An expedition member said Sunday that war-torn Afghanistan’s international tourism may be ready for a revival after local and foreign climbers scaled the country’s highest mountain.
New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s Anthony Simms said a team was able to conquer the summit of the 24,580-foot Mount Noshaq in the Wakhan Corridor of northeastern Afghanistan on August 4. The visit of foreign tourists to the region which still suffers from grinding poverty may be a signal that future climbing expeditions may be possible.
“Mountaineering expeditions are particularly effective at putting money into the local economy — they are not cheap undertakings,” Simms said in an email to The Associated Press. “So through our expedition, we hope to see more mountaineers visit Wakhan, and in turn see more money going to the local people.”
Simms, the WCS’s Afghanistan program technical adviser, Wakhan is now seeing between 200 and 250 tourists each year. The land, which connects Afghanistan to China, has been closed for decades to the outside due to the incessant warfare in the country.
WCS also noted the opening up to domestic and foreign tourists of other areas in Afghanistan which are known for its stunning mountain scenery. Among these regions include the central province of Bamiyan which is home to the first national park in the country, the Band-e-Amir and the 1,500-year old Buddha statues which the Taliban dynamited a decade ago. NATO handed security control to Afghan forces in Bamiyan last month.
“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,” Peter Zahler, deputy director of WCS’s Asia program, said in a recent press release.
International tourists were drawn to Afghanistan before it was invaded by troops of the Soviet Union in 1979. Wakhan, which is a favourite destination for climbers, became isolated because of the land mines during the civil war in the 1990s.
Slimms said the expedition in Noshaq included himself, two Afghan climbers, two Australians and two Afghan support personnel. A Japanese team first climbed the mountain in 1960.
“One of the primary reasons for taking these guys was to train them to independently lead expeditions in the future,” he said.
Simms said two tourist parties visited Noshaq in recent weeks including a small Belgian group which trekked to the base camp and a seven-member Polish team “should be summiting any day now, if all goes well,” he said.