War-zone tourism gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in Afghanistan

The Myanmar Times - - World -

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.

Photo: AFP

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