After seeing some of the impressive cultural sights of Bamiyan the day before, we are elated to drive further west. We pass small villages, have to suppress our inclination to stop for pictures, so we can save our precious time for our destination of the day - the lakes of Band-e Amir, or Commander Dams. Our driver Ahmad comes here often with his family, has taken his cute son for the day, and knows where to stop: a viewpoint on the unsealed access road. It feels like we are in the middle of a desert: no vegetation, only dry, stony mountains all around us. But then, before our eyes, we see a deep blue lake between the brown and cream coloured mountains, a jagged shoreline with all the hues of blue you could imagine. Meet Band-e Zulfiqar (dam of Ali's Sword), the biggest of the lakes. Light, almost white; turquoise, dark - the contrast with the barren surrounding landscape alone makes it stunning. The lake plays seek and hide, before it disappears behind the mountains we are driving through. But then, another lake appears, Ahmad stops the car, we walk to a viewpoint high above the southern tip of Band-e Haibat (Dam of teh Grandiose). This is the deepest lake at some 150 m. Further to the west, we see mountains looming over the landscape. But here, we also see human presence there are buildings on the other side of the lake, people walking around, cars, and some swan-like paddle boats on the water. We ask Ahmad to drive a little further, and walk down to the shoreline.
Walking at the level of the water, we walk towards the cliffs that rise dramatically from the dark blue waters. I find a place in the shade where I undress for a skinny-dip in the ice cold waters. Within two months, these lakes will be covered by solid ice. The dry wind and sun quickly warm me up again, and we walk towards the shore of the lake. Band-e Amir is one of the few places on our planet with lakes with natural dams made of travertine materials. The water of the lake falls over the edge of the dam here, creating a cascade, green because of the algae growing inside. Walking at the base of the waterfall, you could never imagine such a huge lake just above you. Band-e Amir actually is a system of seven dam-contained lakes, stringed together by streams of water between. So magnificent their sight, locals believe Ali, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohamed, created them himself. We walk around the base of the cascade, through sometimes muddy patches, until we reach the buildings on the other side. From here, I walk on the egde of Band-e Haibat, walking on the top of the waterfalls, all around the lake to the other side. At some places, I have to take off my shoes and wade through the shallow water. There are moments, when the wind dies, the surface of the lake is a perfect mirror of the harsh mountains towards the west.
We continue to Band-e Kambar (Dam of the Groom), a much smaller lake, with equally dramatic mountains reflected in its shallow waters. An old man on a motorbike stops, advises us to drive up on the west side of Band-e Haibat for a nice picnic spot; we give him some of our many deliciously sweet grapes bought at the market of Bamiyan that morning from a trader who would not stand out in Mongolia. When we arrive at a small parking spot, we leave Ahmad and his son behind, walk down a trail to the western side of Band-e Zulfiqar. Views over this huge lake are sublime, and when we round a corner, we see the lower part of the lake, Band-e Pudina (Dam of Mint) and Band-e Panir (Dam of Cheese) before us, and further below, Band-e Haibat. We walk down to a path leading between huge Zulfiqar lake and tiny Pudina lake, jumping over water here and there, then walk down the cascades to a walkway running between Panir and Haibat lake. I follow a trail on the east side of the latter, and when I turn around, the views just continue to be stunning, with dramatically steep rock formations rising sharply above the tranquil waters of the lake. Sometimes, a place exceeds your expectations, and this certainly happened today. Band-e Amir definitely is one of the highlights of Afghanistan.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Band-e Amir (Afghanistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Band-e Amir.
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