The ancient mountains of Afghanistan have been inhabited for well over 100,000 years and contain a story which is still unfolding as archaeologists discover more evidence of earlier civilisations. Stone tools made in Lower Palaeolithic era, more than 100,000 years ago were discovered on terraces to the east of a lake named Dasht-i-Nawur, west of Ghazni. In August 1966. an American, Louis Dupree discovered evidence from the Mousterian period (Middle Paleolithic) in a cave high in the mountains of Badakhshan at a place called Darra-i-Kur. Several hundred tools and flints were unearthed and is the earliest evidence of people living in the high mountains of Afghanistan and the eastern most Mousterian site in the world. The same survey team headed by Dupree found further evidence in 1969 in the foothills near Gurziwan, south-east of Maimana. The site known as the Cave of the Dead Sheep (Ghar-i-Gusfand Mordeh) revealed tools older than those found at Darra-i-Kur.The foothills of the Afghanistan's Hindu Kush have also proved to be the first place in the world where man first developed to control his food supply when important evidence was dis-covered to show carbonised grasses and other agricultural relics estimated to be 9000 years old. (Check sources)Modern day Afghanistan was once part of the great Persian Empire stretched from the Darda-nelles (Turkish Greek Border) to the Indus, Upper Egypt to Central Asia"The most interesting people on the fringes of Mesopotamia were the nomads of the plains east of the Capsian Sea and around present Persia. They were the many tribes and they had many names-Scythians, Medes, Parthians, Aryans, and others. Together they formed a link between India and southeastern Europe. About 1700 BC these tribes may have come to Baby-lonia as mercenary soldiers, bringing with them an animal the Babylonians had never seen-the horse. A thousand years later, under the more general name of Persians, they were to overcome the Assyrioans, with the destruction of Nineveh, the capital. This period was one of movement, the restless Persians looking for new lands to conquer. Marching armies and trad-ing caravans crossed the wide open spaces between Persia and Egypt, and as far north as the Black Sea.Hardy and well disciplined, the Persians were welded into a strong nation by their great leaders Cyrus and Darius. By 500 BC, with armies of foot soldiers and mounted cavalry fight-ing with bronze-tipped arrows, the mighty Persian Empire was the largest the world had yet seen. Cyrus, in his time, subjected the people of Babylon, the Phoenicians, and the Greek cit-ies of Asia Minor to his rule; Cambyses added Egypt; and darius, the great lawgiver, found himself in supreme command from the Dardanelles to the Indus, from Upper Egypt to central Asia. But the mastery of Europe was another matter. neither Greeks, Sicilians, nor the people of the Spanish Phoenician came under Persian rule.In his determination to make Persia a great sea power, Darius sent an expedition, under one Scylax, to explore the Indian Ocean from Suez to the Indus. He also led his armies into an in-voluntary voyage of exploration. In 512 BC, during his wars with the Scythians, he crossed the Bosporus and the Danube and then, under the impressions that he was near the Black Sea, he found himself in the steppes of Russia, from which he was forced to return.From: Discovery and Exploration - Frank Debenham . The Reprint Society . London 1961ARAYANS AND ACHAEMENIDS ( c.1500 BC - 330BC)The Vedic and Avestic hymns give us an insight into geographical features especially key mountains and passes, and information about literature, folk-lore, mythologgy, philosophy, language and religion of the early residents of Afghanistan.The Indo-Europeans, or more accurately one of their branches known as Aryans, who lived between the Indus and the Oxus have passed down orally, hymns from generation to genera-tion. From the Rigveda it can be determined that the Vedic Aryans were in Afghanistan around 1500 BC.Kubba is Kabul, Krumu (Korm), Rasa, (Kunar), Cveti, (Swat), Balhika (Balkh), Gandhara (the Kabul Valley), Mauru (the Morghab basin) Nisaya ( the region of Maimana), Haetumant (the Helman River Basin), Ragha (Ragh, Badakshan) Cakhra (Ghanzni area)The Avesta also mentions mountains: Paurana, the mountains of Parwan, Spita-Goura-Gaira the present Spin-Gar (white mountains) that border on Nangahar and Paktia provinces, Mount Mujavat is the strategic Munjan Pass, Staera, in the origional text is named "Staera ataosara, meaning the head that touches the star. James Darmsteter puts this mountian in the Ghorband group, but Sir Aurel Stein plces it