Bringing Japanese hospitality to an Afghan valley

Fri May 15, 2009 4:16am EDT
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan (Reuters Life!) - Hiromi Yasui first came to Afghanistan to photograph a bloody civil war, but a decade later found herself betting on peace to build a high-end hotel in a tiny valley that was once the country's tourist gem.

The Silk Road Hotel in Bamiyan is an unlikely find at the end of a bone-jarring, nine-hour drive on dirt roads from the capital Kabul. The hotel offers authentic Japanese food, immaculate rooms, electricity round the clock and wireless Internet.

It looks out across green fields and a traditional mud fort to cliffs honeycombed with caves that once held two ancient, giant Buddhas, blown up by the hardline Islamist Taliban in 2001.

Yasui decided to settle in Afghanistan after she married an Afghan and her parents died, loosening her ties to her homeland.

Still a part-time journalist for Japan's Kyodo news agency, she is based in Kabul during winter months when the hotel closes, but also wanted a slower pace of life than reporting allows.

"I like Afghanistan very much and this is the best tourist place," she told Reuters in the hotel's cozy dining room, decorated with traditional Afghan fabrics.

It took four years to build and furnish the 13-room hotel, because the harsh weather means it is only possible to work for around six months a year and Yasui is a perfectionist.

The hotel opened in 2007. Some of the furniture came from as far as Dubai and Pakistan, and all the towels are Japanese.   Continued...