SOUTHERN TAJIKISTAN

SOUTHERN TAJIKISTAN

Southern and southwestern Tajikistan is know for its ancient and medieval Silk Road cities and sites. Western Tajikistan was part of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (or BMAC, also known as the Oxus civilization), the name given to a Central Asian Bronze Age culture. Dated to ca. 2300–1700 B.C., and centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River), it is located in present-day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan. Bactria is the old Greek name for northern Afghanistan and the northeast corner of Iran, while Margiana is further north, in what is today Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Through the region runs the Amu Dar'ya River, which was known in Greek history as the Oxus River. Much of archeological work was done in Soviet era by Soviet scientists. Bactria was inhabited from roughly 2300 B.C. to 1000 B.C. by fire-worshiping agricultural tribes. Many BMAC sites were discovered and named by the Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi.Andrew Lawler wrote in Discover magazine, “ Sarianidi sees the settlers of the Oxus region as traders, not just in goods but also in faith. For him, Gonur is the capital of a people who came from the West with a religion that evolved into Zoroastrianism. In the long, still desert evenings at his camp, he speaks of migrants fleeing from drought-plagued Mesopotamia to this virgin land, bringing a conviction that fire is holy, as well as techniques for brewing a hallucinogenic drink called soma. Eventually, some wandered farther east, part of the migration of Aryans on horseback who conquered India about 3,500 years ago. This theory of his finds little support, however.” "Sarianidi has persuaded few if any archaeologists of his strongly held opinions," says Harvard University archaeologist Carl Lamberg-Karlovsk. [Source: Andrew Lawler,Discover magazine, November 30, 2006]

Southern Tajikistan was part of post Alexander-the-Great, Hellenist Bactria and Buddhist Kushan. After the death of Alexander, Central Asia broke up into a number of kingdoms ruled by ex-Greek generals and their descendants. One such kingdom was Bactria. It covered much of what is now Afghanistan and was centered in the Bactrian Plain in northern Afghanistan between the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya (Oxus River) around the city of Bactria (present-day Balkh). Bactria has at its height from around 200 B.C. to 150 B.C. It was located in a prosperous region and it grew rich from trade between Gandhara, the Middle East and Europe. In 185 B.C.. The Kushan Kingdom (135 B.C. to A.D. 375) was founded in the Bactria region of northern Afghanistan by Yuezhi nomads who migrated there from Xinjiang due to Han Dynasty campaigns Originally nomadic horsemen, the Kushans were enamored with Greco-Roman culture and converted to Buddhism in the 1st century B.C. The Kushans were patrons of Gandharan art, a synthesis between Greek and Indian styles. They established what is regarded as the first Silk Road kingdom.

Sites in what is now Tajikistan rose in prominence again during the medieval Silk Road era that was at its height in the 11th-12th century. The Silk Road routes in Central Asia were very complicated and usually defined by oases and passes which were open and accessible. Many goods carried across Central Asia were transported on the backs of shaggy, two-humped Bactrian camels or horses, or, in the high elevations, on yaks. The Himalayan caravan routes from India that passed through Karakoram Pass and Khunjerab Pass (on the modern Karakoram Highway) joined the Silk Road in Kashgar or Central Asia.

The two main routes that entered Central Asia from China were: 1) the northern route, which passed from western China into what is now Kazakhstan and went through or near what is now Alma Aty (Kazakhstan), Bishkek (Krygyzstan) and Tashkent (Uzbekistan); and 2) the southern route which left Kashgar and passed from western China in Central Asia through passes of the Tien Shan and Pamirs mountains that are now on China's borders with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Marco Polo used a route through the Pamirs between Tajikistan, China and Afghanistan.

Xuanzang

In A.D. 629, early in the Tang Dynasty period, the Chinese monk Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang) left the Chinese dynasty capital for India to obtain Buddhist texts from which the Chinese could learn more about Buddhism. He traveled west — on foot, on horseback and by camel and elephant — to Central Asia and then south and east to India and returned in A.D. 645 with 700 Buddhist texts from which Chinese deepened their understanding of Buddhism. Xuanzang is remembered as a great scholar for his translations from Sanskrit to Chinese but also for his descriptions of the places he visited — the great Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Samarkand and the great stone Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. His trip inspired the Chinese literary classic “Journey to the West” by Wu Ch'eng-en, a 16th century story about a wandering Buddhist monk accompanied by a pig, an immortal that poses as a monkey and a feminine spirit. It is widely regarded as one of the great novels of Chinese literature. [Book: "Ultimate Journey, Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment" by Richard Bernstein (Alfred A. Knopf); See Separate Article on Xuanzang]

Xuanzang was as philosopher, educator and translator as well as being a monk and traveler. Tansen Sen wrote in Education about Asia: “ Xuanzang was a leading Indophile of ancient China. The Chinese monk not only promoted Buddhist doctrines and the perception of India as a holy land through his writings, he also tried to foster diplomatic exchanges between India and China by lobbying his leading patrons, the Tang rulers Taizong (reigned 626–49) and Gaozong (reigned 649–683). In fact, the narrative of his pilgrimage to India, The Records of the Western Regions Visited During the Great Tang Dynasty, was meant for his royal patrons as much as it addressed the contemporary Chinese clergy. Thus, Xuanzang's work is significant both as an account of religious pilgrimage and as a historical record of foreign states and societies neighboring Tang China. In fact, in the work Xuanzang comes across both as a pious pilgrim and as a diplomat for Tang China." [Source: Tansen Sen, Education about Asia, Volume 11, Number 3 Winter 2006]

