Minaret Of Jam
The Minaret at Jam
stands alone in a remote valley surrounded by barren mountains. The Hari Rud
river flows rapidly by the lonely tower, which was once surrounded by a great
mosque at Firuz Koh. Built in the 12th century, it is the only well-preserved
monument from the Ghorid period. It measures 65 meters (213 feet) tall and is
accessable through a set of double sprial stairs that run from the octagonal
base to the circular top. The tower is decorated with kufic calligraphy etched
in stucco and accented with turquoise ceremics. Along the shaft are several
balconies and at the top is a large lantern.
The minaret was heavily
damaged during the Soviet incursion and the Afghan civil war. It was probably
not affected by the American campaign in late 2001.
Minaret of Jam soars into the sky in a steep-sided valley in central Afghanistan
- it is hard to believe that such a magnificent, 63 m high structure could have
been ‘forgotten’ about by the outside world after the Mongol destruction of the
site ca. 1221-2. Then again, given the remoteness of Jam, perhaps it is not
surprising that the Minaret remained virtually unknown until the Russo-Afghan
Boundary Commission ‘re-discovered’ it in 1886. Even then, only a handful of
scholars and intrepid tourists ventured to the site before the Soviet invasion
in 1979, and the subsequent decades of turmoil, effectively placed Jam out of
principal study of the minaret was carried out by the French scholars Maricq and
Wiet in the late 1950s. With the exception of Herberg and Davary’s brief surveys
in the 1970s, little fieldwork had been conducted on the surrounding
archaeological site, until the inception of the Minaret of Jam Archaeological
Project in 2003. We have recently completed a second season of fieldwork at Jam
and are planning to return in 2006
located at the confluence of the Hari Rud and Jam Rud, about 215 km to the east
of Herat, in Ghor province of central Afghanistan. The site is 1900 m above
sea-level, with nearby mountain peaks reaching nearly 3500 m. The harsh winters
are often followed by severe flooding as the snows melt; the summers are hot and
dry. With little flat land available along the scree-covered valleys, local
people struggle to survive in a subsistence economy.
inhospitable climate and terrain make it all the more remarkable that Jam was
once the centre of a huge empire - scholars generally agree that Jam is ancient
Firuzkuh, the summer capital of the Ghurids
The slender, tapering minaret soars to a height of 65
meters over the floor of a remote valley in western Afghanistan. Modern scholars
only reached the site in 1957, when discovery intact of the enormous 12-century
brick tower caused a sensation. It was a mystery to architects how such a
structure stood for so long in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
And historians wondered why it was the only monument left standing by Genghis
Khan’s Mongol hordes, who devastated the region in 1221.
The Minaret of Jam is the second tallest brick tower in the world after the
Qutub Minar in New Delhi. It is three-tiered and decorated with a variety of
geometric and floral patterned bands and inscriptions in brick and stucco.
Located east of Herat, the minaret stands on the site of what may be the capital
of the Ghorid Dynasty, which ruled Afghanistan from 1148 to 1214.
The site also includes the ruins of a palace, fortifications, and a Jewish
The Minaret of Jam is one of over 60 towers, dating from between the early 11th
and mid-13th centuries, still standing in Afghanistan, Iran, and the Central
Asian Republics. The special taste for towers in this period, is ascribed to the
widespread recognition of the form as an appropriate symbol of the triumph of
Islam in the region.
Some towers that appear independent today were once attached as minarets to
mosques built of sun-dried brick that have since disappeared. Other towers,
however, were conceived as independent, and also served as landmarks to guide
caravans across the landscape, or watchtowers in times of war.
The most impressive of this latter type is undoubtedly the Minaret of Jam.
Scholars speculate that it was because of
its usefulness as a watchtower that the Mongols spared it. They also believe
that wooden beams inside the brickwork may have provided some of the necessary
tensile strength for the tower to survive earthquakes.
The minaret is now threatened by water seeping from the two rivers at whose
confluence it stands, by vibrations from a planned road-building project nearby,
and continuing illegal archaeological digs.
“It is vital that this monument and the whole archaeological site be placed
under constant surveillance,” says UNESCO consultant Prof. Andrea Bruno of
Italy, who is also urging that the proposed road route be altered.
