War-zone tourism gaining popularity in Afghanistan
THOUSANDS of people are fleeing the conflict roiling Afghanistan, but American backpacker John Milton recently made the reverse journey to the war-ravaged country – for a holiday.
Armed with little more than travel guidebooks and an unflagging spirit of adventure, hardy bands of “war tourists”, such as Mr Milton, visit Afghanistan’s pristine mountains and medieval ruins every year, ignoring warnings of kidnappings and bombings.
A Taliban attack on August 4 on a group of American and European tourists in western Herat province, which left some of them wounded, has brought into sharp focus such global thrill-seekers who imperil their lives to vacation in war zones.
“Visiting conflict zones and offthe-beaten-path destinations is so much more rewarding than the usual global tourist destinations,” said Mr Milton, a 46-year-old former investment banker, who visited Afghanistan in June and has also holidayed in Somalia and North Korea.
“[My] family and friends think I am a fool to take such risks but ... if you are not willing to risk the unusual, then you will have to settle for the ordinary. I just don’t want to die without having any scars!”
In the August 4 attack, a tourist bus carrying eight Britons, three Americans and one German national came under Taliban fire as it was being escorted through a volatile district in Herat by the Afghan army.
The attack, which left seven people wounded, including the Afghan minibus driver, prompted scorn on social media, with many questioning why the tourists were travelling overland at a time when most Western embassies warn their citizens against all travel in the country.
The owner of Hinterland Travel, a Britain-based adventure travel agency which reportedly organised the tour, was also said to be among the injured and was pilloried for what was widely perceived as recklessness. He was not reachable for comment.
But warzone tourism is hardly limited to Afghanistan.
In 2013, Japanese Toshifumi Fujimoto, bored with his humdrum job, jaunted through the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo, telling AFP that his
previous adventures had taken him through Yemen among other Middle East hot spots.
Such tourists are the exception rather than the norm, said James Willcox, founder of another England-based adventure travel operator Untamed Borders, which organises trips to Afghanistan, Somalia and Somaliland.
“One of the main reasons people come on our trips ... is to [see] countries for the multi-faceted, complex places they are. We do not choose destinations because they are dangerous,” Mr Willcox said. –
Band-i-Amir Lake in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan. Taliban militants attacked a group of 12 American and European tourists escorted by an Afghan army convoy in western Herat province on August 4.