Lakes of Band-i-Ameer

Bamiyan, Afghanistan
July 3, 2019

Leaving the town of Bamiyan, the road goes west toward Band-i-Ameer. Asphalted for the most part and a dirt track for the rest, we drive past small villages, past the occasional fort-like old buildings. As little as a couple of generations, people still lived in these buildings. Plots of land are farmed, mostly potatoes. Bamiyan is famous for its potatoes which are its main crop. Although there are some cars, they do not belong to locals; most here walk or ride on donkeys.

Beyond the villages the land opens into a wide plain, and I see flocks of sheep, goats and a few cows. There are tents in the distance. It looks very much like Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan. Like the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs, these people are not true nomads; they have come up to the meadows for the summer and return to their villages, come winter. The line of snow-laced mountains march in the distance. It is beautiful.

Legend has it that Ali, the revered prophet of the Shia sect, created the lakes at Band-i-Ameer. At the very least, he prayed here. A shrine on the banks of one, is where people come to pay homage. But most come here for the sheer beauty of the place. Designated a national park in 2009, this is the first one in Afghanistan, and popular. Crowded during the Eid holidays, there still quite a few locals here now. There are small wooden open-sided platforms called takhts, used by people to picnic and the smell of kebabs perfumes the air from the many barbeque grills. There are paddleboats – a popular sport among the locals – and a couple of them putter around the lake.

The lakes themselves are an astonishing color of blue. The crystal clear water laps at the calcified shelf around the edges. The same calcified banks divide one lake from another. Fish swim in schools just below the surface. Wildflowers grow along the edges of the cliffs. This has the same mesmerizing quality of high altitude lakes that I remember from Tibet.

From the highest lake, water overflows into a smaller one creating a series of waterfalls. It is a tradition to walk along the slippery path under the waterfalls and I do, slipping and sliding a little. The water is freezing! Not surprising since we are at 2800 m. Further on, at one end of the largest lake Zulfikar, is a paved path going down to the lake.

We head down, loaded down with our own picnic of kebabs and naan and a whole watermelon. Sitting in one of the takhts we demolish our food and lie back luxuriating in the tranquil beauty of this place. The climb back up the cliff makes me regret the amount I ate.

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