with the Tirah, east of Afghanistan)Vafrayant is the Safed Koh, Syamaka, the Siah Koh north of the Hari Rud basin, Haraiti Barez, is the first high mountain named in the Avesta and Gaiger places it in the Pamir group. Zeredhaza is considered by Darmsteter to run parallel to Haraiti Barez."Thus, the geographical data of the Vedas and of the Avesta separately or combined, cover the whole of Afghanistan. This means that the Vedic and Avestic Aryans knew this country in detail. We conclude, therefore, that the country located between the Oxus and Indus Rivers, the Sindhu (Sind) and the Hamun, was the home of the Aryans, called Arayans of the Hindu Kush " wrote Afghan writer Ahmad Ali Kohzad. It is interesting to note that the writer Kohzad, means 'of the mountains'.In the Avesta, the great city of Bakhdi (Balkh) is described " the beautiful, crowned with banners" and of Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra Spitama, who lived in Balkh sometime between 1000 and 600 BC. He united the tribes to unite in the name of the god Ahuramazda. Zoroaster was a noteworthy leader, highly aversed in politics, religion and agriculture, who encouraged his followers to diversify their food production that centred round grazing animals to cropping if they wanted to be independent and strong race. The plains of Bactria were highly productive and an advanced civilization developed under the shadow of the Alborz mountain range, where nomads still graze their flocks today.Walking in the deserts to the north of Mazar I Sharif and looking across the heat shimmer of the city, rounded snow capped peaks jutt from the Alborz mountains. These peaks are over 3500 metres, and domiate the skyliMany of the nomadic tribes of the Trans-Oxiana region moved over a number of centuries to settle in the Iranian Plateau and evolved from a nomadic people to form an extensive empire which stretched from Greece to the Indus River.Under the leadership of Darius I (522-486 BC), a highway was built through Afghanistan which meant speedier travel for later conquerors, pilgrims and travellers.ALEXANDER OF MACEDON (330-327 B.C.)The first Europeans to set foot in the mountains of central Asia were the troops of Alexander the Great. The ghost of Alexander broods like a Colossus over the mountains of Asia, his in-fluence still a force to be reckoned with after more than 2000 years. CameronInto the Unknown: The Story of Exploration 1987 National Geographic" Or Greeks like Alexander of Macedonia - Alexander the Great - who was an explorer truly worthy of that name. More than a warlord, Alexander was a seeker of the truth. He took with him on campaigns geographers, engineers, architects, botantists, historians, and "steppers" to count their paces as they traveled, and thus judge the distances...(later)Two of his many mo-mentus achievements were crossing the Hindu Kush and navigating the Indus River. The bleakly beautiful mountains of the Hindu Kush, along with the Himalayas and Pamirs, create a formidable barriers between the sub-continent of India and the rest of Asia. Alexander, ea-ger to mount a surprise spring offensive against the Persians in Afghanistan, led his army through the mountains on a 1,700-mile march. Autumn passed, the winter brought bitter winds, ice, and snow. The men struggled on until snow blocked their passage. then camped until the spring of 329 BC, where they made their way through an 11,000 foot pass to cross the Hindu Kush. Reaching the Oxus River, swollen with spring's melting snow, they filled their leather tents with straw and used them as rafts to float across."The Achaemenid Empire was left in tatters after Alexander the Great and his armies con-quered the Persian Empire.The last Achaemendid King, Darius III, had been murdered by Bessus his ally from Bactria.Bessus had also taken the titles of the Achaemenid kings which enraged Alexander who sought to find and kill him. Alexander, the pupil of AristotleThese early inhabitants of Aghanistan must have developed rudimentary mountaineering skills but it wasn't till the year until 330 year BC that Alexander the Great, brought people who could be called trained mountaineers. They were trained in cliff assaults, ladder climbing and rock climbing and as his campaign progressed they accumulated knowledge of snow and ice through trial and error,With 20,000 foot soldiers and 3000 horsemen directly under his command Alexander set out for modern day Afghanistan from Zadragarta near the Caspian Sea. He crossed the border into Badghis province and forcemarched his men towards Aria (Herat) that would have got him to Bactria quicker, as the passes do not reach the height of