Next hot tourist destination: Afghanistan?

Fri May 15, 2009 4:17am EDT
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Only the hardiest, or foolhardiest, of tourists make it to Afghanistan these days.

News of suicide attacks, kidnappings and the resurgent Taliban have eclipsed the desire among any but the most intrepid travelers to see the stunning vistas and archaeological treasures that once drew visitors here each year.

Tourist have been an exotic sight in Afghanistan for years, but residents of a peaceful valley nestled in the heart of the country are hoping to revive a trade they see as their best hope of an escape from grinding poverty.

Bamiyan's poor land and harsh climate make it a farmer's nightmare, but in most other countries its natural and historical attractions would allow locals to earn a living from travelers.

The area boasts spectacular scenery, a sprawling collection of world heritage sites, including the remains of giant Buddhas blown up by the Taliban in 2001, and a unique cascade of lakes that last month became Afghanistan's first national park.

"Bamiyan is a very famous place," said Najibullah Ahrai, head of information and culture for the province.

"These are vital assets for the local people."

Decades of war and the devastation caused by the Taliban when they conquered the area after strong resistance mean parts of the town still lie in ruins and tourist amenities are basic.   Continued...

<p>Afghan farmers dig a potato field in front of snow covered mountains, in Bamiyan province in this April 22, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/Files</p>