The Minaret of Jam stands sixty-five meters tall in a deep rugged valley at the
juncture of the Hari and Jam rivers, approximately one hundred kilometers east
of Herat. It was built by Ghurid sultan Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad bin Sam
(1163-1203). The foundation plaque above the base on the north side has been
read differently by Pinder-Wilson and by Sourdel-Thomine as 1194/95 and 1174/75.
The earlier date supports the prevailing argument that the minaret was erected
alone to commemorate the Ghurid conquest of Ghazna in 1173. Remains of a
settlement on the northern bank of Hari and surrounding hillsides, and pottery
fragments collected in the area suggest that the site may be the lost Ghurid
capital of Firuzkuh destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1222. Remains of a fort or
castle are seen on a hilltop to the east of the minaret.
Made entirely of
fired brick, the minaret is composed of a two-tier cylindrical body raised seven
meters on an octagonal base. Two spiral staircases, accessed from a single
doorway above the ground, provide access to two balconies atop the lower shaft
and midway up the upper shaft, visiting six vaulted chambers located in between.
Only the supports have remained of the brick balconies. The minaret is capped at
sixty-five meters with a cupola (now damaged) raised on six open archways.
The two towers of
the minaret shaft differ structurally. The broad lower shaft is made of thick
walls enveloping two spiral staircases at center; it rises to a height of
thirty-eight meters, with an exterior diameter diminishing from 9.7 meters at
the base to 6 meters at top. The narrow upper shaft, by contrast, has a central
void spanned by six cross-vaults resting on four internal buttresses. The stairs
are here channeled into the narrow spaces between the walls and the buttresses.
The rich decoration
of the minaret, executed with tiles and terracotta in high relief, has largely
survived and was analyzed in detail by Sourdel-Thomine. The upper shaft features
three epigraphic bands -- one below the cupola and two below the second balcony
-- that contain the shahada, Quranic verses from Sura al-Saff and the name of
Ghiyath al-Din, respectively. The two lower bands are separated by a thick
decorative band featuring a symbolic vase motif found in the Ghazna palace of
Mas'ud III and on coins issued at Firuzkuh.
The lower shaft is
covered entirely with eight vertical tile panels that lead up to a thick
epigraphic band below the first balcony. Each panel here features a braid of
geometric shapes framed with a continuous kufic inscription (Sura Maryam, Quran
19) and filled in with interlacing geometric patterns. The braid motif on the
east and west facing panels, which mark the original entrance and the direction
of qibla, are distinguished with the use of eight-pointed stars. The dedicatory
inscription above the panels includes the name and celebratory titles of Ghiyath
al-Din, written in a floriated kufic script highlighted with turquoise glazed
tiles. It is framed with tile bands of varying width, including series of
circles and roundels fitted with floral inserts. A cursive inscription, placed
halfway up on the eastern panel, gives the name of the architect, 'Ali ibn
Ibrahim of Nishapur. Fragments remaining of the fifth epigraphic band on the
base of the minaret show that it also contained titles of the Ghurid sultan in a
knotted kufic script.
efforts for the Jam Minaret began in the 1960s following a survey by the
Instituto Italiano per il Media ed Estremo Oriente (ISMEO) that warned of
collapse due to soil erosion at the minaret base. A temporary dam was built of
stone and wood in 1963-64, and followed by the construction of a gabion wall by
UNESCO in 1978. Preservation efforts halted by the civil war were resumed in
1999 and in 2001 with the construction of additional walls and gabions along the
Jam and Hari rivers. The minaret and the surrounding archaeological site were
amended to the UNESCO list of World Heritage in Danger in 2002. Illegal
excavations since 2001 have compromised the historical integrity of the
Please be advised that all information on the routes to the “minaret” is subject
to change — drastic change. On reading the description of route 1) via
Ghar-i-Payon, it will be obvious that weather and maintenance are crucial to its
use. Weather can cause the routes from Shahrak and Kamenj to be closed as well.
