When talking about Afghanistan, the first things that pop to mind are war, desert, desolate mountains, thorn bushes, and mud houses. What most of us don’t know however are a series of stunning lakes right in the heart of the country.
At an altitude of about 3000 meters (1.8 mi.), in the arid foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains -the second highest mountain range in the world- there’s a strip of lakes some 11 kilometers (7 miles) long on the Band-e-Amir River.
The travertine -white or light-coloured calcareous rock deposited from mineral springs- has created natural dams over thousands of years, some of which reach a height of 6 meters (20 ft.). These dams have created a series of lakes which vary in color from deep blue to bright green or even white, depending on the minerals found there.
The lakes receive water from melting snows, high up in the mountains and even if the temperatures in the air reach above 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 F.), the water remains quite cool. Now, some of the lakes have an average length of about 160 meters (623 ft.), others reach a total distance of about 6 kilometers (3.6 miles), which are surrounded by walls of limestone and clay.
Legend has it that Ali, Mohamed’s son-in-law was held prisoner in this valley. In his anger, he triggered a stone avalanche which blocked the river at Band-e-Haibat, which literally means Dam of Awe. Among all the lakes here, this one is the most accessible this high up in the mountains and can only be reached by a hard mountainous road, 80 kilometers (50 miles) long, starting from the ancient town of Bamiyan, where the Taliban destroyed the world’s tallest Buddha statues in 2001.
The lakes have a high level of water purity and the area has been a well known travel destination since the 1950s. In 2009 Band-e-Amir became a national park and is Afghanistan’s only one, featuring also on UNESCO’s World heritage list.