the Hindu Kush, but he was drawn southwards " to make a southerly sweep so as to reduce to submission all tribes north of the desert and west of the Arachotian ranges." (Dodge) Before he reached Prophthasia ( Farah) Alexander met a tribe which he couldn't catch, as they retired to the tree-covered slopes of a mountain with a steep precipice on the other side. " As he had little time to delay, and as the wind was blowing towards the mountain slope, Alexander contented himself with settting the woods on fire, and thus drove the barbarians over the precipitous cliffs." (Dodge) He then travelled to another city he named after himself, Alexander in Arachosia, modern day Khandahar. It was now early november and the first winter snows had arrived. and while crossing a range north-east of Khandahar, his army suffered from toiling relentlessly through the snow and the shortage of bread. Fortunately tribes in the area gave them foodstuffs inreturn for being left alone. From here the scenery changed as he entered the beautiful Cophen river(Kabul River) in the valley called Nicea,( Kabul Valley). Modern day Kabul is 1700 me-tres above sea level and is very cold in November and it is hemmed in by high snow-clad mountains and to the north by even higher mountains, the Hindu Kush.Parapanisus or Paropanisadae (Toynbee) p 51 was the name Alexander gave to Hindu Kush, and today the Parapanisus still graces the map of Afghanistan, but today starts on the Iranian border and stretches through the western provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor.It was now late November and Alexander wisely decided not to cross the Hindu Kush and in-stead wintered over in another city named after himself, Alexander ad Caucasum, modern day Jebal Seraj or is it Begram (Bagram), 35 km north of Kabul.. Alexander had the choice of crossing the Hindu Kush by a number of passes. But being a shrewd tactician he speculated that his enemy Bessus would have expected him to come by the easiest pass, so to confound him, he chose the more difficult Khawak Pass.Alexander waited until the worst of the winter weather had passed but he couldn't wait any longer and set off before the winter snows had melted (Probably late March) His army marched up the Panjcher valley and suffered terribly from cold and severe food shortages. Marching through the sheer-sided Panjcher gorge which marks the entrance of the long val-ley, there would have been layers of frost as the sun touches the ground for a mere few min-utes at this time of year.They climbed up to the Khawak Pass where many soldiers fell by the wayside with snow blindness or exhaustion and were abandoned. The Khawak Pass is 11,640 feet and on a cold windy March day temperatures can drop to - 30oC. Dodge describes it thus: "The ancient historians dismiss this march with a few words; but it has no parallel, except Hannibal's crossing of the Alps, and it is the first undertaking of the kind of which we have any record. Hannibal, from unexpected delays, started too late in the fall; Alexander from overeagerness, started too early in the spring. Both contended with heavy snows, and suffered from their attendant trials."The snow was still deep, the cold was intense, food was scarce and fuel non-existent. The men, struggling through drifts up to their armpits, suffered terribly from exhaustion, snow-blindness and frostbite. Literally in their thousands they were frozen solid to the rocks as they leaned against them. The horses and pack-asses suffered an even higher ration of casualties, but at least their bodies, eaten raw because there was no fuel to cook them, provided the troops with food. Alexander lost more men and more animals crossing the Hindu Kush than all his subsequent campaigns in central Asia. p33 Cameron. Once over the pass they discovered the region had been devastated, the houses burned and the flocks moved. According to accounts the snowline was ten to twelve miles below the pass but Alexander's troops had to march 40 miles through treachorous snow banks. Fifteen days after crossing the Khawak Pass they reached the first Bactrian village of Anderab. All the horses had perished but there is no account of how many men Alexander lost. At Anderab Alexander let his men recover and soon marched to the fruit-laden plains of Bactria.Alexander wintered at Nautaca in BC 328-327. By this time he had conquered and sudued Bactria and Sogdinia, but there remained a few rocky fortresses held by rebel chiefs. One such chief, Oxyartes had fortified himself on the Rock of Arimazes or Sogidan Rock.By the time Alexander reached the famous Sogidan Rock (over the border from modern day Afghanistan