Up-to-date information from the Afghan Tourist Organization in Kabul or Herat,
or the authorities m Chakhcharan or Shahrak should therefore be sought before
embarking on this particular adventure. Proposals to repair the bridges at Jam
and outside Chist were under active consideration in 1976.
The “hotel” which was built at the foot of the “minaret” has no beds or bedding,
food or cooking facilities. It simply offers shelter and you will need all your
own equipment. Food is available, however, in the village of Jam.
1) To Jam from
Chakhcharan via Ghar-i-Payon:
113 km; 71 mi; 4½ hrs
This new road was
begun under the Food for Work Programme after serious drought hit this area in
1971. Under this scheme of the World Food Programme, an international
organization jointly sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), workers are paid scarce food
commodities in return for roadwork which was still in progress in 1975. The
“Minaret” of Jam
To follow this
route, cross to the north bank of the Hari Rud via a bridge beside the
Chakhcharan Hotel and take first sharp left underneath the ruined fortress of
Qala Kassi. The road continues along the high bank of the river permitting one
to enjoy to the full the intense beauty of its pools and eddies ranging from
brilliant sapphire to deep turquoise. The road then continues along rocky cliffs
into a gorge from which one emerges onto a plateau with sandy patches which can
cause difficulties for all but the strongest vehicles. One hour later (24 km; 15
mi.) one reaches the village of Alandar in the neighborhood of which there are a
number of caves reminiscent of those at Bamiyan. Although there is evidence of
occupation, no wall-paintings or architectural decoration has yet been
identified. On reaching a small mill seemingly in the middle of the road, take
left fork. Further on, take a right fork into barren rolling hills and another
right to descend into the valley of Barra Khana (Sheep Fold) where lookout
towers crown the hilltops (15 km; 10 mi; 25 min. from Alandar).
In this extensive valley you will note numerous yurts pitched near and between
villages. Cone-shaped, the yurts are roofed with felt secured to roof poles by
broad, decorative bands. Under the roof the wooden lattice walls are covered
with reed matting which the Aimaq often decorate with painted geometrical
designs. Interestingly, similar patterns decorate the yurts used by the Kirghiz
in the extreme northeast regions of Afghanistan. Instead of painting on the
decoration, however, the Kirghiz wrap each reed with different colours of wool
to form the design. Just why no evidence of this type of decoration is to be
found between the Aimaq of Central Afghanistan and the Kirghiz is a mystery for
scholars to unfold. Also worth nothing are the artistically carved wooden doors
which give entrance to the yurts.
Smaller, less substantial cook-tents covered with black fabric woven from goats’
hair instead of felt usually stand beside the more solid dwellings. The reed
matting around these is not decorated, nor are they as peaked at the top since
the roof poles of the cook-tents are merely tied together instead of being set
into curious crown-shaped wooden topknots. Sometimes the top-most felt of the
dwelling yurt is set aside for added ventilation and light. Then the
crown-shaped disc is clearly visible enabling one to better understand the
difference in shape between the Aimaq yurt and the Uzbak-Turkoman yurts of the
north. The roof poles of the northern yurts are also set into a wooden disc
which is, however, more rounded, lacking the crown construction. An unique
portable dwelling used only by the Taimani Aimaq is the rectangular black goats’
hair tent which one occasionally sees pitched amongst the round yurts.
The Aimaq are a semi-nomadic people who move out of their mud-house villages (qishlaq)
after the spring planting in late March to take their flocks into the hills to
temporary settlements called yilaq. Returning to their villages for a short time
to plant melons and vegetables in April–May, they then retrace their steps to
the yilaq where they stay until the August harvest begins. Making their way back
to their villages once again, they continue to live in yurts until after the
harvest is in. Only then do they dismantle them and move into mud-houses for the
Much activity takes place around these yurt encampments such as the Taimani
camps in the Barra Khana Valley. The women spin wool for gilim (woven carpets)
and qalin (tied carpets). Others fluff wool by beating it with two supple
sticks, for use in spinning and for making the felt used for rugs and yurt
coverings. Still others busy themselves with dyeing wool for the rugs and in
sewing and mending clothes. Another important chore is the production of krut, a
dehydrated buttermilk product which can be reconstituted during the cold winter
months by simply adding boiling water. Krut is one of the most nutritious foods
eaten in Afghanistan.
