By ROD NORDLANDMARCH 8, 2014 via NYTimes.com BAMIAN, Afghanistan — It will be a long time before anyone calls this mountain town a tourist trap, especially at 9,000 feet when lows in the winter can plunge to 20 degrees below zero.
Even when two new hotels open in the coming year, Bamian — perhaps best known for the Taliban’s destruction of its ancient Buddhas — will have hotel rooms for fewer than 300 tourists. And while a new private airline, East Horizon, has made it possible to avoid insurgent checkpoints on the only two passable roads here, even frequent fliers might raise their eyebrows at some well-connected passengers who take their assault rifles with them in the cabin.
Still, despite the war that rages on elsewhere in the country, intrepid tourists are finding their way to this mountainous area of central Afghanistan in growing numbers, even in the coldest months.
On a recent February day, only three overseas tourists were visiting, but that was three more than in many years past. The same week, two conferences for Afghans were taking place. And as the month was ending, Bamian hosted an international Ski Challenge, drawing people from half a dozen countries to its pristine mountainsides — some 20 visitors who cheerfully snowshoed their way up the slopes, in lieu of any lifts.
[…] The nascent ski industry has been promoted heavily by the international Aga Khan Foundation’s Development Network as one of its many Afghan projects. The foundation thought that to build a tourist industry in this remote place, it made sense to make it all-season to promote year-round jobs.
“When we were first talking about tourism, people were laughing at us,” the foundation’s national tourism coordinator, Amir Foladi, said. The foundation financed the training of ski guides, and encouraged Afghans — men and women — to learn to ski, something previously unknown here. (The women managed to do so without violating the conservative dress code by wearing headscarves or helmets.)