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Bamyan
بامیان
A view of the ancient Bamyan Valley showing the two statue niches
Bamyan is located in Afghanistan
Bamyan
Location in Afghanistan
Coordinates: 34°49′N 67°49′E / 34.817°N 67.817°E / 34.817; 67.817
Country  Afghanistan
Province Bamyan Province
Elevation 9,186 ft (2,800 m)
Population
 - Total 61,863
Time zone UTC+4:30

Bamyan (Persian: بامیان Bāmyān), also spelled Bamiyan[1] and Bamian[2], at an altitude of about 9,200 feet (2,800 m) and with a population of about 61,863, is the largest town in the region of Hazarajat, central Afghanistan and the capital of Bamyan Province. It lies approximately 240 kilometres north-west of Kabul, the national capital. Bamyan was the site of an early Buddhist monastery from which Bamyan takes its name (Sanskrit varmayana, "coloured"). Many statues of Buddha are carved into the sides of cliffs facing Bamyan city. In 2008, Bamyan was found to be the home of some of the world's oldest oil paintings.[3]

Contents

Geography

Situated on the ancient Silk Road, the town was at the crossroads between the East and West when all trade between China and the Middle East passed through it. The Hunas made it their capital in the 5th century. Because of the cliff of the Buddhas, the ruins of the Monk's caves, Shar-i-Gholghola ('City of Sighs', the ruins of an ancient city destroyed by Genghis Khan), and its local scenery, it is one of the most visited places in Afghanistan. The Shar-i-Zohak mound ten miles south of the valley is the site of a citadel that guarded the city, and the ruins of an acropolis could be found there as recently as the 1990s.[4]

The town is the cultural center of the Hazara ethnic group of Afghanistan. Most of the population lives in downtown Bamyan. The valley is cradled between the parallel mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush and the Koh-i-Baba.

Bamyan is a small town with a bazaar at its center. It has no infrastructure of electricity, gas, or water supplies. According to Sister Cities International, Bamyan has established a sister city relationship with Gering, Nebraska, United States. It has an airport with a gravel runway.

Mountains cover ninety percent of the province, and the cold, long winter, lasting for six months, brings temperatures of three to twenty degrees Celsius below zero.Mainly Daizangi people are lives in the area. Transportation facilities are increasing, but sparse.

The main crops are wheat, barley, mushung, and baquli, grown in Spring. When crops are damaged by unusually harsh weather, residents herd their livestock down to Ghazni and Maidan Provinces to exchange for food.

History

Bamyan in 600 AD, capital of a Kushano-Hephthalite Kingdom. (#25 on map)
History of Afghanistan
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Pre-Islamic Period
Achaemenids (550-330 BC)
Seleucids (330-150 BC)
Greco-Bactrians (256-125 BC)
Sakas (145 BC - )
Kushans (30 CE - 248 CE)
Indo-Sassanid (248 - 410)
Kidarites (320-465)
Hephthalites (410-557)
Sassanids (224-579)
Kabul Shahi (565-670)
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Umayyads (661-750)
Abbasids (750-821)
Tahirids (821-873)
Saffarids (863-900)[5]
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The city of Bamyan was part of the Buddhist Kushan Empire in the early centuries of the Christian era. After the Kushan Empire fell to the Sassanids, Bamyan became part of the Kushansha, vassals to the Sassanids. The Hephthalites conquered Bamyan in the 5th century. After their Khanate was destroyed by the Sassanids and Turks in 565, Bamyan became the capital of the small Kushano-Hephthalite kingdom until 870, when it was conquered by the Saffarids. The area was conquered by the Ghaznavids in the 11th century.

For decades, Bamyan has been the center of combat between zealous Muslim Taliban forces and the anti-Taliban alliance – mainly Hizb-i-Wahdat – amid clashes among the warlords of local militia. Bamyan is also known as the capital of Daizangi.

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Buddhas

On the cliff face of a mountain nearby, three colossal statues were carved 4,000 feet apart. One of them was 175 feet (53 m) high, the world's tallest standing statue of Buddha. The ancient statue was carved during the Kushan period in the fifth century. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001, on the grounds that they were an affront to Islam. Limited efforts have been made to rebuild them, with negligible success.