in the border regions of Uzbekistan/Tajikistan) his men had shown their skills of climbing walls and rocks by using various scaling ladders Impatient as ever, Alexander set of for this impregnable fortress, built on a rock jutting out from the side of a mountain, with ver-tical cliffs. The long trek in late winter was full of difficulties and they encountered terrible storms. During one storm he lost 1000 men but Alexander was a man of great energy and courage as he cheered and cajouled them on. When he arrived at the Rock of Arimazes it looked impossible, there seemed to be no approach. Snow was plastered to the rocks which made it nigh on impossible to scale. Alexander with his usual bravado called the inhabitants on the rock to surrender with the promise of free exit and safety. The reply he got was that they only feared winged soldiers. This angered and also spurred Alexander on. Quickly he sent a herald through the camp offering prizes of 12 talents to the first man who succeeded to climb the rock and to the rest, a descending scale of rich prizes to the others who got ot the top. There were a number of expert mountaineers who over the long duration of the campaign had learned to scale icy slopes, cross snowbound passes and had received training on how to climb walls and cliffs.. Three hundred men volunteered. Equipped with ropes and tent pegs, they commenced a night assault at midnight. To gain purchase on the ice covered rock the men drove pegs into cracks in the rock or into the ice or frozen ground. Gingerly they gained height. During this incredibly dangerous night operation 30 climbers fell to their death. Later, due to the steepness and the ledges where the bodies lay, they could not be recovered. But by dawn a number of climbers had scaled the heights and waved their white scarves to signal their success. Alexander had again done the impossible. No doubt full of pride and relishing his victory, he called out to Oxyartes to look at his winged soldiers and sent a herald to the gates asking him to surrender." The position gained may not have had any particular value in compelling this; but, aston-ished beyond measure at being this outdone, and imagining the men on the rocks above to be much more numerous than they actually were, and fully armed, the whole thing savouring, moreover, of the supernatural, with which Alexander's name was uniformly connected, the demand was complied with."Not only did Alexander gain a victory he also captured the daughter of Oxyartyes, Roxana, claimed by the Macedonians to be the most beautiful women in the east. Alexander fell in love with her and treated her with great dignity, and later married her. This shows the tender side of the ruthless Alexander for he also forgave Oxyartes and elevated him to a senior posi-tion..Not content with this victory, Alexander marched on towards the Rock of Choreines in the land of Paraetacians, a mountainous region of the upper Oxus. The Rock was inhabited by Chorienes an old friend of the recently captured Oxyartes. It was early spring and Alexan-der's chroniclers describe the march over the snow-clad mountains in horrific terms; frequent storms lashed the mountains, food shortages dogged them throughout a an unspecified num-ber of his men froze to death. Alexander who was always tough in spirit and body 'shared the labours of his men' but he could not prevent then giving up. These mountain treks of Alexan-der are remarkable that he choose late winter or early spring when the opposition were least expecting him. It is related that after one days march Alexander was warming himself by a fire when a frozen Macedonian in armour was brought in almost dead. Alexander gave him his seat at the fire and the man soon recovered. On regaining consciousness the soldier was surprised and frightened to find himself in the great king's place. Alexander looked at him and said, "Look you, comrade, among the Persians, to sit on the King's seat entails death. To you.a Macedonian, it has brought life."The Rock of Choreines is about seven miles circumference at the base. The only route up the mountain was a by a narrow track that would take only one man abreast and could easily be defended.. The only way the mountain could be ascended was by a sheer face, cut off by a deep gorge through which rushed a wild mountain torrent. Here Alexander was in his element surveying another virtually insurmountable objective. He had to bridge the wild water to get to the base of the face and this he acheived by cutting down nearby pine trees and making ladders by which his troops descended to the river bed. From this base Alexander instructed his men