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Set hard against a dramatic mountain backdrop and hemmed in by sheer, cave-dotted cliffs, Bamiyan is one of the most picturesque places in Afghanistan. It's also one of the poorest. Officials hope to improve its economy through a fledgling tourist industry that is trying to attract visitors to take in its historical sites, mountain vistas and Afghanistan's only national park, Band-i Amir, which is an hour's drive away.
Set hard against a dramatic mountain backdrop and hemmed in by sheer, cave-dotted cliffs, Bamiyan is one of the most picturesque places in Afghanistan. It's also one of the poorest. Officials hope to improve its economy through a fledgling tourist industry that is trying to attract visitors to take in its historical sites, mountain vistas and Afghanistan's only national park, Band-i Amir, which is an hour's drive away. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Set hard against a dramatic mountain backdrop and hemmed in by sheer, cave-dotted cliffs, Bamiyan is one of the most picturesque places in Afghanistan. It's also one of the poorest. Officials hope to improve its economy through a fledgling tourist industry that is trying to attract visitors to take in its historical sites, mountain vistas and Afghanistan's only national park, Band-i Amir, which is an hour's drive away.
Set hard against a dramatic mountain backdrop and hemmed in by sheer, cave-dotted cliffs, Bamiyan is one of the most picturesque places in Afghanistan. It's also one of the poorest. Officials hope to improve its economy through a fledgling tourist industry that is trying to attract visitors to take in its historical sites, mountain vistas and Afghanistan's only national park, Band-i Amir, which is an hour's drive away. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A man and two women walk by an ancient food storage building set hard against red cliffs that form the border of Bamiyan city, Afghanistan. Bamiyan is the capital of the province of the same name - one of the safest provinces in Afghanistan and also one of the poorest.
A man and two women walk by an ancient food storage building set hard against red cliffs that form the border of Bamiyan city, Afghanistan. Bamiyan is the capital of the province of the same name - one of the safest provinces in Afghanistan and also one of the poorest. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A young boy rides a donkey within view of the site of one of Bamiyan city's famed Buddhas. The giant Buddhas - representing a man, a woman, and a child - were infamously  blown up by the Taliban in 2001, but their dramatic outlines remain etched in sheer red cliffs at the edge of the city.
A young boy rides a donkey within view of the site of one of Bamiyan city's famed Buddhas. The giant Buddhas - representing a man, a woman, and a child - were infamously blown up by the Taliban in 2001, but their dramatic outlines remain etched in sheer red cliffs at the edge of the city. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
An view of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, from inside the outline of one of the city's famed Buddhas. Perched high in the Hindu Kush mountains, the ancient city is one of the most picturesque corners of Afghanistan.
An view of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, from inside the outline of one of the city's famed Buddhas. Perched high in the Hindu Kush mountains, the ancient city is one of the most picturesque corners of Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Students take their exams outdoors at Bamiyan University, in the high-mountain city of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. A stronghold of the Hazara minority, who descended from Mongolians, Bamiyan has a distinctly Central Asian feel.
Students take their exams outdoors at Bamiyan University, in the high-mountain city of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. A stronghold of the Hazara minority, who descended from Mongolians, Bamiyan has a distinctly Central Asian feel. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A donkey train plies a dirt road next to ancient ruins in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. The Hazara minority that dominates the city and much of Bamiyan province suffered greatly under the Taliban and look nervously to the end of 2014, when all foreign combat troops are set to leave Afghanistan.
A donkey train plies a dirt road next to ancient ruins in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. The Hazara minority that dominates the city and much of Bamiyan province suffered greatly under the Taliban and look nervously to the end of 2014, when all foreign combat troops are set to leave Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
An old United Nations truck sits rusting on the side of a dirt side street in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
An old United Nations truck sits rusting on the side of a dirt side street in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
The livestock market in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Much of Bamiyan province, in north-central Afghanistan, is above 8,000 feet, so little grows outside of hearty crops like potatoes. Many residents rely on livestock for a living.
The livestock market in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Much of Bamiyan province, in north-central Afghanistan, is above 8,000 feet, so little grows outside of hearty crops like potatoes. Many residents rely on livestock for a living. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
The largest of the three famed Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. This Buddha was more than 170 feet high. The scaffolding is in place to keep the walls from collapsing.
The largest of the three famed Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. This Buddha was more than 170 feet high. The scaffolding is in place to keep the walls from collapsing. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan — Beyond the famous Buddhas and their infamous demise at the hands of Taliban soldiers lie a city and a province steeped in history and struggling with the present.

High in the Hindu Kush Mountains, Bamiyan province is both one of the safest regions of Afghanistan and one of the poorest. The province is dominated by the Hazara minority, whose Asiatic features and adherence to Shiite Islam (as opposed to Sunni Islam, which dominates the country) set them apart from most Afghans. It had a long Buddhist history before Islam was introduced to Afghanistan around the 7th century.

Because of harsh winters and rocky soil, little grows in Bamiyan. Although the province is famed for its potatoes and apples, Bamiyan residents rely largely on herding for their livelihood, and most basic goods must be imported. Poverty is widespread, and some in Bamyan — too poor to afford even basic housing — have taken to squatting in the cliff-side caves carved out by Buddhist monks centuries ago.

This poverty lies in stark contrast to the natural beauty that surrounds the provincial capital — craggy snow-capped peaks and cliffs that glow red in the sunset. For six months of the year, snow blankets a landscape that includes peaks rising more than 13,000 feet. In that beauty lies a hope that as war ebbs, large numbers of foreign visitors may return to a region that was once a major stop for adventurous tourists.

druzen.heath@stripes.com

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