According to Silk Road Seattle: Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk and translator who traveled across the Tarim basin via the northern route, Turfan, Kucha, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bactria, then over the Hindu Kush to India. He departed the Tang capitol (Chang'an) in 629 and returned via the southern route in 645. The remainder of his life was spent translating into Chinese the sutras which he had collected in India. At the request of the Tang Emperor Taizong (r.626-649) he composed a description of the lands through which he traveled. After his death, his travels and story became fantastic legends which were used in plays and novels. [Source: Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad]

Xuanzang Along Oxus River (Amu Dayra) in Southern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

Sally Hovey Wriggins wrote: Xuanzang “turned his face to the south to pass through Shar-i Sabz (Kesh) and an eastern spur of the Pamir Mountains. He entered the famous pass called The Iron Gates, 8 miles west of modern Derbent on the regular trade route from Samarkand to the Oxus and beyond to India. On the Oxus River lay Termez where he found Buddhism flourishing. He notes that there were some 1,100 brethren. As he passed through lands south of the Oxus (Amu Darya), which nowadays divides Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, he would learn more about Buddhism's chief form of architecture, the stupa, more about the great Buddhist Kings Asoka and Kanishka, and come to know some of the well-known images of the Buddha, such as the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan. [Source: “Xuanzang on the Silk Road” by Sally Hovey Wriggins mongolianculture.com \~/]

Xuanzang reported: “Following the coarse of the Oxus as it flows down from the north, there is the country of Ta-mi [Termed, Termez, Uzbekistan on the border of Afghanistan]. This country is 600 li or so from east to west, and 400 li or so from north to south. The capital, of the country [p.39] is about 20 li in circuit, extended from east to west, and narrow from north to south. There are about ten sangharamas with about one thousand monks. The stupas and the images of the honoured Buddha are noted for various spiritual manifestations. Going east we arrive at Ch'i-ngoh-yen-na. [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|] |

“Ch'i-ngoh-yen-na [Chaghâniân, north of the Oxus River (Amu Dayra)]: This country extends about 400 li from east to west and about 500 li from north to south. The capital is about 10 li in circuit. There are some five sangharamas, which contain a few monks. Going east we reach Hwuhlo-mo. Hwuh-lo-mo [Garma]: This country is some 100 li in extent from east to west, [p.40] and 300 li from north to south. The capital is about 10 li in circuit. The king is a Turk of the Hi-su tribe. There are two convents and about one hundred monks. Going east we arrive at the Su-man country. |:|

“Su-man [Sumân and Kulâb in Tajikistan]: This country extends 400 li or so from east to west, and 100 li from north to south. The capital of the country is 16 or 17 li in circuit; its king is a Hi-su Turk. There are two convents and a few monks. On the south-west this country borders on the Oxus, and extends to the Kio-ho- yen-na country. Kio-ho-yen-na [Zubadian]: From east to west it is 200 li or so in extent; from north to south 300 li or so. The capital is 10 li or so in circuit. There are three convents and about one hundred monks. Still eastward is the country of Hu-sha. |:|

“Hu-sha [Wakhsh, Vakhsh in southeastern Tajikistan]: “This country is about 300 li from east to west, and 500 li or so from north to south. The capital is 16 or 17 li in circuit. Going eastwards we arrive at Kho-to-lo. Kho-to-lo [Khotl]: This kingdom is 1000 li or so from east to west, and [p.41] the same from north to south. The capital is 20 li or so in circuit. On the east it borders on the T'sun-ling mountains, and extends to the country of Kiu-mi-to. |:|

Kulob Region

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: The Kulob region in the south is a predominantly agricultural zone—in 1989, only 16.5 per cent of those employed worked in industry. Cotton was and still is the single most important crop, and foodstuffs have had to be imported from adjacent districts and Uzbekistan. Rural overpopulation and hidden unemployment became perceivable as early as the mid 1960s, and a decision was made in Moscow to create the South Tajik Territorial Manufacturing Complex (STTMC) to tackle this problem. The project envisaged the accelerated industrial development of the region as well as the continuing increase of cotton production in the newly irrigated lands. Its practical implementation was to be supervised by the republican authorities—that is, people from the north. Naturally, there has emerged an understanding between elite groups from Khujand and Kulob, which reached symbolic heights in 1990 when the two cities became twins. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“Kulob featured prominently in the medieval history of Central Asia. Its lancers were famous for their bravery and recklessness. The Kulobis are stereotyped as hardworking people, short-tempered and not particularly bright. Before the creation of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, the Kulobis made up 60 per cent of the population of Eastern Bukhara, and, as has been mentioned, were viewed as real ‘mountain’ Tajiks, in opposition to the Turkicised ‘valley’ Tajiks in the north. In the 1980s, the feeling of past greatness was still alive. A certain Berdyeva, a Supreme Soviet deputy from Kulob, once stirred a sensation when she said in public: ‘I wonder why everyone thinks that a Kulobi woman cannot give birth to a leader.’ Since independence, a concerted program has been initiated by local intellectuals to revise the annals of history and portray Kulob as the cradle of Zoroastrian civilisation, blessed with a great urban culture that reached its zenith 2700 years ago. ><

“Patriarchy and kinship bonds are much stronger in Kulob than in the Leninobod region. Although prior to 1992 local solidarity groups had never played an important role in the republic’s politics, their positions inside the oblast were extremely strong. It was especially evident at the level of separate collective farms—the backbone of Kulob’s economy. The kolkhoz chairman—respectfully referred to by peasants as rais or bobo—usually combined the features of an ‘oriental despot’ and the head of a big patriarchal family. Mirsaid Mahmadaliev, twice Hero of Socialist Labour, headed the Lenin kolkhoz for more than three decades. By the mid 1970s, his kolkhoz had evolved into an impressive enterprise, with 350 tractors, 57 combine harvesters, 35 cotton-growing brigades, six dairy farms, 13 retail shops, seven schools and an assortment of other facilities, which made it entirely self-sufficient and profitable at the same time. Bobo Mirsaid managed the kolkhoz as his own fiefdom without any interference from outside, for he had taken the precaution of becoming a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and had served as a CPT CC member for quite some time. He was also in the habit of inviting influential guests from Moscow and entertaining them in a princely way. Mirsaidov patronised a few young aspiring graduates from Kulob; one of them, Qurbon Mirzoaliev, eventually became chairman of the executive committee of the Kulob oblast and continued to feature prominently in the Tajik political arena. ><