to build a a trestle work of covered galleries to protect the men from attacks above. The whole army worked day and night and before long height was made. In these early stages the inhabitants of the Rock laughed at the feeble efforts of the Macedonians, then soon the re-alised they had been out-witted. as the structure began to rise towards them, The structure was covered with screens and roofs which prevented attacks from above, while from below Alex-ander's men were able to fire upwards with their sling machines, bows and slings, killing and wounding many of his enemy. Alexander's gamble paid off and Chorienes surrendered and his men discovered enough food to feed his entire army for two months.Alexander returned across the present day Afghan border to Bactra well, satisfied with his conquests.Winter passed and in the spring of 327BC, Alexander's thoughts turned to the fabled riches of of India. The route he chose was over the Hindu Kush by an easier pass this time, the Kushan Pass (Is this Ali's Kaoshan Pass, 14,340 feet? )to Alexander ad Caucasum. It took him ten days to complete the trip on an improved track with adeqaute food supplies. From here he marched into Nicea (Kabul) in the Cophen (Kabul valley) valley. He had with him 135,000 men welded together from remnants of his original Hellenic army to a force that comprised largely of Central Asians.After six year Alexander had gained a lot of experience in the mountains of Afghanistan and modern-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and rashly thought he would quickly get to the Indus River by way of passes through the the various mountain ranges. First he dispatched Hephaes-tion and Perdiccas along the true right of the Kabul River, through Gandara( the valley run-ning from Peshawar to Taxila) Meanwhile Alexander took the more difficult route to the northern side of the Kabul River where he proposed he would "reduce all the strongholds in the mountain passes." so he could control the Kabul Valley. The main party stayed in the main river valley while he sent fast moving detachment up the side valleys.Quote: P513 (Dodge) To the north bank, mountains come down in huge scallops from Kafirstan. The Choes or Choaspes (Kunar) the Euaspla and the Guraeus..........What is obvi-ous is that Alexander had conact with the tribes of Kafirstan (Nuristan) Laghman, Kafirstan where he drank wine) He left the people of Kafirstan free but invited young Kafir soldiers to join him the Kafirs did not want to return with Alexander, they preferred their mountain home in Nuristan. (p237 Nancy afg)Kunar River. Here he travelled through modern day Nuristan, Laghman and Kunar to the Nawa Pass into the Bajaur river to TimargarhaHe then crossed the Chakdara Bridge across the Swat River and from here Alexander attacked and pludered the towns of Bazira (Birkot Hill) and Ora (Udegram) Since leaving Aleandria ad Caucasum the last months of his campaign had been through high alpine areas of modern Laghman, Nuristan and Kunar with many hards battles with local tribesWith Taxila in his sights, one thought he would be content to proceed directly down the Indus but no, he had one final battle, the people who had fled from Bazira Ora and elsewhere had gathered at a remote site, the Roc of Aornus.p 256 Stein At Birkot Hill and Udegram Stein identified the sites of the ancient towns of Bazira and Ora, which Alexander sacked after reaching the Swat from Bactria and Sog-diniana in 327BC Stein puzzled that refugees from Baziar and Ora wiould have sought a remote place such as the Rock of Aornos. His reckoning from his explorations and talking to locals led him to an Alpine plateau of Pir Sar above Indus near Besham , and a peak be-yond that bore the name Una.After his exploits in the Swat valley. Alexander travels down the Indus and crosses the Indus near Attock and on to Taxila where the King passively submits to him in the Spring of 326 BC. Next he marches towards Hydaspes where Porus the ruler of the Punjab, puts up a great fight against Alexander. Finally he is defeated and Alexander an admirer of brave men, re-stores him to power. Here his men refuse to go further. They retreated by sailing down the In-dus and then proceeds towards Persia across the dry and deadly deserts of Gedrosia (Baluchis-tan). The march across the desrt last 60 days during which he loose a large number of soldiers perish.Alexander reached Babylonia in 324 BC where Ambassadors from neighbouring countries came to pay homage. With thoughts of plans and conquests in his mind, his next destination was Arabia. However in June 323 BC Al;exander falls ill with a raging fever, and dies on June 28 