Though horribly vandalized by the Taliban, Bamian remains one of the most extraordinary sites in Afghanistan. It was once world famous as an ancient center of Buddhist learning, and in its heyday (from the fifth to eighth centuries AD), the valley boasted more than 100 monasteries, all carved into the soft rocks of the hillsides. The Taliban made headlines around the world when it dynamited two enormous Buddhas that had been carved out of cliffs overlooking Bamian—they had been the largest Buddha statues in the world. The current government of Afghanistan has plans to re-create at least one of the Buddhas, though there isn't much money for the project yet. Despite the loss of the Buddhas, Bamian is still a beautiful (if arid) site on the Kunduz River, historically significant as the place where an indigenous Afghan religion developed during the first through sixth centuries. The area has some 10,000 caves and lots of tunnels, and many ancient cave dwellings are found there. An ancient fortress known as the Red City is also in the area. You can take day trips to the nearby ruins of Zohak and Gholghola and the lakes of Band-i-Amir. 80 mi/130 km west of Kabul.

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