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10 Spectacular Sights in Afghanistan

Prior to the conflict that destabilised the region, Afghanistan was famous for its beauty and attracted countless tourists. As the nation tries to regain its international reputation, now is the ideal time to see these ethereal views unblemished by hoards of tourists.

 

Blue Mosque

When you hear the words ‘Blue Mosque,’ you probably think Turkey, but Afghanistan has a stunning cerulean spectacle of its own. Located in the centre of Mazar-i-Sharif, the Blue Mosque, or Shrine of Ali, was rebuilt in the 15th century and dates back even further. As it shimmers in the sunlight it almost appears to be floating, mirage-like, an effect of the intricately painted tiles that cover the building. These tiles are always immaculate, as they are constantly replaced; two square feet every day. Surrounded by park overflowing with flowers, this is an oasis of peace in a war-torn region. Watching the thousands of snow-white doves that are reared here soar across this incredible backdrop make this a sight not to be missed.

 

Band-e Amir National Park

Nicknamed Afghanistan’s Grand Canyon, Band-e-Amir is Afghanistan’s first national park, and contains six lakes separated by natural dams. These lakes differ in colour, from pale turquoise to the most intense, dark blue, all breathtakingly beautiful, with water so clear that you can see the tiny fish that make them their home. For those who dare to brave the icy waters, the lakes are said to having healing powers. Those who would prefer to stay dry can board a pedalo and traverse the placid waters at a lazy pace. Although the snow leopards that used to live here have vanished due to hunting, the park is still filled with foxes, wolves, ibex and urials. The lakes glimmer like gems in this stark landscape, making it a sight to behold.

 

Site of the Bamiyan Buddhas

Hewn into the cliffs in the 6th century, the Bamiyan Buddhas were the largest Buddha statues west of China. Tragically, they were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, and the empty niches where they once stood stand as a testament to the horrors of religious intolerance. Fortunately, in 2002, plans to reconstruct the Buddhas began, and the area was thoroughly researched and catalogued. During this process, around fifty brightly-painted caves were rediscovered, containing what are believed to be the oldest oil paintings ever found. In 2008, a striking 19-metre reclining Buddha was rediscovered. Perhaps one day in the future the Buddhas will be rebuilt, but in the meantime, this region remains a key part of the history of the Silk Road. Nearly 1000 Buddhist caves carved along 1300 metres of cliff face make for an exceptional view. This is a site of contradictions, of tragedy, but also of hope for the future.

 

Herat National Museum

The Herat National Museum is located in Qala Iktyaruddin, or the Citadel of Herat, which dates back to the time of Alexander the Great. This fortress has been destroyed and reconstructed many times, by various invaders, including Genghis Khan’s Mongol army. Thus, the structure itself serves as a microcosm of Afghan history. The architectural uniqueness is also reflected in the interior, with arched ceilings and exposed brickwork, housing various old manuscripts and artefacts such as pottery and metalwork. With such a wide range of cultural influences, the history of Afghanistan is truly unique and fascinating, making this fortress and the treasures it holds a sight not to be missed.

 

The Forty Steps of Kandahar

Chil Zena, or “forty steps” carved into a mountain, makes for a striking site. The steps lead to an enclave, guarded by two chained stone lions, carved by Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire of India. The lions represent Babur’s indomitable power, while stories of his conquest of Persia are carved into the enclave. This is a unique and fascinating piece of history, and it provides a vantage point to sip tea and watch the sun rise over Kandahar, a truly magnificent view.