323, at the age of 33.The Chinese Travellers and PilgrimsWhile Jerusalem was falling into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar in the east, an event occured that produced one of the world's great religions and centuries later, devout Buddhist pilgrims from China travelled through Asia searching for the original purity of their faith.For thousands of years China was geographically isolated from the rest of the world and whilst it shunned foreign interference, it showed great interest in foreign religionThis seeming paradox was due to the fact that Confucianism, the official Faith, was essentially a body of moral precepts, as Taoism, (albeit Taoism had stronger pretension to metaphysic), and both people and rulers were eager to receive any moral doctrine which might strengthen that love of peace and orderly conduct which would seem to be inborn in the Chinese breast.Under the shadow of the great Himalayas 600 years before the birth of Christ, the son of a petty cheftain, Gautma, was born in Lumbini. In his search for the truth he abandoned all his material possessions including his wife and family and began living in nearby jungles, con-templating. During this time a wave of love of humanity and profound grief at human suffer-ing enveloped him. Moved by this spiritual experience he started travelling and in the valley of the Ganges he began preaching a a pure religion of duty and affection. Like the soul of Plato's poet, his soul "was no longer within him."The teachings of Gautma were influenced by the doctrine of Kharma which he had learnt from the Brahmins "the heart achieves blessedness in proportion to its purification; a good life acquires merit, by means of which relative freedom is obtained from the mournful, malevolent turnings of the wheels of things."The Chinese rulers saw that Buddhism was basically an ethical system and was compatible with Taoism and becoming a faithful Bhuddist did not prohibit one from remaining a good Confucian. Therefore the Chinese government approved of Buddhism as it was a peaceful faith of ethics that kept its subjects submissive. But it had to compete with other faiths of the era as many of the traders brought with them new Faiths such as the Zorastrian from Persia and Islam through the visit of the maternal uncle of the Prophet Mohammed. Moslems were to be found in China during Hiuen-Tsiang's life as was Christianity introduced by Nestorian missionaries.The quartet of Chinese travellers who came to know the Hindu Kush and ancient Afghanistan span a period of 800 years. The were Chang-Kian 129 BC, Fah-Hian, 400 AD, Sung Yun 518 AD and Hiuen Tsiang 632 AD. Of the four Fa Sen and Hiuen Tsiang kept detailed records of their journeys and we are able to learn a lot of that period.CHANG-KIANThe first of the four in approx 129 BC was Chang-Kian a Chinese ambassador, with a group of Yuchi people travelled across the Oxus and the Hindu Kush to Cophene (the Kabul river).His 13 year trip was poorly recorded but what is written reveals an extremely arduous jour-ney for he returned with only two of the original hundred he set out with. (Beal)Fraser-Tytler refers to these people as Yuehchih (Yuchi) and says they moved southwards, crossing the Oxus in about 128BC, " and after destroying or driving out Greek rulers occupied the country as far south as the mountains. It is unclear as to who and where the Yuchi's were.Fraser-Tytler believes "They were certainly not Mongols, and were possibly the same stock as the Iranians and kin to the then inhabitants of the Tarim Basin whom Hsuan Tsang, the Chi-nese pilgrim, encountered on his journey westward in the seventh century A.D.FAH-HIAN 400 ADBefore the arrival of the next great Chinese pilgrim the Kushans under the leadership of Kad-phises in around 40 AD, occupied the Kabul River valley and Gandhara. This empire lasted until about 220 AD. The next two hundred years was a period of anarchy, although Ardsher-Babagan founded the Sassanian dynasty of Persia which lasted some hundreds of years. al-though the Sassanian influence did not extend over the whole of Afghanistan. In addition the Hephthalites (White Huns) invaded Afghanistan around 400 AD and ruled for 200 years. Not much is known about this period except of the destruction of Buddhist shrines.When Fah-Hian visited Afghanistan and India in the period 405 AD - 411 AD it was out of great pain and frustration he had endured in his native China. There he had witnessed the de-cline in the rules of discipline of the monks in his native city of Tchang'an and the faulty translations of the sacred Buddhist teachings.This young pilgrim was so motivated to redress the