You will encounter many men, women and whole families on horseback in this area.
Pass them with care for these horses are as yet unused to motor vehicles and
they can be very feisty. This is particularly true should you meet them in a
narrow pass and special consideration should be shown when a foal trots along
with its mother. If you can stop to let them pass, do so. Otherwise the foal is
liable to panic and run for miles in the opposite direction, causing all manner
of consternation. Such consideration will be appreciated by both man and beast
and grateful smiles are ample payment for a lost minute or two.
Once the yurt
villages of Barra Khana are left behind, one passes through another desolate
area until (32 km; 20 mi; 1 hr. later) the lush clover fields of Cheshme Sakina
(Sakina’s Spring) appear to delight the eye. Indeed, they are so intensely green
they seem to be made of plastic, and meadows glow against red cliffs while the
sun turns poplar leaves into glittering baubles of gold.
of Cheshme Sakina sustains one as again the road climbs to the top of a steep
pass from which another idyllic scene soothes the eye. Far below horses gallop
over the green meadows of Majerkanda nestled in a small valley ringed with hills
of variegated hues (2 km; 15 min. from Cheshme Sakina). On descending, take road
Dahne Choqur follow before reaching the relatively large village of Ghar-i-Payon
(Lower Cave) some 10 km; 6 mi; 30 min. beyond the summit of the pass. If you
feel the road has been difficult up to this point you are earnestly advised to
go no further. From here the mountains begin to close in and driving is
village before Jam is Beidon Sar-i-Lok (17 km; 10.5 mi; 45 min. from
Ghar-i-Payon) and this is your last chance to turn back. From here the road
enters a sheer rock canyon and descends continuously and steeply for the next 8
km; 5 mi. The road is just wide enough to accommodate the tires of a car and
there are no places to turn around, no places to pass. The gradient is so steep
that it is next to impossible to imagine any vehicle, no matter how strong,
successfully climbing up this gorge. One wonders who conceived of turning this
horse trail into a road for vehicles. More importantly, one wonders how long it
will be kept passable, for winter snows and spring floods will surely damage it
considerably. Do not, therefore, attempt this road from the Jam side, and be
sure to question thoroughly before attempting it from the Chakhcharan side.
Chances are that once you are in the canyon you will meet no living soul to
Proceed, therefore, knowing that you have been warned. It is an exciting
adventure but only for the stouthearted and those equipped with a strong
vehicle. Alternatively, one can proceed from Ghar-i-Payon by horseback or on
foot, should you be so inclined.
Having successfully descended, one enters a grove of apricot trees and almost
immediately the road comes to the north bank of the Hari Rud. Turn left, and in
a few minutes the famous “minaret” of Jam towers above you on the right, on the
opposite bank of the river.
Your adventure may not be over. A bridge was built a few hundred yards below the
“minaret” but it was soon carried away by spring floods and it was still out in
the fall of 1975. Until such time as it is repaired it is necessary to ford the
river which even in late September is still high enough to rush under the doors.
Some vehicles have taken as much as two hours to succeed. And do not forget,
there is no turning back up the canyon.
So you can see
why I am reluctant to recommend this route without grave reservations, even
though it is both beautiful and highly dramatic.
2) To Jam from Shahrak: 66 km; 41 mi; 4–5 hrs
courtesy of ATO and kind friends, for this author made the trip in 1975 via the
This is much the
easiest and safest route to Jam, though even this one has three difficult
passes. The mountains in the area between Shahrak and Jam rise to about 3500 m;
11,500 ft. and the valleys lie at altitudes between 2500 and 3000 meters;
8–10,000 ft. Proceed to
Shahrak according to routes described in Chapter 32.
About 10 km; 6¼
mi; 25 min. east of Shahrak (on road to Chakhcharan) watch for tracks leading to
a side road to the village of Sarcheshma, situated some 6 kms. north of the
river. This is the first village on the road to Jam and in a good season the
river is easily fordable; some, however, have found it impassable. The Ghouk
(Frog) Pass follows about 13 km; 8 mi. beyond Sarcheshma; the Gazzak Pass after
another 12 km; 7.5 mi. “Gazzak,” referring to the swelling engendered by an
infected wound, aptly describes this difficult pass.