Kulob City and the Mausoleum Mir Said Ali Khamadoni

Kulob (203 kilometers southeast of Dushanbe) lies on the Yakhsu River (a right tributary of Panj), and one of the largest cities in Tajikistan. Home to about 100,000 people, it lies in Kulob District, Khatlon Province and is served by Kulob Airport. .

Kuliab inscription is an inscription found in the Kulub area, formerly part of western Greco-Bactri , dated to 200-195 B.C. On it a Greek named Heliodotos, dedicates a fire altar to Hestia and describes the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus I as the greatest of all kings, and his son Demetrius I as "Demetrios Kalinikos" "Demetrius the Glorious Conqueror" The inscription reads: "Heliodotos dedicated this fragrant altar for Hestia, venerable goddess, illustrious amongst all, in the grove of Zeus, with beautiful trees; he made libations and sacrifices so that the greatest of all kings Euthydemos, as well as his son, the glorious, victorious and remarkable Demetrios, be preserved of all pains, with the help of Tyche with divine thoughts.":

Mausoleum Mir Said Ali Khamadoni lies right in the middle Kulob, near the Museum of Regional Studies, surrounded by century-old sycamores, It is the final resting place of Mir Said Ali Khamadoni, 14th century poet, philosopher and thinker, his son Muhammad, sisters, relatives as well as the former custodian of the mausoleum and mosque, Sheikh Shohi Toliqoni from the Afghan town of Taloqan.

The mausoleum was built from baked bricks and consist of a domed structure with asymmetric design. The main entrance is on the southeast side. The central room, with a portal entrance and dual dome in its northeast section, is the core of the structure and the oldest part, dating back to the late 14th century. A mosque and shrine were later added to the existing building. In the 1970s the mausoleum was restored. Next to the mausoleum is an epitaph on a marble headstone which is decorated with a geometrical ornamental pattern, in the form of an oval prism 176 centimeters long, 35-38 centimeters wide and 51 centimeters high and weighing about a ton. According to legend, it was delivered to Kulob from India by elephants. There are several lines in Persian on the eastern end of the headstone. Most of the epitaphs are written in Arabic. The epitaph of the western end contains the family tree of the person to whom the headstone was dedicated, the son of the Khatlon ruler — Amir Muhammad bin Shaikh Abdulloh. The mausoleum is now a place of pilgrimage for the local population and visitors from other regions of the country. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Getting There: There are relatively frequent buses, minibuses and shared taxis from Dushanbe to Kulob. Buses and minibuses to to Qurghonteppa and Kulob leave from Sakhovat Market terminal in Dushanbe. SUVs go to Afghan Border (Sherkhon Bandar) also leave from there. .

Dashti Djum State Reserve

Dashti Djum State Reserve (50 kilometers southeast of Kulob, near the Afghanistan border) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Territory of reserve situated in the mountains at the altitude 1000-2000 meters, on the slopes of Hazratishoh mountain ridge. The extension of the reserve from north to south is 18 km; from west to east — 25 km. Its territory is unified lot located to the undercurrent of Pyandj River and found on its left bank. [Source: State Committee on environment conservation and forestry of the Republic of Tajikistan, UNESCO]

“According to the geological division into districts the territory of the reserve located near to the border of Tajik dejection and the Pamirs (including the Darvaz). The relief is indented by deep gorges and streaming down to south west rivers with steep precipitous slopes. Pyandj and Obihingou Rivers are the main water streams on the territory of the reserve.

“This climatic belt characterized by less cloudy, dry and hot weather in the summer time and rainy and cool weather conditions in the winter time. The average annual temperature varies within 13-14 degrees. The coldest month is January and the minimal temperature in this month is 22 degrees. The hottest months are June and August with maximal temperature of 40 degrees. The average annual amount of precipitations makes 543 mm and their main amount falls in winter and spring months (December-May).

“The main types of bush and forest vegetation in the reserve are: 1. Deciduous mesophilic forests; 2. Small-leaved microterm forests; 3. Tugai forests; 4. Xerophyte hard leaved low forests; 5. Junipers; 6. Summerland bushes; 7. Ephedrs. Fauna of the reserve represented by 213 species of vertebrates animals including: 1. Mammals — 52 species; 2. Birds — 139 species; 3. Reptiles — 14 species; 4. Fishes — six species; 5. Amphibias — two. Following species included to the Red Book of the Republic of Tajikistan: Mammals — Tian Shan Brown Bear, Bukhara sheep (Urial) etc; Birds — Snake eagle, Egyptian vulture, paradise flytrap, bush bird, blue bird; Reptiles — Central Asian cobra, Kufi viper. Such species as snow leopard, Turkistan lynx, Central Asian otter, Markhor, golden eagle, Gypaetus barbatus, redheaded peregrine are included to the Red List of IUCN. The following representative of plants are included to the Red Book of Tajikistan: Korolkov’s saffron, Darvaz iris, extraordinary astragalus, Rozenbach onion, lancet .onion, Suvorov onion, Eduard’s hazel, Maximovich tulip, superior tulip, Tubergen tulip, Afghan fig, ordinary fig, Ovchinnikov’s Highlander, Bukhara empty-headed plant, Vavilov’s almond, Darvaz hawthorn, Darvaz plump and others.”