problems of his faith, that he travelled to India in search of original copies of scriptures (works) unknown in his country. He left his city in 400 AD and travelled across China and approached India and Afghanistan via the upper water-shed of the Gilgit River. Soon after he mentions 'Skardo' follows and follows the upper Indus to the Switi (Swat River) to Gandhara ( Peshawar). It seems he did a side trip into modern-day Afghanistan to the Hazarjat and visited the great Buddhist Centre of Bamiyan. He describes in detail a great assembly of over one thousand monks He returned after 14 years by way of Ceylon.SUNG YUN AND HWUI SENG 518 ADSung-Yun, a resident of Tun-wang in Little Tibet, was sent on royal command by the Queen of Wei country to search for authentic Buddhist books. They proceded in a westerly direction for 40 days and then headed towards the Hindu Kush, taking about 10 months to get this far. andsome more months to reach Gandhara's capital, Peshawar.One of Sun Yun most famous quotes on meeting a barbarian King said: "Mountains are high and low - rivers are great and small-amongst men also there are distinctions, some being no-ble and some ignoble. He returned after 3 years with 175 volumes.check p 70 of grousset ^ ephthaliteHSUAN TSANGFour Pilgrims - William Boulting 1992. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi & Ma-dras.Hiuen Tsiang. Chapters 1 to 12. Perilous Journey to the Sacred Land of BuddhaIn contrast to the the conquering Alexander , Hsuan Tsang was a quiet, pious and adventurous pilgrim.He was born in 602 AD and by the age of 13 had astounded scholars by his mental ability and spiritual mind. Dissatified by the problems in China and knowing of the earlier Buddhist pilgrims, he set out at the age of 24 "to make for the cradle and sanctuary of Bud-dhism and to seek there for the books his countrymen lacked." (p10) After an arduous trip westwards through the Takla Makan desert, he had to cross the difficult Tien Shan mountain range by the Bedel Pass. He spent several month with the Mongols of the steppe and then headed for India along the known route from Samankand, across the Oxus to Balkh. He de-scribes the crossing of deserts and and remote mountain passes but it was the mountains of central Asia that left a very frightening impression on him." Since the creation of the world the snow has gathered there and become frozenblocks, which spring and summer cannot melt. Shining sheets of solid ice spread before one, and there is, as it were, no end to them; they blend with the clouds. Frozen splinters have become detached and fallen; some of these are an hundred feet high; others measure some dozens of feet athwart, and they bar the way. You attempt to climb over the former kind at your peril; you get across the latter with pain. And at all the time the tempest assails you with gusts of wind and whirling drifts of snow; so that double soles to your foot-gear and fur garments to your body fail to keep out the cold. Of dry shelter there is none, either to feed or sleep in. You have to sling up your cooking pot and lay your sleeping mat on the frozen ground "Hsuan Tsang used mountain staves that had an axe head with which steps could be cut.At Balkh, the 'Mother of Cities' with its many splendours he found a hundred Buddhist mon-asteries and approximately 3000 monks and sacred memorials and treasures beyond count and description.His crossing of the Hindu Kush en route to Bamiyan is described in detail:"Every moment one is at battle there with frozen cloud or snow-whirlwind. Sometimes one is faced with worse than this, even, namely, morasses of mud, dozens of feet wide. Ice, pile on pile, rises into mountain masses, snow-blasts dash on for a hundred leagues." "The raging spirits and demons of the mountains send every kind of calamity; and there are muderous rob-bers to be met with."In Bamiyan a major Buddist centre in the heart of Afghanistan he was warmly received by the ruler and here he rested for five days. After visiting the massive Buddhist images carved out of solid rock, he took to the trail to Kapisa. Two days out from Bamiyan he was hit by a ferrocious blizzard and he lost his way. He was discovered by hunters and put on the right track and crossed a mountain pass (Ghorband) down the Ghorband valley to Kapisa, north of Kabul. His arrival coincided with the start of the rainy season so he spent some months in Kapisa before departing for Peshawar with a royal escort from the King in the footseps of an earlier traveller, Alexander the Great. He visited jalalabad (p27)After 13 years of travelling and living in India where he became a polished Sanskrit scholar he