Tourists still enchanted by Afghanistan

Despite the threat from the Taliban, adventurous tourists are still enticed by Afghanistan and the scores of attractions that it has to offer.

Even though the Taliban has banned tourism in the nation, especially for those tourists from the NATO nations, some tourists feel it is worth risking the danger to visit the intriguing country. Even though the number of tourists that gain access to the country are few, and dwindling each year, there are a small number who are willing to take the inherent risks. Those that visit the nation for its beauty and experiences, but do not want to take any chances, private bodyguards are available and they can ensure the safety of visitors for $1,500 a day. Such tourists normally travel in armoured cars and stay at the $356-a-night Kabul Serena Hotel.

Despite the dangers, Afghanistan offers exotic views with its rugged, snow-capped mountains in the Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges, as well as ancient Buddhist monuments and stunning Islamic architecture.

A tour operator who works in Afghanistan said, ‘We really tell them, don’t come on your own, come through a friend who works in an NGO in small groups or ones and twos. Security is the priority for us. We don’t want to ruin the reputation of our company. Pure tourists, I would say there are only 100 to 150 a year.’

Tourism in the country was totally wiped out by 2008, and there are few places in the nation that are safe to visit.

The Kabul Serena Hotel, which has five stars, has 177-rooms and runs at 64 per cent occupancy. Terrorists have twice attacked the Serena, and in 2008 Taliban insurgents killed six guests in an attack aimed at the hotel’s health spa.

Afghanistan rebuilding its museum

Authorities are rebuilding the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, which was once the best-stocked museum in the region.

Since then, the museum has been through many hardships and without the dogged determination of its staff it would have been completely lost to the Islamic hardliners who once ruled the nation. During years of civil war, the building was shelled and looted. It caught fire during the 1992 civil war and a significant number of its famed exhibits were looted. Taliban extremists smashed many of the centuries-old statues that were once the museum’s proudest exhibits.

The museum is slowly being rebuilt under the new government with the help of international aid and support. Thousands of looted treasures have been restored to the museum with help from British authorities. Many of the pieces that are on display at the museum had been kept hidden by staff, who saved them from certain destruction and kept their existence secret for a decade.

The museum received about 850 Afghan artefacts in early August, including a 3,000-year-old Bronze-Age axe, a first-century ivory elephant carving and a life-sized Buddha statue, objects that would have been destroyed by the Taliban. Speaking to the Associated Press, officials at the museum said that the British Museum had catalogued and helped return many of the pieces, in cooperation with British authorities. In 2009, about 1,500 historical pieces were returned to the museum.

The authorities are endeavouring to return the museum to its pre-war reputation as one of the finest in the region. In its golden years, the museum had displays that belonged to the Bronze Age as well as the contemporary Islamic period. A prized possession of the museum is the ‘miracle’ Buddha, which depicts Buddha performing miracles to silence sceptics. There are also many returned pieces that have not yet been catalogued.

Some of the pieces returned to the museum were those that were illegally excavated from archaeological sites. Authorities indicated that the museum once had 100,000 artifacts including millennia-old tools from some of the earliest human settlements.

Afghan king, Amrullah Khan, established the museum in the 1920s. Now, previously hidden artefacts, some made of gold and up to 2,000 years old, are on a tour of museums around the world and have been displayed in New York, Paris and London.