Bamyan the Valley of Gods

Bamyan also referred to as the “Shining Light” and “Valley of Gods” is one of the oldest cities in central and South Asia. Inhabited since the third century BC and possess some of the world’s most renowned archaeological sites from the fifth century. Bamyan is located in the central highlands, known as the peaceful Hazarajat, Afghanistan.

When most people hear Afghanistan their minds immediately go to war, the Taliban and all the other negative things associated with a place that’s remained as unstable and invaded time and time again for as long as Afghanistan has.

The thing is, this isn’t the whole picture. Afghanistan is a country packed with natural beauty and pure history and populated by some of the most welcoming people on Earth.


Bamyan lies at the heart of ancient silk road, once connecting Chinese commerce with Europe and the broader Mediterranean region. It brought languages, believes and tradition together and home to world’s tallest standing Buddha statues, carved into the red rock cliffs on the north side of Bamyan town.

The ancient Buddha figures, along with thousands of man-made caves in the cliffs, surrounding the site, have made Bamyan one of the biggest and most ancient archeological sites in the region, historically and contemporarily. Bearing hardships and over-lasting different regimes and civil wars, the Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban in early 2001. UNESCO have included Buddha statues along with many other historical sites in Bamyan in its list of Cultural Heritage in 2003.

How to get to Bamyan

By road from Kabul there are two roads to Bamyan, the southern route through Wardak Province and across Hajigak Pass being shorter, but very dangerous that more frequently used by public transport and local people of central highlands. We do not recommend it to get to Bamyan because of security reasons.

The northern route starts from the road heading north from Kabul, near Charikar. From Charikar it goes through Parwan Province, passing Ghorband towards Shibar Pass. Total travelling time is around 6 hours. It’s less dangerous but again wo do not recommend it to foreign tourists.

By air some NGO’s and military operate flights for their own purposes. There are now three commercial flights a week (Saturday, Monday and Thursday) on Kam Air. You have to purchase tickets at their office on 11th Street in Wazir Akbar Khan. Prices are around 190 USD round trip (January 2020).

Bamyan town is small and walking is the best option. Around the region you can hire Toyota Corola or you can ask manager of your hotel to find a car or bike for you even a horse!

Where to see

The nearest and accesible places to see are the ruined Buddha statues, the main reason that most people visit Bamyan. Although some feel that to visit at all is to reward cultural vandalism and desecration. Created in the 6th century, they were the largest in the world and a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Over the centuries they were damaged by various invaders, and in 2001 the Taliban declared them ‘un-islamic’, rolled in tanks and destroyed them completely. All that remains are the ‘footprints’. But there are many interesting caves and inside, many of the caves have remains of painted frescos. A Afs 300 ticket will get you in, and a guide ($15/day) is well worth it. This ticket will also let you into and .

The area around the buddhas and to the west is interesting to walk around (stay on well-used paths). Many of the buildings were destroyed in war.

Caves are abundant throughout the mountainside.

Shahr-e Gholghola or City of Screams is a fort high above the town that gives some of the best views of the entire valley.

Hiking, Cycling and Skiing is a major activity in the Bamyan Valley.

Bamyan is one of the safest parts of Afghanistan and it is a pioneer in girls’ education and sports including its famous ski at the magnificent snow-capped mountains of Hindu Kush. There are many hotels and women owned shops that sell beautiful handcraft and embroideries. The Bamyan city is surrounded by stunning terrain and a cave network of monasteries including the colossal buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban once towered over the valley. Bamyan had the first ever female Governor, Habiba Sarabi and the people of Bamyan are known for their hospitality, love for art and civil and cultural creativity, which are tangible signs of civilization heritage.

There are hundreds of public and private schools open in Bamyan that both girls and boys are studying. There are many international organizations in the province including prominent civil society and women rights group. At the heart of the city, there is the Bamyan University, which is growing each day as hundreds of students specially girls are studying different subjects.

How Safe is Bamyan?

Bamyan is among the lowest ranking cities in violence and street harassments for women in the country. Girls enjoy both public dormitories and privately rental houses, where the people are very cooperative and peaceful, making everyone feel home. In addition, Bamyan is among the very few cities where women are freely allowed to do different kinds of businesses. For example, there are three women owned cafes within the city, providing a peaceful environment for families. There is also a small women owned Bazar, known as the “Little Bazar of Art”, consist of about 30 shops run by women and selling locally made handicrafts; from embroidered male and female clothes, to creatively designed table clothes and wallets, and from woollen coats, waistcoats, socks, gloves to indoor woollen shoes, this little bazar is a glimpse of the creativity of Bamyan women’s arts and micro-business. Read more about safety in Bamyan and Afghanistan.

