The beauty of remote Afghanistan landscape, nature & people

Afghanistan is known as one of the most unsafe and misogynistic countries in the world. Photographer Henk Bothof saw the beauty that intrigued him in 1991 when he flew over the country. In 2023, after months of preparation with a reliable and good local fixer, it was possible to finally visit Afghanistan. To show the other side.   

Text & photography: Henk Bothof | Final editing: Angelique van Os

“My most special trip in recent years has to be Afghanistan. I am surprised by the beauty of the country, the incredible hospitality and friendliness of the Afghans. Reason for me to return in February 2023. The focus of my trip was mainly the beautiful Band-e-Amir Park, Bamyan (Buddhas) and the Remote Pamir.”

Band-e Amir National Park Afghanistan

<– “I had read about the beautiful blue lakes of Band-e-Amir National Park, but when you actually stand in front of them, it is unreal. As if you are on another planet. The park is also called Afghanistan’s Grand Canyon. The intense blue color of the lakes is due to the very pure water that contains a lot of calcium. The park is often visited by Afghans themselves, especially on Sundays.”

Land van de Afghanen

Afghanistan stands for ‘land of the Afghans’. The country is 652,864 m2 in size and currently has a population of around 42 million people. Afghanistan is approximately 15 times the size of the Netherlands and is surrounded by the neighboring countries Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenstan and Iran. In the distant past, the country has had to deal with many rulers such as Alexander the Great (founder of Kandahar), Genghis Khan, the British and later the interference of the Russians and Americans.

Key resources

Various scientific studies and scans of Afghanistan’s rugged mountains have shown that the country is full of important raw materials, such as lithium, cobalt, iron, copper, oil, natural gas and gemstones. The value is estimated at approximately 3 billion.

Afghanistan Security

The Taliban regime will regain power in 2021. Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada is the supreme leader of the Taliban and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been appointed as president. The poor reputation of security makes it difficult to travel in Afghanistan. Henk: “During my three-week trip I spoke to many Taliban people, who were strict but friendly. The Afghans themselves are very friendly and hospitable people. They would like to receive (Western) travelers to show them their beautiful country, so that tourism gets an economic boost.

After expressing constructive criticism about the many checkpoints and road blocks that made travel difficult, I was assured that this is being done because of safety protocols. Hopefully this will improve in the future, as will the infrastructure, so that there are more options for traveling there. I never felt unsafe for a moment.”

bmian-boudha-afghanistan-henk-bothof
The famous rock where the Bamyan Buddhas were blown up, in northeastern Afghanistan.

Bhoeddha’s of Bamyan

“The Bamyan region is mainly inhabited by the Hazara people. Bamyan is known for the special Buddhas that were blown up by the Taliban in 2001. The largest statue, about 53 meters high, was carved in the sixth and seventh centuries.  The large statues survived the arrival of Islam and even the Mongols, although the face of Buddha is there was cut off. During my visit in August 2023, I saw one of the Buddhas being rebuilt.” 

 
We met these Whakan women from the town of Sarhad-e-Borhil on the way. They had no problem posing. They wear traditional clothing. Whakan are herders and travel with cattle through this inhospitable area of Afghanistan.

Whakan District-Pamir gebergte

The Pamir Mountains are one of the most remote places in the world. The Whakan and Kyrgyz nomads live here.

Large parts of Pamir are covered with snow all year round. This area has long, cold winters and short, cool summers. There is hardly any rain, which means that few trees can grow.

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