Qurghonteppa

Qurghonteppa (100 kilometers south of Dushanbe and 150 kilometers north of Kunduz, Afghanistan) is the largest industrial and cultural center of the Vakhsh valley and a gateway to southern Tajikistan. Home to about 110,000 people in the middle of an irrigated agricultural area, it is one of the largest cities in Tajikistan and the administrative center of Khatlon region. Industries include fruit and vegetable processing and dairy factories. Among the primary crops of the region are cotton and citrus fruits. There is a Pedagogical University, and agricultural energy, medical and teacher-training colleges in the city. Qurghonteppa bazaar is located in the town center and primarily offers fruits and vegetables. Both the Qurghonteppa Hotel and the newer Asia Hotel are near the bazaar. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Situated in the upper part of the Vakhsh valley in the center of a rich oasis, Qurghonteppa emerged in the 7th century, according to some sources, although others think it began much later. In the Middle Ages the area was known as Khuttal and the city itself was called Levaqand or Vakhsh. At that time it was famouse for its marksmen and its special breed of sheep. Al-Istakhri describes Khuttal in detail in his work “The Book of the Ways of States”: “Munk [an area of present-day Khovaling], which was bigger than Hulbuk, the capital of Khuttal, was considered the largest town in Khuttal.” Khelaverd and Levaqand were also large towns. Levaqand (Vakhsh) is also mentioned in the book Qanun al-Mas’udi (by the famous scholar Al-Biruni), which gives an extensive list of places with indications of their coordinates. Information about the history of the town and region can be obtained in Oblast Museum of History and Regional Studies which was opened in Qurghonteppa in 1983. Materials on the ethnography and culture of the area are also displayed in the museum.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The Qurghonteppa region in the south-west, which includes the Vakhsh Valley, is the melting pot of Tajikistan. Only sparsely populated before 1917, it became, under Soviet rule, subject to an enormous influx of Tajiks from Gharm and Kulob as well as Uzbeks, Russians, Germans and representatives of other nationalities, who mixed with local Tajiks, Turkmens, Arabs and Baluchi. Between 1926 and 1929 alone, 160 000 new settlers arrived there. All of them participated in ‘great construction projects of communism’, such as the Vakhsh Irrigation Complex. In 1990, more than one-fifth of the republic’s population lived in the Qurghonteppa oblast; its share in Tajikistan’s industrial output exceeded 15 per cent and 39 per cent in cotton production. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“Qurghonteppa in the early 1990s was where ‘the complex of national inferiority was the strongest and most transparent. It was exacerbated by the emergence of a dual economy, whereby “giants” of industry were not oriented towards local labour resources and traditions, had no links with [the] local industrial complex and formed enclaves of alien “big industry”.’ In rural areas, kolkhoz bossism similar to that in Kulob flourished, with the difference that local collective farms were even richer, particularly in the Kolkhozobod raion, renowned for its long-staple cotton. The struggle for dominance in Qurghonteppa involved Kulobis, Gharmis and Uzbeks (the last made up almost one-third of the population). In the 1980s, power in Qurghonteppa was divided between an obkom first secretary from Kulob, the chairman of the executive committee from Gharm and the head of the local cooperative society (Tojikmatlubot)—an ethnic Uzbek. Needless to say, newly established settlements in the Vakhsh Valley were organised on ethnic and regionalistic lines, and, for example, ‘if there happened to be a wedding in an Urghut kolkhoz, their Gharmi neighbours were not likely to be invited’. >< .

Near Qurghonteppa, on the banks of the Vakhsh River, is the historical site and ruined ancient town of Lagman (10- 13th centuries). In the 1940s archaeologists examined it and found pipes from an ancient water supply system, brick wells, and six-meter fortress walls with towers. This settlement was quite large, covering an area of 43 hectares. Twelve kilometers east of Qurghonteppa is the ancient Buddhist site of Ajina-Tepe (See Below).

Getting There: There are relatively frequent buses, minibuses and shared taxis from Dushanbe to Qurghonteppa . Qurghonteppa is connected to Dushanbe by a good paved road. Buses and minibuses to to Qurghonteppa and Kulob leave from Sakhovat Market terminal in Dushanbe. SUVs go to Afghan Border (Sherkhon Bandar) also leave from there. The Qurghonteppa airport is near the town and has regular flights to Khujand and Almaty. A railway station started operating here recently too.

Ajina-Teppe Buddhist Monastery

Ajina-Teppe Buddhist Monastery (125 kilometers south of Dushanbe and 12.5 kilometers east of Qurghonteppa) dates to the A.D. 7th-8th centuries amd was was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and is part of the Silk Roads Sites in Tajikistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013 “The cloister has a right-angled form (100 x 50 meters), it consists of two parts, there is a square yard surrounded buildings, in the center of it. There is a room in the middle of every side of the yard. The room consists of two parts too. The first part is an ivan (summer-house). There is a passage to the square cell in the back side of the ivan. These twin rooms are simmetrically situated face to face. The ivons are connected with crank corridors. The exits led from the corridors to the yard, other buildings, small monk cells of one or two rooms, economic premises. There was the second floor where it could be gone with a pandus but it didn't remain. [Source: Off. of Preservation and Restoration of Monum. of History and Culture, Artistic Ex. Min. of Culture]

“An entrance to the cloister was done in the center of the east façade there was an entrance-hall with a pandus. There was a hall for meetings of the monk community in the west part of the yard. A temple territory is situated in the north part. Its planning is approximately analogous to the first part, they were connected with wide passage. The central part was occupied with the Big Stupa (an element of Buddhistic temple for keeping of relics). The Big Stupa had a form of terrace cross-star form in the plan. It was oriented with its angles on the sides of world. Every façade had a staircase. The maximum size of the foundation of the Stupa is 28 meters, the rest of the Stupa is six meters. high.