History of Bamyan

Afghanistan’s history can be traced back to when the land was called “Ariana.”. Situated at a geographical crossroad Afghanistan was influenced by different cultures and civilisations, and its unique culture was born from a creative synthesis of indigenous and foreign elements.

Bamyan is often described as “the place of shining light.” The rolling hills of the Bamiyan valley offer an austere and beautiful landscape of variegated colours. The central valley sits 2,500 meters above the sea level. Two rivers flow into the valley from sources in the Kuh-e-Baba Mountain: The Kakrak River to the east and the Foladi River to the west. The principal archaeological sites are located in the long east-west central valley of Bamyan and in the Kakrak and Foladi river valleys.

Bamiyan’s central cultural monuments are the two Buddha niches for giant statues carved at the eastern and western ends of a high cliff facing the central valley. Some thousand caves inhabited or used by Buddhist monks are also cut into the cliff face and decorated with a rich variety of murals. The Buddhist art of Bamyan, which enjoyed a renaissance after the collapse of the earlier Gandharan culture, spread and influenced various countries along the Silk Road. The Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley were inscribed on the World Heritage List at the 27th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2003.

A. The 4th -7th Centuries: Bamyan Seen by Xuanzang:

The name “Bamyan” first appears in historical records around the late 4th Century. The first detailed description of the region did not appear until around the year 630, when a Chinese monk named Xuanzang on his way to India visited Bamiyan for about 15 days,. In his travel record, Da Tang Xi Yu Ji, he mentions the kingdom “is situated in the midst of the Snowy Mountain. The people inhabit towns either in the mountains or the valleys, according to circumstances.” The description reveals that the people of Bamiyan probably lived in caves dug into the cliffs. Xuanzang also mentions that the Bamyan Kingdom “produces wheat, and few flowers or fruits. It is suitable for cattle, and affords pasture for many sheep and horses.” Thus, by the seventh century, the landscape of Bamiyan consisted of thousands of caves dug into the Great Cliff and large grain fields in the valley below.

Two statues of Buddha were also reported in detail in Xuanzang’s Da Tang Xi Yu Ji. He notes that the West Buddha’s “golden hues sparkle on every side, and its precious ornaments dazzle the eyes by their brightness”, indicating that the statues were lavishly decorated. Xuanzang’s description adds that there were 50 to 60 Buddhist temples with several thousand monks. When he visited Bamyan in the early seventh century, Bamiyan was at its peak as a Buddhist religious centre, with the statues of Buddha and numerous cave temples.

Xuanzang also writes that “the people remain faithful to the Three Treasures (Buddha, Law and Priesthood) at the top, down to various gods, and respect them most sincerely,” which suggests that different religions besides Buddhism were also practiced in Bamiyan. When Xuanzang visited Bamyan, the area was very prosperous as a commercial cross-road, connecting many different areas of Afghanistan and beyond.

B. Between the 8-9th Centuries: The Islamic Period

In the early eighth century, a monk called Hyecho from Silla ( now Korea) visited Bamyan, and described it as an area where Buddhism flourished. At the same time, he wrote that the area was not subject to any other country and had not been invaded, thanks to Bamyan’s strong army. Not long after Hyecho left Bamiyan, however, the king of Bamyan surrendered to the Abbasid caliphate, after which Islamic culture gradually spread. Up to this period, Buddhism, Islam and other religions seem to have coexisted in the region but in the late ninth century, the Saffarid dynasty (861-910) demolished many Buddhist temples and statues and from that time onward, Buddhist culture in Bamiyan gradually declined.

C. 19-20th Centuries

In the 19th Century, Bamyan reappears in historical records. Many expeditions entered the region. In the early 19th Century, Alexander Burnes and Charles Masson visited Bamiyan and sketched the statues of the Buddha.

In the early 20th Century, the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan (DAFA) began the first full-scale archaeological investigation of Bamyan. Under the supervision of Alfred Foucher, André Godard and Joseph Hackin, DAFA researched the mural paintings and architecture of Bamiyan in great detail, and published two comprehensive reports and several articles.

In the late 20th century, Zemaryalai Tarzi of the Institute of Archaeology in Afghanistan started doing major archaeological research in the area. In addition to archaeological and art history investigations, conservation and restoration of the Bamyan site were carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Owing to such long-term international investigations and research, Bamiyan became known for its role as the crossroad of civilisations from India, Persia, and Central Asia. After 1979, the war prevented further academic research there. In 1997, the Taliban regime took over the Bamyan valley and threatened to demolish the site.

The Lost of Buddha's of Afghanistan with David Adams - 2001



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