It is not easy
to identify the point at which a side road doubles back from the main Kamenj–Herat
road to swing up and over the Garmao Pass, about 3 km. beyond Gazzak, some 3
hrs. from Shahrak. There is a meadow in a bowl-like valley on the left, and the
pass towers above the road to the right. The large village of Ghouk through
which the Kamenj road passes is 4 km; 15 min. beyond this turnoff. Should you
reach this village, ask for directions. Hopefully some type of marker will be
placed at this crucial junction in the near future. On the other hand, there are
hardly any other side roads, so you should not have too much trouble.
Garmao Pass with caution. Because of its difficulty, the tracks of several
alternate routes take off in various directions marking prior experiments by
harried drivers. They all lead to the summit; generally speaking take the one
with the least grade. The pretty little village of Jam lies in the midst of
fruit orchards about an hour from the turnoff at the foot of the pass (18 km; 11
mi.) The “minaret” stands on the river bank 5 km; 15 min. beyond the village.
Invisible until it rises just before you framed in a narrow cleft between two
mountains, its sudden appearance seems to be a miraculous mirage. This is
without doubt the most dramatic approach to the “minaret” of Jam.
3) To Jam from Herat via Kamenj: 2 days
The entire route from Jam to Herat is fully discussed at the end of this chapter
following the description of the “minaret.” A one night stop-over at Obey or
camping midway is recommended. Otherwise you will arrive too exhausted to savour
the initial view of the “minaret.”
A plea to all visitors
Please do not drive up to the base of the “minaret” and please park as far away
from it as possible. This priceless monument is already leaning at a precarious
angle, tottering on the very brink of the river which yearly cuts away at its
foundations. The rumbling of your vehicle may easily prove to be its downfall.
The fact that it has stood for 800 years is due in large part to its splendid
isolation. Now that it has been made accessible, we ask you to treat this
monument with considered respect. Thank you.
News of the existence of this most spectacular monument was first announced in
1943 by the Governor of Herat, Abdullah Malikyar, but it was not until 1957 when
Ahmad Ali Kohzad, President of the Afghan Historical Society, and André Maricq
of DAFA, visited the site that the full significance of this astounding
discovery was appreciated.
The 213 foot; 65 meter “minaret” stands alone on the south bank of the Hari Rud
in a lonely, remote valley closely surrounded on all sides by towering barren
mountains. Only the Qutb Minar in Delhi, directly inspired by the Jam minaret,
stands higher, at 238 feet. The “minaret” of Jam is, therefore, the second
highest minaret in the world. More importantly, it is the only well-preserved
architectural monument from the Ghorid period and as such it is of immense
importance for students of medieval Islamic architecture.
The slender, tapering tower rises from an octagonal base 47 feet in diameter.
Built in three cylindrical tiers marked by projecting corbelled balconies it is
topped by a six-arched circular arcade. It is constructed of fired brick and the
first tier of 120 feet is elaborately ornamented in moulded buff-colored brick
relief. The ornamentation, contained in eight vertical panels corresponding to
the octagonal base, consists of a wide variety of geometric and floral designs.
In design and execution the “Minaret” of Jam recalls the minaret built by Mas’ud
III (1099–1114) at Ghazni which served as its model.
Winding around the designs of the first tier, passing from one panel to another,
there is an epigraphic band containing the entire text of the 19th Sura of the
Koran, a long Sura entitled Maryam which speaks of Mary and the Virgin Birth, of
Prophets Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Ishmael and Enoch, and, of Adam
and Noah. It relates how they were guided by the revelations of the Merciful,
warns unbelievers of the punishments of Hell and promises those who embrace the
Faith the glories of the Garden of Eden.
Just below the first balcony, a monumental Kufic inscription rises in brilliant
tones of persian-blue above the buff background. This, the only colour on the
surface, proclaims the name of the ruler responsible for its creation:
“Ghiyasuddin Mohammad ibn Sam, Sultan Magnificent! King of Kings!” Within this
band the architect, “Ali, son of…,” included his name is smaller letters. His
name also appears on the second drum which, like the third, is less elaborately
ornamented with Kufic inscriptions, and on the bottom of the octagonal base.
