5 Days Kabul Bamiyan tour
Day 1 Arrive from Islamabad or Dubai
Orientation in Kabul, beginning at the mausoleum of Nadir Shah. This stands on a hill above the stadium, offering a panoramic view of the Kabul River and the old city, ringed by the mountains. There is a clear view of the Bala Hissar, Kabul's fortress, which stands about 1 Km away on another hilltop. Babur, founder of the Mogul Empire in India, lived in the Bala Hissar in the 16th century, and wrote poetry extolling its commanding view. The fortress was sacked by the
British in 1880 during the second Anglo-Afghan war.
From the mausoleum, we descend into the old city and the Shor Bazaar. This part of the city was heavily shelled during the 1990s, but between the ruins of the surrounding buildings, the bazaar has sprung back to life and the streets are full of oriental bustle. We follow the Kabul River, stopping to see the Mausoleum of Timur Shah and the two-storied Shahdo-Shamshira Mosque, then continuing to the ruins of Darulaman Palace. Built by King Amanullah in 1923, Darulaman was intended to be the new political centre of Kabul, but today the palace is an empty shell. To one side is the Kabul Museum. Once hailed as one of the most impressive collections in Asia; war, looting and the Taliban have left the museum impoverished. Some of the stolen exhibits have been recovered and fresh archeological finds are slowly rebuilding the collection – there are some Greek/Bactrian and Buddhist artefacts worth seeing.
Heading back towards the old city, we will stop for a picnic lunch at the Gardens of Babur, just outside the ancient city walls. The Mogul Emperor so loved his garden that he asked to be buried in it and after his death in Agra in 1530, his body was returned here. Another of his wishes, that nothing should cover his grave so that the rain and sun could beat upon it, was honoured until the reign of Nadir Shah, who built a small pavilion over it. Recently the gardens have been restored to their former glory, following the 16th century layout as faithfully as possible. The Gardens of Babur are once again a beautiful and peaceful oasis in the centre of the city.
Later in the afternoon, there will be the opportunity to do some shopping in the bazaar around Chicken Street, including a visit to the shop of the Bookseller of Kabul.
Early morning drive out of the Kabul valley up over the Koh-i-Baba (Grandfather of Mountains) range through the Hajigak Pass (3,700 m) descending into the Bamiyan valley. The road up to the pass is lined with picturesque villages, colourful pennant-adorned shires of local holy men, ancient Qala (forts) and Caravanserai (rest stops for Camel caravans). The road down from the pass offers dramatic views of the surrounding snow caped peaks and eventually winds into a tight canyon with cliff faces jutting up several hundred meters on either side. Finally the road breaks out of the canyon with stunning views of Shari Zohak (also known as the Red City) perched atop the red cliffs poised to defend the Bamiyan valley from invasion.
Late afternoon visit to Shari Ghulghula (City of Screams), destroyed by Genghis Khan after a local princess out of jealousy gave away the secret entryway to this fortified city.
Accommodation in a hotel on the hill overlooking the Buddhist site.
Tragically, after the destruction of the large and small Buddhas by the Taliban, the huge niches stand empty. The piles of rubble at the bottom have been collected and sorted, but will not be reconstructed. However, there is still much to see. The niches themselves are still clearly visible across the town, and remain impressive at over 60m and 40m high. A complex of stairways and caves winds its way up the side of each niche, and some frescoes remain on the walls. Above each niche is an open gallery which connects the cave complexes on each side. Preservation work has been carried out on the niches and caves and fresh archaeological work is being carried out on the site.
Rise early to view the Buddha niches in the changing light as the sun rises over the Bamiyan valley. Spend the morning exploring the cave complex built into the face of the cliff surrounding the small Buddha.
Mid-morning departure for Band-i-Amir
Side trip to Band-i-Amir lakes. If the Bamiyan Buddhas represent one of man's great achievements, the lakes at Band-i-Amir provide the perfect complement – the calcite dams are a unique natural wonder. The five lakes have a rich mineral content, resulting in a deep sapphire blue colour, fading to turquoise at the edges, contrasting with the pink cliffs above. There are five lakes in all, surrounded by natural dams formed from the minerals in the water. The dam around the first lake, Band-i-Haibat (“Dam of Awe”) is 14m high. The lakes can be explored on foot or by boat.
Return to Kabul via the Shibar pass (3,285 m) along a charming river valley past Pushtun, Hazara and Tajik villages. From a tight narrow gap in the mountains, the successive valleys open up until finally breaking out onto the Shamoli plain. Stop for picnic lunch along the river.
Fly out to Islamabad or Dubai