“There were the Small Stupas analogous to the Big Stupa but they where less than it in 10 times. They were situated in the corners of the yard and in the rooms of the north part of the temple. Beside that, the scientists found small models of the Stupas with small clay plates with buddhistic prayer.

“The main building materials was clay and adobe bricks, the walls were 2,2-2,4 meters. thick. The internal right-angles room were crowned with akchs, the square ones were crowned with cupolas. The cloister and the temple part were decorated with painting, big and small sculptures. The sculptures of the Buddha in different poses symbolized different stages of the life and activity of the Buddha. There was a gigantic figure of the lying Buddha in Nirvana in the east end of the corridor of the temple part on the plane pedestal. The sculpture was 12 meters. long. All sculptures made of clay and the elements of the clothes were painted. The excavations of the monument of Ajina-Tepa finished in 1975. It is an important buddhistic cloister of Vahsh Valley.”

Аjina-tepe means “Devil’s Hill” or “Evil Spirit Hill”, a name given to it by local residents. In 1961 an archaeological dig began here which continued for several years. More than 1,500 art artefacts were excavated: sculptures, patterns, wall paintings and their fragments. The level of preservation of these finds varies; some are completely intact and others are in fragments and the historical-artistic value of the latter is relatively modest. When the works were completed it was determined that the Ajina-teppa ruins were the remains of a residential 7-8th century Buddhist monastery. The monastery was richly decorated — the walls and vaults were covered with paintings. There were alcoves in the walls with large and small sculptures inside. The figure of a Buddha took central place in the sculpture of Ajina-teppa. Large sculptures of a sitting Buddha were placed on the sanctuary dais. In one corridor, on a low pedestal, was a giant clay figure of Buddha in nirvana laying on his right side.

Takhti-Sangin: Ancient Greco-Bactrian Site

The ancient town of Takhti-Sangin (150 kilometers southwest of Dushanbe, near the Uzbekistan border, 34 kilometers from Qabodiyon settlement) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and is part of the Silk Roads Sites in Tajikistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. It is near the confluence of the Vakhsh and Panj Rivers.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The site of ancient town consists of strongly fortified citadel (165 x 235 meters) and south and north parts stretched at the distance of 500 meters. The excavations carried out in the west and central parts of the citadel elicited many interesting facts. There it is found monumental building — "Temple of Oxes" (Greek geographical name of Amu-Daria river). In the temple the square four-columned White Hall (12x12 meters) was excavated completely. Walls are five meters. high. White Hall was encircled with two rows of corridors from south, west and north. It was oriented by the sides of the world. An entrance was situated from the east side, there was a portico with two rows of columns, four ones in the row, in front of the entrance. From the south and the north the portico was limited with blocks each of them consisted of two neighbouring rooms, one of them had an entrance to ivan (summer-house). [Source: National Commission for UNESCO Republic of Tajikistan]

“There was a temple yard to the east from the portico. In the late period of the existance of the temple the portico was separated with a brick wall with a passage. The walls of the building was made of big bricks (60x80x15 centimeters). They were repaired many times and then they gained thickness of three meters. The columns have bases consisting of stepped pedestal and torus, compound trunks, beautiful Ionian capitals. The columns were six meters. high. Apertures were decorated with stone Thresholds and pilasters. In the one of the angle of White Hall were placed large stone compound altars of local types there.

“In all probability the temple was decorated with statues on special pedestals. One High bronze statue stood near the outside wall of the portico. The temple was built in the 3rd century B.C. and existed and re-built until the 3rd-4th centuries. Visitors endowed different goods and coins. The sum number of the finds is over five thousand. They are works of art, works of metal (gold, silver,bronze, iron), ivory, alabaster, stone, glass, clay. There are many types of weapon: arrow-heads, javelins, swords, daggers, etc. there. The works of art made of ivory are very various. They are domestic and ritual articles- handles of knives, swords, sheaths, etc Ivory works of art were decorated with drowing, relief pictures. Sculptures made of alabaster and clay with bright coloration. Some the finds from Takhti-Sangin relate to 5th-4th centuries B.C. where the influence of Persepole and Syse is well displayed.

“Elements of Hellenic art became a part of culture of Bactria. Interrelations of Bactria and Mediterranean Hellenic cities were regularly. Trade in gold and ivory favoured the development of jeweller's and bone carver's art. Thanks to trade interchange of culture, education,, architecture and art styles promoted synthesis of cultural phenomena. In the large territory it was formed unique Bactria-Hellenic culture. For example, there is a small altar with statue made of bronze. There is Greek inscription on the pedestal: "Atrosok devoted to Oxes according to promise". Atrosok was wide-spread Bactria name. The temple of Oxes is devoted to God of Amu-Darya.” Getting There: hitchhike or taxi from Qabodiyon.

