In 2001, Bamyan made the news when the Taliban destroyed huge 6th century statues of the Buddha. The province, home of the Hazara people, is now slowly rebuilding itself and is trying to re-open its doors to tourism. Bamyan is a UNESCO world heritage site (pic, above )and has potential to grow as an ecotourism and adventure trekking destination in Afghanistan, for locals as well as international visitors.
A group of 16 senior Afghan government officials, conservation leaders and private sector operators from Bamyan visited Nepal this week to learn from Nepal's tourism experience and understand tourism models that involve the private sector and the community. The group visited Bandipur, Pokhara and Kathmandu.
"Nepal serves as a positive example for us," says Amir Foladi of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), Afghanistan, who is leading the study tour. In 2009, he led a group of Afghan officials to Nepal to introduce them to tourism.
Foladi says that the tour has allowed the group to understand that development of tourism with the involvement of the private sector and the community can be highly beneficial. "We saw that the local people were very involved in tourism and that this helps the tourists to get acquainted with the area's culture firsthand," says Foladi. "We also saw that local traditions have been incorporated into the hotels and tourist centres, allowing tourists to experience something different and at the same time be comfortable."
In Pokhara, the group attended workshops by Nepali tourism entrepreneurs and the Three Sisters Trekking Company. "The sisters explained to us how women can also be a part of the tourism industry," says Foladi. "This is another lesson for our group."
Ebrahim Akhari, Head of Bamyan's Department of Information and Culture, says that the trip has been a learning experience. "It has helped us understand that tourism has to move forward by integrating the private sector and also by protecting the environment."
In Kathmandu, the group studied the workings of the Nepal Tourism Board so that a similar institution can be established in Bamyan to market its potential. Says Foladi: "Our group is taking a pool of ideas from Nepal, and we hope to implement those ideas back home to develop Bamyan's tourism."