Inside the “minaret” there is a double-spiral staircase. This interesting
architectural creation consists of two distinctly separate staircases which
rise, one above the other, to the level of the first balcony. Narrow windows,
cunningly placed so as not to interfere with the exterior design, filter in
light and offer breathtaking views of the valley.
Thus the tower is easily described. But what of its purpose? The experts argue.
To some it stands on the site of ancient Firozkoh, capital of the Ghorid Dynasty
(1148–1202). They point out that the name of this dynasty’s most outstanding
ruler, Ghiyasuddin (1157–1202), shines forth from the tower and that a
semi-nomadic tribe living in the vicinity of Jam call themselves Firozkohi. The
smallness of the valley, its inaccessibility, and the absence of significant
architectural remains cause others to reject this theory. Contemporary accounts
describe Firozkoh as a large, bustling city. Surely, they argue, if this was in
fact Firozkoh, there should be more than the remains of a small fortress and a
few watchtowers to the north of the river. Could these be built of Ghazni’s soil
and the blood of captive citizens as the ancient historians report? Doubting
scholars see Taiwara, south of Shahrak (Chapter 32) as a more convincing site
for the ancient city.
The absence of ruins at the base of the tower also leads some to question if
indeed this was a mosque minaret. The matter of an entrance also remains
unsolved. At present one enters through a hole broken into one side of the
tower. The staircases do, however, continue below ground giving credence to a
local legend that once a tunnel ran from the tower, under the river, to the
fortress. Debris as yet blocks the archaeologists from ascertaining the terminus
of the staircases. Others see the brick work on the opposite bank as part of a
bridge which might have connected directly with an entrance to the tower.
If it was not a mosque minaret, what was it? Some have suggested it was a
victory tower. But why would such an elaborate edifice for this purpose be built
in what must have been, even in those days, a remote corner? Others suggest that
this may have been a sacred place of pre-Islamic days, and that this tower was
built to proclaim the victory of Islam as well as the majesty of Ghiyasuddin.
Many venerated Muslim shrines in Afghanistan today are built on sites sacred to
pre-Islamic religions. The selection of the 19th Sura is interesting in this
context. Also, Italian archaeologists working on stabilizing the minaret in 1962
found many stones carved with Hebrew letters strewn about the mountainside about
a kilometer south of Jam. These memorial tablets, dating mainly from 1149–1215,
belong to a crumbling Jewish cemetery and bear witness to the existence of a
Hebrew community in the vicinity of Jam during the heyday of Ghorid rule. They
also throw an interesting light on the story related by Juzjani regarding the
rise of the House of Ghor as presented in the historical section of this guide.
many years of learned dispute before them at Jam.
JAM TO HERAT
Chisht-i-Sharif and Obey. Hotel at Obey Springs, meals on request
The route you follow on leaving the “minaret” depends on road conditions. You
may have to retrace your way to Shahrak and proceed via Shindand (Chapter 32).
The road running north from Shahrak to Chisht-i-Sharif (120 km; 75 mi.) which
used to be the main road to Herat has been closed for several years, but
enquiries should be made.
The 2-day route via Kamenj and Obey described below is a pleasant route but two
factors may prevent you from following it: landslides, and a ford across the
Hari Rud just before reaching Chisht-i-Sharif which limits the use of the route
to the fall months when the water volume is lowest. Be sure to gather up-to-date
information. It is a long way back should you find the river unfordable.
Take the road
running south from the “minaret” through orchards surrounding the village of Jam
(5 km; 15 min.) and over the Garmao (Warm Water) Pass. At the bottom of the pass
23 km; 14.5 mi; 1 hr. from the “minaret” turn right (north) to the village of
Ghouk. The road crosses and recrosses the Garmao River, a tributary of the Hari
Rud, but it should not give you any trouble as it is a small stream. At one
point you will note the rubble and deep vertical scars gouged out by huge
boulders dislodged from the mountain-side now sitting beside, and in, the road.
