A rare oasis of solace

Scenic city of Bamiyan spared the conflict afflicting the rest of Afghanistan

EYE-CATCHING: Bamiyan is famous for empty hillside niches that once sheltered giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taleban.
EYE-CATCHING: An Afghan man at a Shahr-e-Gholghola hilltop overlooking Bamiyan.
PICTURESQUE: Band-i-Amir Lake (above) and its surroundings.
PICTURESQUE: Band-i-Amir Lake and its surroundings (above).

Trudging halfway up a jagged goat trail, guide Mohammad Ibrahim extolled the panoramic view - a vast, ancient landscape of cliffs that is on the frontline of Afghan efforts to jumpstart warzone tourism.

Bamiyan - famous for empty hillside niches that once sheltered giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taleban - is a rare oasis of tranquillity that has largely been spared the wrenching conflict that afflicts the rest of Afghanistan.

Once a caravan stop along the fabled Silk Road, the central Afghan city was recently named this year's cultural capital of South Asia, igniting hopes of restoring its place on the global tourism map - a move welcomed by local hoteliers and shopkeepers, though few are optimistic.

One obstacle remains: Bamiyan is hemmed in by war, AFP reported.

Indeed, figuring out how to get to the ancient city - endowed with stunning landscapes but wedged between volatile provinces - itself is a challenge.

But that does not stop Mr Mohammad, head of the local tourism association with a penchant for Indiana Jones-style hats, from making his sales pitch.

"Bamiyan has caves with the world's oldest oil paintings, the country's first national park and during winter, it's home to Afghanistan's only ski slopes," he said, sounding like a walking tourism brochure.

Hiking up to the ruined ramparts of Shahr-e-Gholghola - the City of Screams, which was destroyed by Genghis Khan in the 13th century - Mr Mohammad stopped to catch his breath.

"Bamiyan is the envy of Afghanistan as it has peace," he said.


But it has just one commercial airline operating thrice-weekly flights from Kabul, AFP reported.

And both land routes connecting it to the capital - through the mountainous Ghorband valley in neighbouring Parwan province and Wardak in the south - can be deadly.

Travellers who cannot afford the US$200 (S$270) round-trip airfare say Taleban militants harass them with impunity.

"If you are an Afghan travelling by road, wear a ragged tunic, abandon all government ID and say your prayers," quipped Mr Umaidullah Azad, a tourist in Band-e Amir, widely known as "Afghanistan's Grand Canyon" for its azure lakes and rolling limestone cliffs.

Shops selling trinkets and rugs emblazoned with images of buzkashi - a rugged equestrian game - admit living a slow death until tourism blossoms.

"Tourists are unlikely to come to Bamiyan," said antiques shopkeeper Ghulam Ali, "until the war outside Bamiyan ends".

Bamiyan has caves with the world's oldest oil paintings, the country's first national park and during winter, it's home to Afghanistan's only ski slopes.

- Mr Mohammad Ibrahim, head of the Bamiyan tourism association

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Heroes on how they helped save man trapped under truck

GOOD SAMARITANS: Mr Hung Tee Keong (left) and Mr Andrew Tung were among the group that came together to rescue an accident victim on Wednesday.

The duo were about to cross a road on Wednesday morning when they heard a loud sickening crunching sound.

IT senior executive Andrew Tung, 35, told The New Paper yesterday that it sounded like bones being crushed.

Mr Tung and his colleague, associate engineer Hung Tee Keong, 47, turned around and saw a man lying face down under a truck, with one of his legs pinned under a rear tyre at the junction of Bendemeer and Boon Keng roads.

The men were shocked to see the victim, who was wailing in pain.


Mr Tung and Mr Hung were part of a group of about 30 people who came together in a remarkable display of public spiritedness to rescue the man.

Their heroic act was captured on a 1½-minute video clip, which has since gone viral with more than 300,000 views. In the video, the men looked like they were in a flash mob, gathering and then vanishing just as quickly.

Mr Tung and Mr Hung, who are both employees of automotive supplier Continental Automotive, were walking towards a nearby hawker centre for lunch at around 11.45am that day when the man, believed to be a 35-year-old South Korean, was trapped in the accident.


Mr Tung said: "I didn't see the accident. But when I turned around, I could see only the top half of the man as he was stuck under the truck.

"He was shouting in a foreign accent, 'Help! Help!' and sounded desperate. He was wearing a suit and handsome, like a K-pop star."

Mr Tung added that the driver realised what had happened only after he got out of his truck.

"He looked stunned and appeared like he didn't know what to do," said Mr Tung.

"A passer-by said, 'Let's help the victim together.' That's when we decided to lift the vehicle to free his leg. We held onto the sides of the truck and tried to move it."

The vehicle refused to budge at first as there were only about 10 people trying to lift it. So Mr Tung called out to his other colleagues who were passing by. Other passers-by also helped.

Mr Hung said: "Soon the number grew to about 30 people, about half of them were our colleagues.

