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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Monday, 20 September 2010

September 20th: Band-i-Amir

On September 20th 1978, I was at Band-i-Amir, a series of lakes in central Afghanistan.

Bamiyan and Band-i-Amir were places I particularly wanted to visit in 1978 as I had failed to get there in 1972 when my Land-Rover broke its gear-box on the Salang Pass.  Bamiyan is a high, well-populated valley with good farming.  Band-i-Amir is an open wide valley, even higher at 3000 meters, almost unpopulated, almost uncultivated and startlingly beautiful.  It was also a tourist place though only a few were visiting in those days.  There were one or two guest-houses by the road, where I slept on the floor in the Afghan way.  With a couple of others I had a long walk around the six lakes, which each have a noticeably different colour, and we stopped in a hidden spot in the middle of the day for complete isolation.

We found a different way up out of the lakes, past a spring in a defile and past a deserted village, made of slates which had fallen off the stacks; there were ovens and hearths and even chairs in the slate, maybe used by nomads, the ash and the droppings looked recent. Looking out from the top, I thought of the majesty of the mountains in this near desert, the remoteness and (until the tourists came) the isolation, the sheer cliffs coloured red and white and the blues and greens of the water, the few trees turning autumnal, the little fields ploughed occasionally in the steppe.

According to my journal, I found Band-i-Amir a little depressing, as I could see little function other than as a tourist spot. Yet in my memory it is a highlight: the remote location, the clear air, the wide views, the colours of the water, the changing colours on the hills around, the little mills where the exit of one of the lakes was naturally dammed, the traces of nomads or others who had passed by, the almost tame bluethroat which played around our feet while we rested.  I don't think we saw any other people during the several hours of the walk.

Rory Stewart, in "The Places In Between", describes walking on the deeply frozen lakes in 2002, during his walk from Herat to Kabul. He stayed in a former guest-house whose owner had had no guests for 12 years, maybe the guest-house I stayed in.

Band-i-Amir in 1975.  Picture By Gregory Melle CC

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