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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 July, 2003, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Adventure tourists head to Afghanistan
By Jannat Jalil
BBC, Kabul

A group of mountaineers is setting off on Saturday to scale Afghanistan's highest peak, Mount Noshaq.

They are trying to encourage adventure tourism in Afghanistan by showing that peace and normality are returning to the country.

Hindu Kush mountains, Afghanistan
The mountaineers want to see eco-friendly travel
It is hoped the plan will bring in much needed tourist revenue and help create jobs for Afghans living in the mountains.

This is the first time an expedition has attempted to climb Mount Noshaq - a giant formation of rock and ice - since the Soviet invasion nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Before Afghanistan descended into war, the beauty of the Afghan Hindu Kush, the hospitality of its inhabitants and the relative ease with which its peaks could be scaled attracted visitors from around the world.

Endangered species

This expedition has been organised by Mountain Wilderness, a group dedicated to protecting the world's mountainous areas.

It has been engaged in projects like cleaning up the huge piles of rubbish left by mountaineers on some of the world's highest peaks.

So its aims are two-fold. It wants to show adventure tourists that the mountains of the Afghan Hindu Kush are now safe for them to visit, but also to ensure they do so in a way that does not damage the fragile eco-systems of these peaks.

They are home to endangered species like the snow leopard and Marco Polo sheep, which are famed for their extravagantly spiralled horns.

The group is also planning to train local Afghans who are living in poverty to be both mountain guides and protectors of their environment.

The expedition is expected to take about a month, depending on weather conditions and its members will put daily updates on the internet.

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