"When the truck finally lifted, the man was pulled out from under the vehicle. We were very relieved that we managed to rescue him."

The Straits Times reported yesterday that 
another Continental Automotive employee 
was one of two men who pulled the victim to safety.

The Filipino design engineer, who wanted to be known only as Dennis, had said: "I did it instinctively. I was afraid those lifting the truck would get tired, so I made sure to keep as low as possible.

"An Indian man helped me. The two of us managed to pull him out. It happened very quickly."

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and the police said they received a call for assistance at 11.50am on Wednesday.

An ambulance was deployed to the scene and the man was taken to Tan Tock Seng 
Hospital. He was conscious and had a fractured leg.

The 25-year-old truck driver has been arrested and investigations are ongoing.

The SCDF also created a Facebook post asking for the Good Samaritans to come forward.

It said: "Proof that you don't have to be in a costume to be a superhero."

Mr Hung told TNP yesterday that his arms were still sore from lifting the heavy truck.

"But it's worth it as we had all worked together to help the injured man," he said.

I didn't see the accident. But when I turned around, I could see only the top half of the man as he was stuck under the truck.

- Mr Andrew Tung

Wife in bike crash dies, minibus driver arrested

Pillion rider in Yishun accident that killed her husband dies

TRAGIC: Paramedics pronounced Mr Wong Sang Him dead at the scene of the accident at Yishun Avenue 2.

The pillion rider who was injured in an accident that killed her motorcyclist husband last Sunday has died.

Meanwhile, the 21-year-old driver of a minibus involved in the crash has been arrested for causing death by negligence, said a police spokesman.

Madam Ng Soo Kiew, 60, who was taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital after the crash, died on Wednesday.

According to Shin Min Daily News, she was unconscious for three days and underwent two operations, but her condition took a turn for the worse two days ago.

Lianhe Wanbao reported that her spine, ribs and thighs were injured.

The couple's son was quoted in the newspaper: "The doctors said she couldn't be saved so we had to let her go."

The funeral of Madam Ng's husband, Mr Wong Sang Him, 63, was supposed to be held yesterday, but has been postponed.

"We want them to be on the road together and (we) will have the funeral for them on Sunday," the son, who was unnamed, told Shin Min Daily News.

He was also quoted in Lianhe Wanbao as saying: "My father's not at fault. I want to seek redress for my parents."

He and several close family friends had gone to collect his mother's body yesterday morning.

The collision happened at Yishun Avenue 2 in front of Khatib MRT station at about 2.30pm.

On Monday, The New Paper reported that a family visiting on Hari Raya was shocked when Mr Wong's motorcycle rammed into the rear of their sedan.

But yesterday, the police revealed that the accident also involved a minibus.

TNP understands that the minibus had hit the motorcycle, which then slammed into the rear of the car.

A spokesman for the Singapore Civil Defence Force said they received a call about the accident at 2.34pm and sent two ambulances to the scene.

Paramedics pronounced Mr Wong dead but found Madam Ng conscious and in pain on the ground.

At the wake for Mr Wong yesterday at Block 604, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, flowers with cards expressing condolences surrounded family members and close friends.

The couple's son told TNP he had received updates on the accident from the police, but did not feel comfortable saying more.

When approached, a relative of the couple also declined to comment.

Worker hurt after shark rams his face in RWS aquarium

Shark rams into S.E.A. Aquarium worker's face during feeding time

ALL OKAY: The Open Ocean aquarium where the incident happened. At 5pm yesterday, it was business as usual.

Animals can be unpredictable. A worker at the S.E.A Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa found this out the hard - and painful - way yesterday when a shark suddenly rammed its snout into his face.

The bump on the aquarist's left cheek was severe enough to draw blood and have him sent to the hospital for treatment.

He is believed to have been feeding the marine animals inside the Open Ocean aquarium when the incident happened at about 3.30pm.

An on-site first aid team assessed his injury before calling for an ambulance.

An RWS spokesman said in a statement: "An aquarist at our S.E.A Aquarium suffered from a minor laceration on his left cheek while attending to the marine animals. He has received treatment at the hospital.

"We take utmost priority in ensuring the safety of our team members and have strict safety guidelines in place."

The aquarist was treated at Singapore General Hospital and discharged. A Singapore Civil Defence Force spokesman said that a man was taken conscious to hospital with lacerations on his left cheek.

The New Paper understands that the shark was less than a metre long. The type of shark involved is not known. There are at least five species of sharks in the S.E.A Aquarium. (See report, above.)

Marine biologist Alison Kock told The New Paper in an e-mail interview that shark attacks, while unpredictable, are location-specific, species-specific and activity-specific.

The research manager at South Africa's non-profit group, Shark Spotters, also said that whether the sharks are in captivity or in the wild, attacks are "extremely rare".

"The two most common reasons are related to feeding or defence."

When TNP visited the aquarium at about 5pm yesterday, it was business as usual.