At one time, two thousand monks meditated in caves among the sandstone cliffs. The caves were also a big tourist attraction before the long series of wars in Afghanistan. The world's earliest oil paintings have been discovered in caves behind the partially destroyed colossal statues. Scientists from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility have confirmed that the oil paintings, probably of either walnut or poppy seed oil, are present in 12 of the 50 caves dating from the 5th to 9th century.[6]

The caves at the base of these thousands of years old statues had been used by Taliban for storing weapons. After the Taliban were driven from the region by American troops, civilians made their homes in the caves. Recently, Afghan refugees escaping the persecution of the Taliban regime by hiding in caves in the Bamiyan valley, accidentally found a fantastic collection of Buddhist statues and jars having more than ten thousand fragments of ancient Buddhist manuscripts, a large part of which is now in the famous Schoyen collection. This has created a sensation among the scholars and the find has been compared with the discovery of the Christian Dead Sea Scrolls.

Since about 2002, a Provincial Reconstruction Team has been based in Bamyan, first manned by U.S. forces, and, since about 2003, by personnel from the New Zealand Defence Force.

Sister cities

Gallery

Notes

  1. ^ e.g. Unesco, BBC
  2. ^ Library of Congress country study
  3. ^ nationalgeographic.com: accessed June 6, 2008
  4. ^ Ring, Trudy;Salkin, Robert M.;Schellinger, Paul E; La Boda, Sharon (1995) International Dictionary of Historic Places: Asia and Oceania, P.79. Taylor & Francis, ISBN 1884964044
  5. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica
  6. ^ www.esrf.eu report on findings of Marine Cotte, J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 2008, 23, DOI: 10.1039/b801358f
  7. ^ Sister Cities International
  8. ^ Sister Cities International

References


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Bamiyan at sunrise
Bamiyan at sunrise

Bamiyan is the main town in Bamiyan Province.

Understand

Bamiyan is one of the main tourist attractions in Afghanistan, largely due to the giant destroyed Buddha statues. It's also one of the most picturesque regions in the country.

It lies at an altitude of around 2 500 m and is cooler than Kabul.

Almost everything revolves around one main road running east/west. The buddhas are on the cliff face to the north.

An overview of Bamiyan, with the small Buddha visible in the background
An overview of Bamiyan, with the small Buddha visible in the background

By road

From Kabul there are two very rough dirt roads to Bamiyan, the southern route through Wardak Province and across Hajigak Pass being shorter, more dangerous and more frequently used by public transport. It's advisable to try to blend in on this route for the first hour or so out of Kabul - using a scarf as the Afghans do to cover your head, nose and mouth keeps the dust out and helps to lower your profile. Toyota 4WD shared minivans seating 5-10 passengers leave Kabul starting at 4 am daily and cost 400 afghanis (you may have to and should bargain hard for this price), and take around 9 hours.

The northern route starts from the road heading north from Kabul, near Charikar. For an hour and a half on good tarmac road. From Charikar it goes through Parwan Province, passing Ghorband towards Shibar Pass (some 2 900 m) on a recently (2007) refurbished gravel road. Total travelling time some 8 hours. Several check-posts require a local guide.

From Herat it is a very long and hard multi-part journey via the minaret of Jam, taking at least 3 days in Toyota minivans. Enquire in Herat about the current safety situation.

From Mazar-e Sharif the old route to Kabul runs through Bamiyan. The recently improved gravel road within Bamyan Province (from Du-Ab) makes it much faster, though still some bottlenecks exist.

When you're ready to make an exit, minivans depart from Mama Najaf's restaurant daily for Kabul (9 hours, 400 afn). Inquire here for any other destinations you may have in mind, if there's not something heading there you can arrange a private hire minivan.

By air

No commercial air service runs to Bamiyan, but some NGO's and military run flights for their own purposes. You could try contacting an NGO if you're intent on flying, but don't count on success.

The UN and the Red Cross (ICRC) run flights for their personnel only.

The ISAF contingent's (New Zealand) Hercules transport aircraft resupply the base there. Whilst it is very unlikely that they'll allow passengers it does provide a dramatic photo opportunity. The same goes when VIPs visit and bring along Apache/Cobra attack helicopters for protection.

Closest to regular air services to Bamiyan come the humanitarian flights of PACTEC [1].

