Monday, 13 December 2010

Skiing Near The Buddha Hometown

Skiing Near The Buddha Hometown Image
Siddhartha Gautama grew up in the Shakyan territory of Kapilavastu with Himalayan foothills in view. The world was long misled that this must have been in Nepal rather than on the western frontier of ancient India, now modern Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran (WQ, image AFP).

Afghan Buddha province hopes to attract skiers

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan - Best known for its historic Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban 10 years ago, the Afghan province of Bamiyan has a fresh attraction which it hopes will draw in tourists -- skiing.

Travelling to the slopes in Bamiyan is a risky business due to the security situation in the war-torn country, although the central Afghan province itself, around 8o miles (130 kms) west of Kabul, is relatively safe.

Would skiing be safe with the U.S. war? The Himalayan range extends widely, including what some argue is the actually the world's tallest peak (K2) in modern Pakistan rather than famous Everest (WQ, image AFP).

While it is short on apres-ski and lifts, organizers are hopeful that adventurous travellers could have their interest piqued by Bamiyan's dramatic beauty and the promise of wild, ungroomed runs.

Afghans are also taking an interest in the sport, including a handful of women from the more liberal Kabul, despite conservative social codes in the country under which many still wear the "burqa" [full covering] in public.

"In Europe and the US, more and more people want to go back to country skiing, wilder, without tens of people on the same piste," said Henry Charles, a 31-year-old British security worker who regularly skis in Bamiyan.

"That is a trend, and Bamiyan is all about that... you get your own line in fresh powder snow, that's great. We're at 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) so the snow stays very well, like sugar, for several days."

The 1.2 million dollar project to encourage skiing in the area was launched in 2008 by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) with the help of NZAID, the New Zealand government's international aid agency.

It is backed by local officials who hope that skiing and tourism more generally can boost the economy of the poor agricultural region, where world culture body UNESCO said last week it wants to set up several museums to house the remains of Bamiyan's Buddha statues.

The three summits of "Koh-e-Baba", Bamiyan's ski area, face the cliff where the massive Buddhas were blown up by the Taliban 10 years ago this month.

Before the Soviet invasion and subsequent wars in Afghanistan, Bamiyan welcomed around 65,000 tourists a year, of which some 10,000 were from Japan and came to see the Buddhas.

Last year, the figure stood at just over 3,300, of which just 805 were foreigners, mainly those already working in Afghanistan. The AKF says the figures are gradually increasing.

by Mustafa Kazemi

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