Band-e Amir, Afghanistan
High in Afghanistan's Hindu Kush mountains, just over 100 miles west of Kabul, are six striking blue lakes set off from the world by high red-limestone cliffs. It's said that Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, carved the lakes into the earth with a slash of his sword, and then dammed the water with cheese. (In fact, a hole-ridden mineral deposit called travertine now forms natural dams around the lakes.) The lakes have mineral waters that are believed to possess healing powers.
In the 1950s, the lakes were a popular tourist destination for Afghans and intrepid foreigners alike. But the trend faded with the start of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1979. With the rise of the Taliban in the mid-1990s, the U.S. invasion in 2001, and the uptick in insurgent violence in the country, visitors to the lakes have been few and far between. The instability has also been tough on animals: during this period some of the area's wildlife -- including snow leopards -- all but disappeared.
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