BAND-E AMĪR, the chain of natural lakes 90 km west of Bāmīān in Afghanistan (30°12’ north latitude and 66° 30’ east longitude).

Physiography. The lakes lie in beds of Cretaceous clay and limestone at 2,900 m altitude on the course of small rivers coming from the east (the headwaters of the Balḵāb). After flowing through gorges, the rivers are dammed at several points by natural barriers of travertine. The lakes cover a total area of 5,985 km2. From east to west there are eight main lacustrine units with widely different degrees of sedimentation, ranging from a dry lake bed (no. 7) and some very shallow pools (nos. 1, 2, 3, 5) to large lakes tens of meters deep (nos. 4, 6, 8; lake no. 4 has an area of 4,875 km2 and a depth of 28 m). The natural dams occur at sharp drops in the streambeds, travertine being deposited where the water flow ceases to be calm and becomes turbulent. Vegetal organisms (cyanophytes, chlorophytes, mosses, algae, etc.) play an essential role in the precipitation of the dissolved calcium compounds. No traces of hydro-thermal activity have been found. The Band-e Amīr travertine fits the definition “continental lacustrine deposit of several compounds precipitated by biological activity of vegetal organisms rather than by purely chemical processes” (Lang and Lucas, 1970). Formation of the travertine deposits took place in interglacial phases (the evidence pointing to two glacial Quaternary phases) and continues in the present post-glacial phase. During these phases the water outlets have cut steep-walled channels through the dams.

The lakes in popular imagination and daily life. The spectacular aspect of the natural dams has prompted belief in their miraculous origin. They are said to have been built by the Prophet’s son-in-law ʿAlī. The names of the successive dams and the lakes which they impound are Band-e Ḏu’l-feqār (dam of ʿAlī’s sword), Band-e Pūdena (of the mint plants), Band-e Panīr (of the cheese), Band-e Ḵaybat (of the magic), Band-e Qanbar (of Qanbar, ʿAlī’s groom), Band-e Ḡolāmān (of the slaves). All relate to episodes of a legend which has come down in two closely similar versions (one outlined by Leech apud Burnes, the other by Foucher and again by Hackin and Kohzad). It seems likely (as suggested by Bernard) that ʿAlī’s exploits have a wider geographical reference and are to be interpreted as an etiological legend about use of rivers from the Hindu Kush for irrigation. A small sanctuary (zīārat) in honor of ʿAlī was built at a quite recent date (in 1332/1914 according to Hackin and Kohzad, in 1324/1906 according to Caspani and Cagnacci). The Hazāra people of the district catch fish in the lakes and use the cascades to turn water mills. After the construction of a motor track from Bāmīān and a small hotel, the extraordinary scenery of these turquoise-hued lakes in their setting of almost white-colored bare mountains began to attract tourists.



1. General descriptions: W. R. Hay, “Band-i-Amir,” Geographical Journal 87, 1936, pp. 348-50.

R. Dollot, L’Afghanistan, Paris, 1937, pp. 130-32.

E. Caspani and E. Cagnacci, Afghanistan, Crocevia dell’Asia, Milan, 1951, pp. 233-34.

H. Caillemer, Islam blanc sur le toit du monde, Paris, 1969, pp. 168-69.

2. Physical geography: A. F. de Lapparent, “Les dépôts de travertin des montagnes afghanes à l’ouest de Kaboul,” Revue de géographie physique et de geologie dynamique, 1966, pp. 351-57.

J. Lang and G. Lucas, “Contribution à l’étude de biohermes continentaux: Barrages des lacs de Band-e-Amir (Afghanistan central),” Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 1970, pp. 834-42 (2 figs., 2 plates).

U. Jux and E. K. Kempf, “Stauseen durch Travertinabsatz im zentralafghanischen Hochgebirge,” Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie, N.S., supp. 12, 1971, pp. 107-37.

3. The legend, its forms, and its interpretation: A. Burnes, Cabool, London, 1842, pp. 232-33.

Hay, loc. cit. Dollot, loc. cit. A. Foucher, La vieille route de l’Inde, de Bactres à Taxila, 2 vols., MDAFA 1, Paris, 1942, I, pp. 130-32.

R. Hackin and A. A. Kohzad, Légendes et coutumes afghanes, Paris, 1953, pp. 11-15.

P. Bernard, “Aï Khanoum "la barbare",” in P. Bernard and H. P. Francfort, Ētudes de géographie historique sur la plaine d’Aï Khanoum (Afghanistan), Paris, 1978, pp. 17-25. 4.

Photographs of the lakes: Hay, op. cit., p. 349.

Caspani and Cagnacci, op. cit., p. 224.

A. and M. Delapraz, Afghanistan, Neuenburg, 1964, p. 31 (in color).

R. Klass, Land of the High Flags, New York, 1964, photo XV.

M. Klimburg, Afghanistan, Vienna, 1966, p. 272.

L. Fischer, Afghanistan, eine geographisch-medizinische Landeskunde, Berlin, 1968, p. 154.

Caillemer, op. cit., p. 206. R. Michaud, Afghanistan, Paris, 1970, folders 4 and 8 (the latter exceptional, being of winter scenes; in color).

Jux and Kempf, op. cit., pp. 126-30.

(X. De Planhol)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: December 15, 1988

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 7, pp. 681-682