returned to a royal welcome in Kapisa, Afghanistan. Here a hundred top men were chosen to accompany him across the notorious Khawak Pass, 3,500 m. It would have been common knowledge that. Alexander had lost thousands of men earlier on this crossing in early March 329 BC. The party travelled for seven days up the scenic Panjcher valley before turning up the Khawak River from the Panjcher River towards the pass. Hsuan Tsang held the mountains in great awe and he wrote at length about the difficulties and dangers of thsee abode of demons." Now the traveller is in a high profound valley; now aloft on high peak, with its burthen of ice in full summertide. One gets along by cutting steps in the ice, and, in three days, one reaches the summit of the pass. There a furious icy blast, cold beyond measure, sweeps on; the valleys are laden with accumulated snow. The traveller pushes on; for he dares not pause. Soaring birds must needs alight; it is impossible for them to fly; and they have to cross afoot."What makes this trip almost unbelievable is that they had an elephant with them who made it over the pass. Did the inspiration come from Hannibal who had crossed the European alps 200 BC. The travellers used their mountain axes to cut steps to get over the pass. At the end of the second week after leaving Kapisa they reached a village of of a hundred family on the northern side of the Hindu Kush which is likely to be modern day Anderab. Hsuan Tsang comments that the villages lived by raising a very large variety of sheep. From here his es-corts returned and he took a rest and engaged a local guide and mounted on a camel and headed to the bottom of the pass. He took him a further six days to cross further ranges which reach a height of 4500m before he got into easier ground and then headed north-west to the upper Oxus possibly via modern day Kunduz. He probably went east through Badakhshan and then descended in " to the great plateau of the Pamirs" and then onto Kashgar and Yarkand.The 'Prince of Pilgrims' was a title he richly earned when he returned to his native China 'laden with many gold and silver statues, 150 relics of the tru Buddha, and 657 learned books.'During the travels of these Chinese travellers -129 BC to 650 AD- the ebb and flow of civili-zations in the lands of the Hindu Kush rose , flourished and died, each leaving strands of cul-ture which make up the richness of today's Afghanistan. In studying the early history of Af-ghanistan, there is sufficient information to get a coherent picture of the regular cycles of civi-lisation which emerge. The Hindu Kush clearly is divide which governed these cycles. To the north, the grassy plains of Bactria, the steepes of Central Asia and the fertile Oxus valley and to the south, the rich valleys of the Kabul River, Jalalabad and through to the valley of the Indus stretching through to the fertile plains of India. To the north of the Hindu Kush, peri-odically a race from the north would cross the Oxus and establish themselves north of the Hindu Kush. There they would stay some time, discover a breach in the Hindu Kush, stay a while, then move towards India. Flecker's lines " We are pilgrims master and we will go across the last blue mountains barred with snow... seem to be written for the Hindu Kush.By 50 AD, another great civilisation was emerging in the land surrounding the Hindu Kush. The Kushans, led by Kadphises I, had found a way through the Hindu Kush and exerted con-trol of the Kabul River valley and of the area known as Gandhara. The Kushan empire quickly expanded to include modern day India. The next Kushan leader; known as the 'King of Kings,' was Kanishka (ca 128-151 AD) who made Peshawar the cultural capital of a huge empire stretching from the Aral Sea to the Ganges River, and across the Pamirs to the Chi-nese border.The Kushans with their control of of such a large area brought peace to the mountainous re-gions of the Hindu Kush, Pamirs, Karakorams and Himalayas, their foothills and plains.King Kanisha opened his arms to Buddhism, the monastries of Gandhara resounded to the chants and prayers of priests, pilgrims and students. Out of this creative and peaceful envi-ronment grew a strong culture where art blossomed. Nancy Dupree's description of this phase cannot be bettered. " Versed in disparate traditions introduced by political changes and nur-tured by cultural interchange since the days of the Achaemenids, these artists deftly fused the collective artistry of east and west. They created a school of Gandhara art- an art so dynamic it endured for five centuries and materially influenced the arts of Central Asia, China and South Asia.