New ski areas are being explored all over the world but surely the unlikeliest place for lovers of winter sports is in Afghanistan. However, despite the problems affecting much of the country, a small province in Central Afghanistan is attracting ski tourists in ever increasing numbers.
In March 2012 there was a big influx of foreign tourists attending the second annual Afghan ski challenge which took place in the peaceful Bamyan province in central Afghanistan.
The remote region of Bamyan lies at the heart of Afghanistan in the midst of the Hindu Kush at an altitude of about 2800 meter. It was once famous for hosting the giant Buddha statues and was a great tourist landmark along the Silk Road and on the 1970′s hippie trail. Bamyan which lies at the crossing of ancient trade routes traversed the Hindu Kush from north to south and east to west, linking Central Asia, India and Iran. Bamyan had always attracted visitors in spring and summer but now a plan to make it as a full season tourist attraction seems to be bearing fruit. A ski development program was started by Aga Khan Foundation to introduce skiing to the local population. The results of the Swiss organised second Afghan ski challenge reflects the success of ski program in the area showing how many of the local skiers have picked up the ski skills very rapidly. The first 9 places were taken by local skiers with Mr Khalil and Mr. Ali Shah Farhang taking first and second places. The ski challenge is a ski touring race and the better fitness of the local competitors on the uphill sections outweighed the better techniques of the foreign competitors. The winners were given Swiss Watches as a prize and Afghanistan Ski Club T-Shirts were given to those who took part in the challenge. The governor of Bamyan Dr. Habiba Sarabi, the first ever female governor in the history of Afghanistan granted prizes of cash to the winners of the race and appreciated the efforts of Mr. Christoph Zurcher and Sue Muers the Afghan Ski challenge organizers. She said that she will extend all her possible efforts and cooperation in promoting tourism activities in Bamyan.
Apart from locals and the expats from Kabul, skiers from abroad also took part. While speaking to a participant of the race from Switzerland Mr. Gabriel, who came to Afghanistan to take part in the second Afghan ski challenge said that it was a great experience and that he enjoyed it a lot. He said next year he will try to convince his friends to come along with him to take part in the next ski race.
Meanwhile it was a big surprise to see in Bamyan an Australian Snowboard documentary film making team travelling with Untamed Borders a UK based adventure travel company specialising adventure tours in some of the harder to reach bits of Central and South Asia. The Snowboarding was a new experience to the locals to see and many people from the area showed a keen interest in it. While this Aussie team was snowboarding in the area of Ali Baig, they attracted a lot of attention from the locals who had been taught ski but had never seen snowboarding. They quickly got the snowboarding bug after a few runs on the boards. The Aussie team then surprised the locals by jumping over donkeys, children and buildings for their film. It was a great day as the Australians got great shots for their film whilst entertaining the village of Ali Baig.
According to Chelsea, an American girl who is currently in Bamyan as a Ski trainer for the locals, the ski program is going very well and the interest in learning to ski is increasing day by day which is a good sign. She added that the local guides like Mr. Ali Shah Farhang are now able to guide the skiers who come to Bamyan. She hoped that in the near future the local skiers would be able to get international guiding accreditation to allow them to take ski tourists to the mountains of Bamyan on a commercial level.
While talking to James Willcox from Untamed Borders about the possible tourism in Afghanistan he added that many people many have shown interest in visiting Afghanistan and now since this ski program has been launched many skiers is getting in touch regarding the ski trips to Afghanistan. He said that two groups of skiers have booked with him for this year so far which is promising news indeed. Responsible tourism brings joy, peace, happiness and prosperity to the region and a growth to the local economy. This responsible tourism may help in recovering the economy of the war torn Afghanistan.
In a peaceful Afghanistan Bamyan can be the biggest tourist draw and a holiday destination, it has a great potential for tourism and has a lot to offer to the travellers of the World, the people from abroad will come to visit its remarkable and historical sites as well as to ski in its beautiful mountain range but this dream will be then fulfilled when the security of the country becomes more stable.
Travel article by Kausar Hussain. Kausar is also tour leader and guide from Untamed Borders Ltd. and organized the tour in this article. Untamed Borders Ltd offer specialist trips to India, Central Asia and Russia.