Baitudasht IV Ancient Town

Site of Ancient Town of Baitudasht IV (60 kilometers south of Qurghonteppa) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. It is situated on the right bank of the river of Gurdar Sai, on the territory of the state farm of "Rokhi Lenin" of Pyange Region on the brink of the terrace surrounding the valley from the east. There is hardly to see but it has an interesting history and important links to early Zoroastrianism.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The site of ancient settlement has oval — rhombic form, area is 10 hectares. From three sides it is cut through with river-beds, reaching the valley to the west. They are 40-50 meters. deep. There is an only narrow way in the gully from the east side. There are remains of a town wall in the form of a mound there. It's 40 meters. long, 9-10 meters. wide, 2-3 meters. high. Situation of the gates isn't found. There are seven semicircular ledges in the form of towers along the north edge of the hill. A surface of the site of ancient settlement is smoothed out with ploughing. Only in the west part there are contours of ploughed hills. There is a higher round hill of 10 meters. in diameter and 1,5-2 meters. high there. [Source: Off. of Preservation and Restoration of Monum. of History and Culture, Artistic Ex. Min. of Culture UNESCO]

“As a result of three field seasons the hill was excavated completely. It was a complex of cult building which consists of two isolated and two neighboring rooms with entrance into the corridor extended from the south to the north. Two isolated rooms were situated in the west part of the corridor. There were sufas (right-angled dais, interlocutors were situated on its surface) of 0,5-1 meters. high and 0,9-1,2 meters. wide in the rooms along the perimeter. There was a wide sufa with an altar pedestal in the form of caisson in the north room between the side sufas. These rooms were central. Two neighboring rooms were situated in the north part of the passage with a drop of the level of the floor on the corridor. The first room has the same planning. There was a wide sufa with an altar pedestal in the form of a caisson between the side sufas too.

“In all probability this room was a depository of eternal fire, and the rooms in the west part had function of storehouse of temple stock, where along the walls there were long narrow pits with cruched vessels. The depository of eternal fire has functions of ceremony premices. A central entrance into the corridor was situated from the south side. There was a sufa with a border along the east part of the corridor. There were spots from fire, especially around the caisson in all rooms and in the corridor. It's evidence about long time of the burning. This complex is a cult building — temple of the sacred fire. There are no analogue temples after the model of planning among known cult of the sacred fire. It is a new type among known cult building of Central Asia of 6th-4th centuries B.C. The site of ancient settlement is dated by totality of ceramic materials of 6th-4th centuries B.C. “

Khulbuk

The medieval town of Khulbuk (200 kilometers southeast of Dushanbe, 30 kilometers north of the Afghanistan border, 30 kilometers southwest of Kulab) is part of the Silk Roads Sites in Tajikistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The palace complex and the residence of the Khuttalya rulers existed in the 9th-12th centuries Its area is 300 x 50 — 650 x 10-15 meters and compositionally divided into three equal parts by 50 meters: the large central courtyard with the entrance on the west and the two separated by this court complex of buildings, which the southern is officially representative and the northern is residential. [Source: National Commission for UNESCO Republic of Tajikistan]

“The entrance structure is a traditional portal-peshtak with carved terracotta. The castle surrounded by fortress walls built of pakhsy and faced with baked bricks. Two-storied plinth was located along the foot of the wall, and the wall is strengthened with conical or rectangular retaining turrets. The round towers were built at the corners of the complex. The rooms of the palace is richly decorated with unique patterns carved ganch (mixture of gypsum and clay) and painting.

“The total area of the site is 16 hectares”. The architectural techniques and forms are representative of “residential Central Asian architecture of 11th-12th centuries Thus, the classical system of palace and avian differs from systems in the palaces of Amman, Okheydir, Quseir Amra, Khorezm Palace, etc. only in the details and particulars. But some are considered as unique forms and methods of architecture, such as the application of 6-anglular brick forms. There are direct analogies in the Middle East art of the relief ganch borders with images of running one after another animals: roosters or pheasants, carnivorous feline, dogs, foxes, hares and etc.

Palace of the Governor of Khulbuk

Palace of the Governor of Khulbukwas nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The citadel is situated in the southwest part of the site of ancient town, now it's named Khisht-Tepa of the kishlak of Kurban Shaid of Vose Region. It has a territory of 600 x 200 meters and 15 meters. high. The citadel of the palace was destroyed and re-planned several times during 9th-12th centuries. Originally the palace had three part composition planning scheme. [Source: Off. of Preservation and Restoration of Monum. of History and Culture, Artistic Ex. Min. of Culture, UNESCO]

“ Lodgings was situated round the palace, entrances and exits were directed to the yard, a floor of which was paved by burnt brick. Walls of the lodgings were decorated by carved ganch (alabaster decorative material), in which combined geometrical and vegetables motives. It was cleared wall painting, picturing warrior and two musicians playing fiddlestick intruments- rubab and arch harp. After fire the planning of the building was changed, two long corridors formed a cross, lodgings were situated in its squares.

“Outside walls of the palace had compound construction; as rule there were round towers on the corners and there were right-angled standing pylons in the intervals. The defensive wall was 12 meters. high. Central entrance and façade were situated in the center of west wall. An entrance portal is unique architecture construction. Its total height is 13,25 meters, width is 8,6 meters, width of the entrance is 2,85 meters. A frame of the portal is "U" form, it consists of some rows. On the flat a figured brickwork forms liander (an element, reproducing wavy movement) design. The second row is formed of non-standard bricks with carved before firing inscription — two suras from Koran. Archivolt is supported with three-fourth column. A tympanum is decorated by brickwork of geometrical design. A lopatka (a constructive element of ceiling) is built of bricks with Koran inscription. The portal, dismembered by right-angled and round pylons looks monumentally.

“On the character of the painting Khukbuk continue traditions of the Early Middle Ages. It shows that the past traditions in painting were continued and trasformed. Khulbuk palace is unique thanks to its compound engineering communications, heating system and a system of taking out the rain-water. Khulbuk is an administrative, trade and cultural center of Huttal Region of 9th-12th centuries.”