This tremendous landslide caused by an earthquake a few years ago is the type of
natural occurrence which can suddenly close the road for undetermined periods.
One reaches the
Hari Rud 8 km; 5 mi; 15 min. beyond Ghouk and the road runs above the Taimani
Aimaq village of Kamenj hidden within dense fruit orchards on the opposite side
of the river. Kamenj produces some of the best fruits in Afghanistan: crisp,
tangy apples, peaches so succulent they resemble ice cream, luscious pears and
juicy pomegranates. People come from miles around to purchase these fresh fruits
of Kamenj and very little reaches the bazaars of Kabul. The village does,
however, export large quantities of dried apricots, walnuts and almonds. Traders
come from as far away as Ghazni Province to purchase these items bringing with
them cloth, shoes, sugar, tea and other luxury items. They set up shop in white
tents in the village and exchange their goods for the fruits and nuts. One other
export item for which Kamenj is famous is the cumin which grows wild on the
The road does
not run through the village, but passes on the opposite bank to come to a pass
with tight switchbacks from the summit of which one sees the river far below.
Gradually one descends to the village of Dahne Margah on the riverbank. By this
time you have left Ghor Province and entered Herat Province.
A series of small villages follow. Fruit trees and melon fields abound, and
pistachio trees grow wild on the mountain slopes. In September 1975 a landslide
in this area necessitated fording the river twice, a detour which added an extra
two hours to the trip because of deep sands on the opposite bank. These are the
types of obstructions one must be prepared to encounter when venturing on these
little travelled routes.
river about an hour out of Dahne Margah, the road climbs another difficult pass
and descends to the village of Dahne Hazarak, which means Little Fortress. After
passing a plain where weird geological formations rise on the left, crossing the
Hari Rud which can only be forded in the fall, and winding up yet another pass,
the road descends to the large village of Darya Takht (9 km; 6 mi; 40 min. from
Hazarak; altitude 1655 m; 5430 ft.) As the children run down to watch you ford a
small river, you will be delighted to note a sartorial specialty made by little
girls who wear wide bibs of beads hanging from high collars down to the waist.
It is a most attractive fashion.
The next 37 km;
23 mi. to Chisht-i-Sharif (altitude 1550 m; 5086 ft.) can be covered in a little
over an hour, indicating that one is now traversing the waning western extremity
of the Paropamisus Range which finally peters out between Chisht and Obey. The
rugged terrain is now behind you although the road surface still leaves much to
be desired. About 19 km; 12 mi; 40 min. from Darya Takht you may take a side
road to the left for about half a kilometer to visit Pul-i-Sher Khash, an old
bridge built, it is said, during the reign of King Amanullah (1919–1929). It is
a pleasant spot for a picnic.
Half an hour beyond the bridge (18 km; 11 mi.) an avenue of tall pine trees
beckons one to two ruined buildings, a madrassa (religious school) with its
mosque perhaps, attributed to Ghiyasuddin Ghori (1157–1202). The moulded
terracotta brick decoration is sadly damaged and the Kufic inscriptions
mutilated, but there is a certain strength in the workmanship which is very
compelling. For those who have been to Jam, the comparisons are most
interesting, (see p. 265 ff.)
The village of
Chisht-i-Sharif with its winding bazaar, the administrative centre of the
district of the same name, lies in a deep ravine between two plateaux. During
the trip from Chisht to Obey note particularly the finely preserved caravanserai
to the south, some two kilometers out of Chisht. The scenery is pastoral with
fields of cotton, melons and corn, and domed villages characteristic of the
Herat area dot the landscape. In the late afternoon herds of cattle head home,
swimming the Hari Rud on their way. The large walled village of Sar-i-Pul with
its imposing arched gateway is impressive and picturesque (45 km; 28 mi; 1.5
hrs. from Chisht-i-Sharif). It sits on the opposite bank of the river.
black-slate grave markers stand at the entrance to the Obey Bazaar (21 km; 13
mi; 45 min. beyond Sar-i-Pul). Turn left for the bazaar; continue straight ahead
to the hotel and hot springs of Obey (13 km; 8 mi; 20 min.).
See Chapter 14 for discussion of the springs and route from Obey to Herat.