You can camp. You can picnic. You can even rent swan-shaped paddle boats to navigate one of six deep blue lakes that shimmer high in the Hindu Kush mountains, amid picturesque red-hued cliffs and rocky natural dams.
Sounds like an idyllic vacation destination, until you consider that Band-e Amir National Park lies in the heart of Afghanistan, a nation still firmly under “do not travel” advisories from the United States and other countries.
It’s been close to 10 years since Afghanistan officially designated the roughly 600-square-kilometer slice of central Bamiyan province as a national park in the hope that it would offer citizens a respite from the turmoil that has ravaged their country.
So did it work? Or like many dreams for the Afghan nation after it was wrested from control of the ultra-conservative Taliban regime nearly two decades ago, did it fail to take root?
For those who helped create the national park in 2009 after decades of delay due to war, the peaceful Band-e-Amir National Park tells an entirely different story of a country whose recent historical narrative has been defined by violence.
“This park serves as an icon for the identity of the Afghan people for essentially a beacon of stability for three decades of chaos that they went through,” says Alex Dehgan, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Afghanistan country director from 2006 to 2008.
The WCS, along with a number of international agencies and funding partners including USAID and the United Nations Development Programme, assisted the local Afghan government in helping to establish and manage the park.
Band-e-Amir National Park is located in central Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province, an area of the country that attracted worldwide recognition and international condemnation when the Taliban destroyed its famous 6th-century Buddha statues in 2001.
Despite being one of the country’s poorest and least developed regions, Bamiyan remains one of the safest areas of Afghanistan today.