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 - a war-ridden nation protects one of its finest natural treasures

                  - By Martin Stuart

Band-e Amir are a group of six stunning, spectacular and almost surreal, turquoise lakes in central Afghanistan, that sit embedded, like giant lapis lazuli in a unique step-like lock system, in the Hindu Kush mountains at an altitude of 2900m. On April 22, 2009 as the world celebrated Earth Day, Band-e-Amir was declared Afghanistanís first National Park. It is a chain of intensely blue lakes created by natural dams of travertine, a mineral deposit, high in the mountainous desert of central Afghanistan. The lakes were formed from mineral-rich water that seeped out of faults and cracks in the rocky landscape. Over time, the water deposited layers of hardened mineral (travertine) that built up into walls that now contain the water. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, who helped the Afghan government set up the park, Band-e-Amir is one of the few travertine systems in the world. The starkness of the surrounding landscape highlights the blue of the lakes, which reflect the surrounding towering cliffs in their almost still and glass-like waters. Lake Kara is the largest of the six lakes in the Band-e-Amir National Park.

The newly designated National Park is near the Bamiyan Valley, where the 1,500-year-old giant Buddha statues carved into its red cliffs, once stood, before they were blasted by the Taliban in early 2001. Although the statues are gone, the breathtakingly beautiful Bamiyan valley has other natural and other historic sights.

Along with the nearby city of Bamiyan, Band-e-Amir was once the heart of Afghanistan's tourism industry. The number of visitors, however, began declining after the unrest following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and was almost entirely absent during the turbulent years until 2001.

The national park is spread over an area of 230 square miles in central Bamiyan Province. Approximately 5,000 people live in the thirteen villages that make up the region. Band-e-Amir has also been nominated to be a World Heritage Site.

Read the entire article in the print issue of SALT

Bande Amir Lake Kara shows the largest of the six lakes (credit: Alex Dehgan/WCS)




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