to see what was left of the Buddhas of Bamyan. The Buddhas of Bamyan were two 6th-century Buddha statues that were blown up in 2001 after the Taliban government declared that they were idols. Today, all that remains is the niche in which the old statues used to stand. As I had forewarned, along my Afghan journey I came across omens of what was soon to come… or shall I say return?

The niche left behind where the big Buddha used to stand

The giant recesses cut out in the rock were still pretty impressive. When we looked closely, we could see some outlines and features of the Buddhas. We could also climb up into the niches to see some views of the Bamyan area, which has quite a nice landscape.

View of Bamyan from inside the niche

All in all, it was interesting and very sad to see the remains of this destroyed world monument.

There are over 2000 caves here where Buddhist monks used to live.

We continued a bit back along the route we had come until we reached a crossroads between the northern and southern routes that I mentioned before. There we visited what they call the “Red Fortress” at the top of a long, difficult uphill hike. On top, we saw a machine gun still mounted, but on the way there we saw a nicely restored fortress.

An old machine gun atop the hill

The views from the top of the hill were amazing.

Nature at its finest

Then we went to the old town of Bamyan itself, which was also on top of a hill. We hiked up there and took some pictures, then continued all the way to Band-e-Amir to see the beautiful lakes of Afghanistan.

Historic Gholghola city

The Beautiful Band-e-Amir Lakes

We arrived there in time to see the sunset over some parts of the lake, but by the time we made it to the little village there, it was already starting to get dark and we still had to drive from Bamyan to our local homestay. We had a nice dinner there, and we were really looking forward to seeing more of the Band-e-Amir lakes the next day.

You can tell from my face that I was very happy to be there 😁

The Band-e-Amir lakes are very beautiful, clear blue bodies of water surrounded by a beautiful mountain landscape. It’s quite dry around there but the water is incredible and it’s nice and green around the lake.

Gorgeous views of the lake, greenery and mountains

They also have waterfalls all around and a series of interconnected lakes, which reminded me a bit of the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.

We started by walking around all over the waterfalls, then we took some nice pictures from a viewpoint of the lake.

The views were honestly breathtaking.

We returned to the other part of the lake where there is a kind of holy shrine that is very important to the local Muslims called the Shrine of Ali in the Bamyan’s Hazara area.

A chain of waterfalls 🤩

I think it’s important to report that we visited different tribal areas of Afghanistan. We saw a mixture of people in Kabul, but Mazar-i-Sharif was more ethnically Uzbek because they were close to the border. In the Bamyan region, we met Hazara people, who have hard lives in Afghanistan because they’re Shia Muslim, which is a minority there and the Taliban are hunting them.

A local riding around the lake

In Herat, the people were more Iranian and Turkmen and so on, and in Panjshir they were mostly Tajik. So we saw a wide array of people living in Afghanistan.

A local Hazara man protecting his fruits

But back to Bamyan at the Hazara shrine. We went back to the car and from there drove around some different parts of the Band-e-Amir lake.

Amazing crystal clear water

We took another hike that lasted for about an hour that reminded me even more of Plitvice lakes. It was full of waterfalls with water flowing everywhere from one lake to the other.

Waterfalls everywhere!

We hiked around and ate lunch there in a little hut. We enjoyed the scenery and even swam right there in that beautiful lake with our guide.

The perfect place to take a refreshing dip

A Long Drive and a Cup of Tea

From that point, we continued further into the Bamyan mountains. I didn’t really know where we were going, it was kind of a surprise. The place was called “Forty Towers,” and it was quite a long drive to get there. It was still light when we started. We drove through some gravel roads where I saw a derelict tank, which I took the opportunity to climb around before continuing.

It was clear throughout my trip that war was never far…

We saw a lot of sheep and cows along the way, being tended to by their shepherds.

Some of the local livestock

We took in some nice mountain views before we got stopped at a checkpoint, which turned out to be quite interesting. We had to wait after we were stopped, but after checking our passports, the soldiers invited us in for tea. We sat down on the street in a couple of chairs and had tea right there with the soldiers, which left us feeling like Afghanistan’s VIPs.

Sipping a cup of tea at the army base

From there we continued to a very remote village that was quite far from any other town or connection. By the time we arrived, it was pitch dark and we needed to organize ourselves for a few minutes because we weren’t sure exactly where we were. Our guides weren’t even sure exactly where to drive.

Darkness was just beginning to fall

In the end, we found this nice little garden house upon a hilltop with no electricity or anything. The beds were on the ground, which is where we slept, but it was actually the best night of sleep I got in the country because the beds in Afghanistan were horrible. They were very hard on my back, so I enjoyed sleeping on the ground. We had a nice dinner there, and were ready to explore the area the next day.

This is where I got my best night of sleep in Afghanistan 😴

Welcome to Paradise

After we woke up the next day, we went to enjoy the Forty Towers Fortress.

Can you guess why they named it Forty Towers?

Just next to it was a big hill with some old ruins there, which we learned was the capital of an old kingdom a thousand years ago. It was quite a walk, but we made it to the top of the hill and explored the ruins there.

I wonder how it looked a thousand years ago

It was very stunning there with glorious views in every direction all the way to the big, snow-capped Hindu Kush mountain. I think it was my favorite place in Afghanistan, other than the Band-e-Amir lake.

You can’t take a bad photo in a place this beautiful.

We had some local kids leading us around, which was fun. We found a snake which the guides tried to capture so that we could take a picture. In the end, the guide pulled on the tail of the snake too hard, and the tail was ripped off the snake, so the snake didn’t have a tail anymore by the time we were through with it. Apparently, it will grow back, so we weren’t too worried and got some nice pictures of the snake.

We found my favorite animal!

We went down a different way through the mountains to some beautiful gardens. It was paradise there. It’s very remote, but they had everything they needed — water, greenery, and lots of fruits growing.

Skiing Through Afghanistan

Then it was time to go. We had a long drive to make it back to Bamyan. On the way back, we stopped at a few other ruins and castles.

Back in Bamyan, we visited some other sights. We took the car up to the ski slopes in Mosmiyat, which are famous among locals who like to go skiing there in the winter. They don’t have a lift there, but they walk up the hill and then ski back down it. We enjoyed the view there and saw lots of solar panels, which I didn’t expect to see there.

The ski slopes, sans lift

In the distance, we could see the niches of the Buddhas of Bamyan again, and amazing views all around the Bamyan town. That night we had a good sleep at a hotel in Bamyan.

Very early the next morning, we went back to Kabul to get ready for the last leg of our trip.

Here we go again…