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What's left of the Bamyan Buddhas (Afghanistan Matters)

Afghanistan's highest mountain open to visitors

19th August 2011

Foreign and local climbers have recently scaled Afghanistan's highest mountain. Could this be the beginning of a tourism revival?

The summit of Mount Noshaq in the Wakhan corridor in north-east Afghanistan was reached by a team of climbers at the beginning of August.

An expedition team that included two Australians, two Afghan climbers and two Afghan support personnel scaled the 7,492m mountain.

Anthony Simms of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said that foreign travellers are already visiting the beautiful-but-poverty stricken area and future climbing expeditions are likely.

Simms said, "Mountaineering expeditions are particularly effective at putting money into the local economy – they are not cheap undertakings.

"So through our expedition, we hope to see more mountaineers visit Wakhan, and in turn see more money going to the local people."

Simms said that 200-250 visitors a year are currently going to Wakhan, an isolated panhandle of land connecting Afghanistan with China that has been closed off to the outside world for decades.

When Dan Martin, an adventure traveller who has cycled through the Khyber Pass to Kabul, was asked if encouraging adventure tourism in Afghanistan is a good idea said, "Of course. Afghanistan was always a famous stop off on the silk route and famed for its hospitality.

"It needs to be made clear that the Wakhan corridor is not the same as Helmand Province. It's got some phenomenal climbing opportunities out there. I'd love to go.

"If tourism can be used to help, enrich and empower the people there then only good can come from it." Follow @DanielMartinAdv on Twitter for updates on his latest adventure.

The WCS have said that other areas of Afghanistan that are famous for stunning mountain scenery have opened up to tourism in recent years.

The central province of Bamiyan, home to both the country's first national park Band-e-Amir and giant millennia-old Buddha statues (though the latter were dynamited by the Taliban a decade ago), has also recently been opened up to tourists.

Peter Zahler, deputy director of WCS's Asia program said, "Despite the turmoil that continues in some parts of the country, Wakhan is just one of a number of areas in Afghanistan that are very safe from a security standpoint and where tourism is already providing jobs and improved livelihoods for local people.”

The Wakhan region is not only attractive to visitors wishing to climb but is also home to snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and other wildlife.

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