Get around

Bamiyan town is small and walking is the best option. Around the region you can hire Toyota minivans for day trips from the stand in front of Mama Najaf's Restaurant.

The Roof of Bamiyan hotel also has vehicles for rent.

Destroyed Bamiyan Buddha
Destroyed Bamiyan Buddha
Caves
Caves
  • The ruined Buddhas are the main reason that most people visit Bamiyan. Created in the 6bth century, they long were the largest in the world and a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Over the centuries they were damaged by various invaders, and in 2001 the Taliban declared them 'un-islamic', rolled in tanks and destroyed them completely. All that remains are the 'footprints'.
  • The area around the buddhas and to the west is interesting to walk around (stay on well-used paths). Many of the buildings were destroyed in war and there are occasional leftover weapons and destroyed jeeps, one of which is now used as a bridge over a stream.
  • Caves are abundant throughout the mountainside, many of them used as residences. It's best to observe from a distance, out of respect for the residents and for you safety.
  • Shahr-e Gholghola is a fort high above the town that gives some of the best views of the entire valley.
  • Several chaikhanas provide staple Afghani food such as pulao (rice with seasonal vegetable and mutton), naan and plenty of green tea. Alternatively have some kebab with fresh yoghurt from sheep's milk.
  • For finer dining, try contacting the Hotel Silk Road Bamiyan (+93 798-405486, see below) and reserve a table for dinner. Whatever type of cuisine they may serve that day, it's bound to be good.

Sleep

Budget

The only really cheap option for travelers is to stay in one of several chaikhanas, where your meal (~60 afn) includes a space on the floor for the night. Most don't have toilets or showers, so take advantage of the hammam near the Zuhak Hotel.

  • Mama Najafs Restaurant is probably the most popular of the chaikhanas, as this is where the minivans arrive to and depart from.
  • Zuhak Hotel, towards the eastern end of the main street, is a popular place and has the cheapest rooms. Shared bathrooms have hot bucket of water in the evenings. The restaurant is currently closed. Double rooms are $ 20/1 000 afn, triples are $ 30/1500 afn.
  • The Roof of Bamiyan Hotel, +93 7992-35298 / +93 7923-5293. Sits above the town to the south-west and offers fantastic views over the Bamiyan valley. Good if you have your own transport, otherwise it's a long walk up the hill. The manager, an Afghan veteran of the hippie trail, can organize reliable vehicle hire and the like. Popular with NGO workers and journalists. Yurts on the roof are $40/2000Af, rooms are $40-60/2000-3000Af. (N 34° 49’ 13.94”,E 67° 49’ 22.69”) edit
  • Hotel Silk Road Bamiyan, +93 798-405486 (), [2]. The most upscale accommodation in the region, rooms are spotless and comfortable, and the meals are excellent. Dinner costs $12 per head and is worth every penny. Wireless internet is available for $5/day in your room, in the mornings and evenings when the power is on. US$100 for a double, includes breakfast.  edit
  • Bamiyan Business Center, east of Zuhak Hotel and across Kabul City Bank, is the only internet cafe in Bamiyan. 90Afs/hour.
  • Mobile phone service providers with reception in Bamiyan city are Roshan and Areeba. Areeba has the better coverage around Bamiyan Province.

Stay safe

Bamiyan is regarded as one of the safer destinations in Afghanistan. It's remoteness and the largely Hazara population have kept it distant from most of the action.

The southern route to Kabul is considered dangerous for the hour or so stretch just out of Kabul where it travels through several villages. Most public transport takes this route, so keep a low profile in those areas and cover your head with a scarf as the Afghans do.

There are many landmines and unexploded ordinances (UXO) in Bamiyan despite a continued presence by ISAF. Stay on well used paths and steer well clear of red-painted rocks. White-painted rocks indicate paths that have been cleared of mines.

Shar-e Zohak
Shar-e Zohak
  • Band-e Amir – one of the most stunningly beautiful natural sights in the whole country, these turquoise lakes are definitely worth the effort. Day trips are popular, but if you have the time and don't mind roughing it, an overnight stay affords the best experience. A private hire minivan should run around 2-3000Afs depending on bargaining skills, and takes about 3 hours.
  • Shahr-e Zohak is a fort some 20 kilometers back towards Kabul that requires a jeep to get to.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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