Khoja Mashad Madrasa Complex

Madrasa Khoja Mashad (150 kilometers south of Dushanbe about 25 kilometers from the Uzbekistan and Afghanistan borders) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and is part of the Silk Roads Sites in Tajikistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Madrasa Khoja Mashad was built in 9th-12th centuries The layout composition consists of a rectangular courtyard of 40 x 31 meters size, with a number of rooms (hujras) in the east and west sides. There are two cupola hall and aivan with flanked flowers yard (guldasta) between them in the southern part. The northern part of the site is the same as the southern one, but in the smaller sizes. The vaulted aivans with the same 4-meter spans are placed on the axes. The south (main) facade was built of baked bricks, the others — three parts of the site are from the raw bricks and pakhsy. [Source: National Commission for UNESCO Republic of Tajikistan]

“Khoja Mashad is considered as one of the important tourist sites in the Republic of Tajikistan. The total area of the site is 1.5 hectares. Both sides of it are surrounded by tombs and dwellings of the population. It is one of the oldest madrasa, which included even more ancient mausoleum of 9th century The unique design of an arch of Khoja Mashad is the combination of wedge-edged laying and cut laying and the direct analogies of that is not found. The origin of the triple frieze crowning the eastern facade of the building is not clarified and this also has no analogy. This can be attributed to a wide circular aperture at the height of the cupolas of the eastern and western buildings, too.

“The direct analogy to the composition principle is the architectural ensemble of 10th-11th centuries, Sultan Saodat in Termez. There are some similarities in methods of construction — laying bricks in "Christmas tree" shape, design type of arches, and cupolas. Also the similarity in interior composition and character of vaulted cupolas design was found in mausoleum of Baba Rushnoi in northern Afghanistan. The architectural, decorative and ornamental techniques of the southern facade Khoja Mashad have a direct analogy to the mosque Talkhatan Baba, caravanserai Dai-Khatin, mausoleum Muhammad-ibn-Zayd, the mausoleum of Khoja Nakhshran #1 in Regar.”

Chiluchor Chashma (“Forty-Four Springs”)

Chiluchor Chashma (150 kilometers south of Dushanbe about 15 kilometers from the Uzbekistan, no far from the Afghanistan borders) is a place which is widely known in Central Asia for its five large springs, which emerge from underground and divide into 39 smaller ones. Chiluchor Chashma means “Forty-Four Springs”. The water from the springs flows together to form a channel 12—13 meters wide and full of fish. The fish do not swim downstream but stay in area within one kilometer of the spring sources. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Local people have a legend about the origin of the spring. When Caliph Ali (Hazrat Ali) stayed in this area preaching Islam, which was a new faith for the local population, the nearby Romit River dried up. Ali then cursed the river, calling it Kofarnihon, i.e. the “faithless river”. After arriving at present-day Chiluchor Chashma, Ali offered up a prayer to Allah asking for water, hit the ground at the foot of the nearby hill, and where he touched ground with his fingers, five of the purest springs welled up. Today, Chiluchor Chashma is a place of pilgrimage. People visit the place to perform prayers, ablutions, sacrifices and to bathe in the springs. It is considered that the water of 17 of the springs is healing.

Each of 17 springs has a local name and an illness it is supposed to treat: 1) Chashmai Muin — for hair loss; 2) Khuni Bini — for nose bleeding; 3) Chashmai Moron, 4) Khunukzadagon — for snake bites and inflammation; 5) Ustukhondard — for bone diseases; 6) Tablarza — for malaria; 7) Shifo — medicinal; 8) Fishori Khun — for high blood pressure; 9) Sardard for headaches; 10) Peskho — for psoriasis; 11) Murod — for depression; 12) Befarzand — for infertility; 13) Gurda — for kidney diseases; 14) Dilu Jigar — for cardiac and liver diseases; 15) Devonaho — for mental diseases; 16) Chashmu Gush — for eye and ear diseases; 17) Khorish — for itching.

In the eastern area near the springs there is a small hill with a little mausoleum at the top. It is said that Saint Kambar Bobo, who according to the legend was head of Hazrat Ali’s stable, is buried there. There are also the graves of four more saints nearby whose names are unknown. Nowadays there is a large orchard and several comfortable rooms for visitors. Most pilgrims come here during April-September. Getting There: Chiluchor Chashma is located in Khatlon region, Nosir Khisrav district (formerly Beshkent district). 12 kilometers west of Shahrituz settlement. There is regular bus service — Shahrituz-Beshkent, minibus Shahrituz-Chiluchor Chashma — that departs from Shahrituz bus terminal.

Khoja Mumin Salt Mountain

Khoja Mumin Salt Mountain is a unique natural feature; a an oval-shaped salt dome, 8.5 kilometers in diameter towering 900 meters over the valley. The Khoja Mumin slopes are steep at the base. Exposed salt walls reach as high as 500 meters. Stripes of salt caused by the alternating of stratum salt (5—15 centimeters wide) and dark ones enriched with various clays (about 1.5 centimeters thick) are easily visible. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Khoja Mumin is the second largest surface salt hill in the world after Kuhi Namak Mountain (“Salt mountain”) situated in Iran, which is 1,200 meters high. According to geologists’ recent estimations, Khoja Mumin has more than 30 billion tons of salt reserves. On his visit to the area, Marco Polo, wrote: “Salt here is solid and it is broken with big spades; there is so much salt that it would be enough for everyone till the end of the world.”

Khoja Mumin is also famous for more than 160 medicinal springs, and caves. The largest of which is almost 350 meters long The caves are famous for their “melodious” sounds, created when wind passes between the long, thin salt stalactites hanging from the ceiling and the stalagmites decorating the bottom of the caves. The largest caves are 8-10 meters high; and streams run through them into the mysterious depths of the mountain only to reappear at its base.

