Band-e-Amir Lakes, Afghanistan

Lake Locations:

Afghanistan -

Also known as:  Band-e Amir Lakes, Band-e Ameer, Band-i Amir, Gholaman, Qambar, Haibat, Panir, Pudina, Zulfiqar

Afghanistan has its first national park, and the major attraction is Band-e-Amir Lakes. Once a popular tourist attraction, this chain of six brilliant blue lakes is seen as the promise of a brighter future for a country marred by decades of war. Located in north-central Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Province, the sparkling lakes sit in stark contrast to the red limestone cliffs of the ancient Hazarajat Mountains. To follow the rugged terrain of this western Hindu Kush range is to follow the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Ghenghis Khan, Marco Polo and travelers of the historic Silk Road. While still a destination for the daring and adventuresome, Band-e-Amir Lakes is welcoming thousands of visitors every year.

Band-e-Amir was first declared a national park in 1973 but did not achieve legal status until April, 2009. Joining with the Afghan government, the U. S. Agency for International Development and Wildlife Conservation Society conducted wildlife surveys, laid out park boundaries and developed the park management plan now in operation. The park encompasses about 230 square miles. Amenities include restrooms, a ranger station, and recreational paddle boats. Band-e-Amir’s pristine lake water and unique geologic features are now protected by Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, and the Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee. Recognizing the value of this site, the groundwork has been laid for Band-e-Amir Lakes to receive UNESCO World Heritage status.

From west to east the Band-e-Amir Lakes (Dam of the Ruler) are: Band-e-Gholaman (Dam of Slaves), Band-e-Qambar (Groom’s Dam), Band-e-Haibat (Dam of Fear at 1211 acres and average depth of 262 feet), Band-e-Panir (Dam of Cheese, the smallest lake with a diameter of 328 feet), Band-e-Pudina (Mint Dam or Wild Mint Dam), and Band-e-Zulfiqar (Dam of Ali’s Sword at 222 acres). At the end of the chain the Band-e Amir River flows down the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush and disappears into the desert near the Tajikistan border.

Local tradition holds that Band-e Amir Lakes were formed by the miraculous act of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. The story has many variations, but in each Ali appears in the disguise of a slave before a tyrannical infidel king. Challenged by the king to control the raging Band-e Amir River, Ali swings his sword cutting off a mountain top to create Band-e Zulfiqar. Ali then digs up trees and shrubs building a dam that creates Band-e Pudina. Local women bring him cheese used in yet another attempt to dam the water resulting in the white-bottomed Band-e Panir. Finally, Ali hurls rocks and boulders that form Band-e Haibat and ultimately control the river. Upon success of the miraculous feat, Ali reveals his identity and the king converts to Islam on the spot. A shrine commemorating Ali’s miracle and recited prayers was erected in 1904 and remains along the sacred shore of Band-e Haibat.

Current geology tells us that Band-e-Amir River forms a chain of six lakes. The lakes are separated by travertine terraces with waterfalls flowing from one lake to the next. Rising to heights of 30 feet and widths of 10 feet, Band-e-Amir Lakes’ travertine dams are a rare occurrence. The towering structures appear only where calcium carbonate deposits build along fault lines in carbon dioxide-rich water. It is also the high mineral content of the lakes that results in the water’s beautiful lapis lazuli color.

During much of 2001 this isolated area of central Afghanistan saw the front line fighting between Taliban and resistance forces. At that time massive mine fields were laid and remain around Band-e-Amir National Park today. Beautiful but harsh terrain and rocky plateaus have made it difficult to safely clear all of the mine fields. Only a single unpaved road leading to Band-e-Amir has been cleared of mines and is considered safe to travel. Please note that the positioning of the marker on LakeLubbers’ Google map is not an indication of a safe route. Travel arrangements to Band-e-Amir Lakes should be based on advice from government officials.

The involvement of local citizens in management decisions is essential to the continued protection and preservation of Band-e-Amir National Park. With an estimated population of 2,000-to-2,500 people, four main villages surround Band-e-Amir Lakes: Jaru Kashan, Qela Jafar, Dew Khana and Lupruk. The lakes and surrounding wheat fields are state-owned but subject to citizens’ traditional farming rights. Unrestricted grazing continues in over-grazed meadows, and fish populations are threatened by the unusual use of electricity and hand grenades to catch fish. As park employment opportunities increase and tourism revenue provides a new income stream, it is hoped that residents will actively participate in the preservation of Band-e Amir Lakes.

Recreational activities remain somewhat limited within Band-e-Amir National Park. Swimming is open to men only, and even that is limited by the very cold water fed by springs and snow melt. In an effort to control pollution, boats with motorized gas engines are banned from Band-e Amir Lakes. Fishing for carp, known locally as milk fish, is a common sight along the lake shores, but rods and reels are in short supply.

Over the decades, the snow leopard and other large wildlife have disappeared from mountains surrounding Band-e-Amir Lakes. Remaining species are the ibex (wild goat), urial (wild sheep), wolves and foxes. Over 150 species of birds have been sighted at Band-e Amir National Park, causing the area to be designated by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area. While birdwatching is not yet common practice at Band-e-Amir, it is a treat to spy the Afghan snowfinch which is known to breed only in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Thirty four miles east of Band-e-Amir Lakes, the remains of two sacred Buddhas tower over the community of Bamiyan. Carved into sheer sandstone cliffs over 1500 years ago, the two Buddhas, Vairocana at 180 feet and Sakyamuni at 121 feet, are the world’s largest standing Buddhas. Considered to be “idols” by the Taliban-led government, the Buddhas were destroyed in 2001. Today, the Afghan government is working on comprehensive plans to reconstruct the site in hopes of combining the attraction with Band-e-Amir National Park to draw more visitors into the Bamiyan Valley.

Band-e-Amir National Park and the chain of six lakes are part of the transformation that will take Afghanistan from a collection of war-torn provinces to a unified country. Promoting the beauty and adventure that is Afghanistan unites people and creates a sense of pride. Adventure travelers and residents of Kabul and Jalalabad will begin to find travel easier as new roads are constructed and services become available. Typical vacation rentals and modern conveniences are still a rare commodity at Band-e-Amir Lakes, but hotels and guest houses can be found in surrounding communities. If you are looking for the trip of a lifetime, this is it. A trip to Band-e-Amir Lakes is more than a destination – it is a study in geology, history, faith and the endurance of a nation.

Things to do at Band-e-Amir Lakes

  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Band-e-Amir Lakes

  • Carp

Band-e-Amir Lakes Photo Gallery

Band-e-Amir Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Surface Area: 1,483 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 9,514 feet

Lake Area-Population: 2,500

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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