Band-e Amir is a chain of 6 incredible deep blue lakes nestled amidst pink limestone canyons in the mountainous desert of central Afghanistan. They are located high in the Hindu Kush Mountains, the second highest mountain range in the world, at an altitude of 2900 metres, and about 80 kilometres (42 miles) from the ancient town of Bamiyan, where the Taliban destroyed the world’s tallest Buddha statues in 2001.
Surrounded by pink towering limestone cliffs almost in complete lack of vegetation, the stunning lakes have intense colors that range from faint turquoise to deep blue. Sometimes they are bluer than the sky and contrast spectacularly over the desert vistas around them.
Together with Bamiyan, they are the heart of Afghanistan’s tourism, attracting a few thousands of tourists every year from all over the world.
The lakes are separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit and their names refer to their dam-like (“Band”) appearance: Band-e Panir is the smallest lake, with a diameter of approximately 100m (330ft), Band-e Zulfiqar is the largest, measuring 6.5km (4mi) in length, Band-e-Haibat is the deepest, estimated to have an average depth of 150 m, and Band-e Gholaman, Band-e Qambar and Band-e Pudina make up the rest.
Covering approximately 230 square miles, Band-e Amir became Afghanistan’s first and only national park in 2009 and has also been nominated to be a World Heritage Site.
It is one of the few rare natural lakes in the world that are created by travertine systems, all of which are on UNESCO World heritage list.
The beautiful lakes were created by the carbon dioxide rich water that is drawn from the spring melt-water in the surrounding mountains and came out from faults and cracks in the rocky landscape. This outflow of water percolates slowly through the underlying limestone, dissolving its principal mineral, calcium carbonate.
Over time, the water deposited layers of hardened mineral (travertine), which created dams that trap water in increasingly large basins. These dams are usually about 10m (33ft) high and 3m (10ft) wide. Water cascades from one lake to the other near travertine terraces serving as massive natural dams between the lakes. The high mineral content of the lakes are also the cause for the intense and varying colors of the lake waters.