Geologists think that many years ago there was a large warm sea in Central Asia, which gradually shrank due to tectonic movements and changes in the climate, causing deep lagoons to appear, one of which was situated at Khoja Mumin. For a long time this lagoon stored the seawater, allowing it gradually to evaporate, leading to the accumulation of salt here. Later, through tectonic movements, mountains were formed, and the layers of salt from the bottom of the dried-up lagoon were lifted up and formed Khoja Mumin. The soil appeared on this salt mountain from dust particles brought by the wind.

In former times, rock salt was extracted here using special hammers that could cut out blocks about one meter long and 20-25 centimeters thick, and this served as a good exchange commodity. Nowadays, salt plants operate at Khoja Mumin extracting salt through the natural evaporation of concentrated salted water in small square holes. The dry remains of the brine contain 98 percent sodium chloride of the highest quality. After salt collection, water from the streams is returned to natural pools and so it continues from May till September. Saltlick, a salt fodder for domestic cattle is also extracted here. Another salt mountain, Khoja Sartez, is located not far from Khoja Mumin, and its salt deposits are much larger than Khoja Mumin’s, more than 40 billion tons.

Climbing to the top of Khoja Mumin is not easy because the domed surface is pitted with ravines, craters and holes 200 meters or more in diameter. Most of the hollows look like vertical wells or shafts with black, gaping mouths. Stones thrown into the wells can barely be heard landing. Moreover, there are sharp salt peaks, from several centimeters to 1.5—2 meters high, on the steep craters’ walls which cover huge areas, making them almost impassable and very dangerous. Geologists say an accident in which a wild boar fell from a cliff and was impaled on a salt “knife”. Getting There: Khoja Mumin is in Khatlon region, Vose district. 22 kilometers southwest of Kulob, near Vose settlement There is regular bus service Kulob-Vose, hitchhike or taxi from Kulob.

Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve

Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve (200 kilometers south of Dushanbe, bordering Afghanistan) stretches over 40 kilometers from the southwest to the northeast where the Vakhsh River and the Panj River join to form the Amu Darya. Nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006, it embraces mainly desert and semi-desert ecosystems in a valley floodplain and many cutoff lakes, formed during meandering of Vakhsh River

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Hydrological network of the reserve formed by Pyandj and Vakhsh Rivers and their inflows. Main territory of the reserve connected with Vakhsh which having glacial and snow feeding. In the present time the drainage of the Vakhsh regulated by hydraulic works of Nurek and Baypazinskaya hydropower stations. Tugai supported only by surface and ground waters. In the lowers of Vakhsh there are a lot of mortlakes. Their maximal deepness rarely exceeds 5-6 meters and usual it is 1-2 meters. Within the reserve there are about 40 of such lakes. They are overgrown with dense water vegetation. Waters of the most mortlakes mineralized by from 1,92 to 4,67 g/l. Old intermittent lakes level of mineralization is greatly high. [Source: State Committee on environment conservation and forestry of the Republic of Tajikistan]

Ecosystem of semi-desert landscape represented within the hilly range of Kashkakum mountain massif. This is lowland valley having very hot belt of desert ephemeral vegetation and developing in spring and winter time, and desert subshrubs vegetating in summer. The main background determining the ephemeral vegetation is fowl grass and sedge plantamong Poa bulbosa and Carex pachystilis. The background species of fauna ecosystems are skink gecko, grey giant lizard, saw-scaled viper, thick-knee, thin footed ground squirrel, chick-weed, gazelle.

Ecosystem of submountain low grassed semisavans and shibliak widespread on Buritau eminence and in Hodja-Kaziyon mountains. It represented mainly by ephemeretum Aegilops, barleys from Hordeum spontaneum and H.bulbosum. Most dominated plants are vulpies, boons, annual astragalus, fenugreek and ephemeroids: Bukhara empty-headed (Anemone bucharica) and hungerweed (Ranunculus leptorrhynchus and R.tenuilobus). Earlier the overstory was occupied by shibliak and xerophilous sparse growth of trees from pistachio (Pistacia vera), almond (Amygdalus spinosissima) and others. At the present time sparse growth of pistachio covers small territory of the reserve, however these forests could be reforested. Background species of fauna represented by steppe agama, longlegged skink, Reedling, midasian cobra, runners, crested skylark, wheatears, fox, wolf, Urial.

Ecosystem of tugai complex widespread in the flood-land of rivers prevailing by Populus pruinosa and Elaeagnus angustifolia tugai, which alternated with bushes of giant grasses of reeds (Phragmites communis), Erianthus ravennae, sugar-cane (Saccharum spontaneum) widespread in lowerings. Background species of fauna represented Vipera lebetina turanica, green toad, pheasant, magpie, ox-eye, whitefly woodpecker, Remiz pendulinus, porcupine, jackal, bukhara deer, cane cat, striped hyena.

Ecosystem of water reservoirs and wetlands of the reserve widespread along Vakhsh and Pyandj Rivers and numerous lakes located in flood lands of their lower territories. Mortlakes are densely overgrown by water vegetation: Myriophyllum L. sp., different species of pondweed, hornwort, and buckwheat and somewhere by naiad. Specific composition of fishes is relatively poor and represented exclusively by carp species: sazan, tukestan and aral barbel, bukhara roach, Alburnus fasciatus, turkestan gudgeon, Aspiolucius esocinus Kessler and sheat-fish. Vahsh inhabited by big and small Pseudoscaphirhynchus fedtschenkoi, aral barbell and Aspiolucius esocinus Kessler.

In the lakes of reserve nutria (Myocastor coypus) could be met, brought here in autumn 1949. Midasian otter also found here. Grass-snake are very usual here. Lakes of the reserve are the place of wintering for more than 50 species of birds, coming here from West Siberia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan traveltajikistan.tj, Tajikistan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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