It has been known as the “Grand Canyon“ of Afghanistan. Band-e Amir National Park is an oasis of striking blue lakes amid the Hindu Kush mountains.
But photos appearing online on Saturday appeared to show Taliban fighters riding pedalos on the lakes, once frequented by thousands of domestic tourists and intrepid international travellers.
Many on the small pleasure boats brandished assault rifles and machine guns, one appeared to tout an RPG.
What was a surreal scene for many online – prompting jokes about a “Taliban navy“ – will bring sadness and concern to onlookers who fear for the region’s heritage.
The fighters had assembled for a visit by Anaamullah Samangani, a senior member of the Taliban who sits on the group's cultural commission.
Samangani has played the role of a public relations officer for the militants in recent months, expressing regret over the severe beating of two Afghan reporters in Kabul on September 8.
Both men worked for the local Etilaatroz news agency and were held as the Taliban clamped down on the movement of journalists in the Afghan capital, detaining 24 journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Band-e Amir is about 75 kilometres from Bamiyan, an area globally renowned for traces of the area’s Buddhist past.
The Buddhas of Bamiyan, towering structures carved into a cliff in the sixth century, were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.