Saturday, March 29, 2008

SOME REFLECTION AND CONNECTIONS – From India, to Afghanistan and Central Asia

The magnificent Pir Panjal range from Dalhousie.

Having now visited all places mentioned below and connected the road from Calcutta (Kolkotta) through Benares, Bodgaya, Delhi. Agra. Amritsar, Lahore, Taxilla, Peshawar, Kabul, Bamiyan, Herat, Balkh, Termez, Samakand, Tashkent, Shymkent, Turkestan, Ak Su, Taraz, Talass, Tokmak, Bishkek, Issyk Kul, Naryn, Kara Su through to the Chinese border at Torugat, following fairly much the route and, places made famous by Hsuan Tsan the Chinese Buddhist Monk who travelled this way on his marathon journeys from 627 -643 AD.

I had earlier travelled and connected the above route from Herat to Meshad, Bukhara, and from Tashkent the more southern route through Khokand, Feghana, Andijan, Osh to Kashgar, The other from Kabul, through the Khyber Pass to Gilgit and Karakoram pass into China, or the more difficult one from Kabul to Faizabad, Ishkashim, cross the Amu Darya to Khorog, Murghab, and over the 4,655 metre pass of the Pamirs, down to Lake Karakul at 3,914 metre, and then into China.

It was also a pleasure on this trip (July 2007) to connect the route from Taskkent, Shymkent, Turkestan and to discover that the road from Turkestan to Kyzl Orda, where I spent time in 1997, ‘is a strategic place where the caravan roads from Tashkent, Bukhara and Khiva along Atbasar to Western Sberia and over Torgay to Troizk and Orenberg came together’. (Exploring Kazakhstan, Dagmar Schreiber, Caspian Publishing House, Almaty 2006)

Having crossed the Pamirs, Tienshan, Karakoram, Himalaya, Pir Panjal, Dhaula Dhar mountain ranges and crossed and recrossed countless times the great rivers of Syr Daria (Jaxartes), Amu Daris (Oxus),and the Zevershan, Ili, Chu, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Megna, the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Beas, Indus ( the rivers of the Punjab) and camped by Lakes Issyk Kul, Karakul, Dal, Kagar and the Aral Sea, it helps somewhat to understand the hardship and deprivations the early conquerors, explorers, pilgrims and traders endured. Alexander the Great lost over 30,000 men on a surprise winter crossing of the Hindu Kush by the Khawak Pass. In summer the ascent from the Panjsher Valley is a grind, but to foot soldiers carrying armour it is inconceivable a mighty army crossed this pass in winter. Similarly, the Khardun La at over 18,200 feet in Ladakh,, a salt route from Lahdak in India to Tibet is a daunting challenge by car today, but a crossing by mule, horse or on foot makes the mind boggle.

When I worked in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, I was fascinated by the mountain river systems. With partition, these mighty rivers had international boundaries pushed on them. Punjab - the land of five rivers were originally referred to as the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas, but with partition, the Beas flows only in India, so to keep the name Punjab correct, Pakistan added a fifth river to replace the Beas, the Indus.


Many trips I have set out on, have been to connect ranges, rivers, passes and valleys that don’t quite make sense on the map. I spent many months in a place named Sidhbari, under the Daula Dhar mountains and close to Dharamsala. Somehow, the town down the road, Kangra, was the most fascinating as it appears on many ancient maps and later became an important feeder to the Silk Road and, some centuries on, to players in the Great Game.,

From Kangra. in 2004, I was able to connect the Kangra valley, with the Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti valleys.

The Dhaular Dhar and the magnificent Pir Panjal, both ranges are the two lesser ranges either protecting, or enticing you to the greater Himalayas

Crossing the two great passes crossed by Alexander Gardiner and Moorcroft, the Kunzum La and the Rohtang La and seeing the mighty Himalayas and the majestic Pir Panjal was inspiring and to note that virtually all the people are of Tibetan stock, and they have preserved the Tibetan way of life remarkably well.


So during the last 30 years, one by one these famous places trod by Alexander the Great, Hsuan Tsang,Timur (Tamerlane) Chengis Khan, Admiral Raisa Ali (the 16th century Turkish Admiral, Marco Polo, and later all those great, and many notorious players in the Great Game, has been a fascinating experience.

Written in July 2007:

Footnote, in February 2008, I visited two remaining places with strong connections to the great game and the silk route, The Chamba and Parvati valleys in Himachal Pradesh. From Dalhousie and in the Chamba Valley, I was able to study the western passess of the Pir Panjal. In 2004 I crossed the Rohtang La which marks the eastern end of the Pir Panjal.

If anyone wants any photos of these places I have quite a collection.

2 comments:

The Wandering Hermit said...

Hey there,
Thats quite a lot of ground you have covered and a very interesting point of view combining my two loves travelling and exploration history.

Haven't traveled as much as you but have done some routes you mention here.. amongst them Moorcroft's trip with Haider Jung Hearsey from Gangotri to Mansarovar Lake in Tibet..
Would love to see your photographs? Any link where one can see them?

cheers and keep traveling
The Wandering Hermit

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear wandering Hermit.

Sorry for such a late reply. I enjoy travelling and reading the history of the route I am taking. I have quite a few photos on my main blog: bobmckerrow.blogspot.com

Thanks for your feedback and be happy.

Bob