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126 THE CENTRAL ROUTE •• Chaghcheran to Herat



Darreh- ye Bum

Qala-e Nau

Ab-i Barik- i Qudi

Benos Darrah

To Herat (50km)

Deh Berenj Qaleh




Chist-e Sharif

Tagab Eshlan Qaleh-ye

Dahane Kaftarkhan


Anate Sediq

(3350m), en route to Panjao. The views, over the pastel-brown mountains topped with rocky crags, are wonderful. There are plenty of herds of goats and sheep here, and a succession of pretty valleys threaded with shallow rivers to be forded. Five hours after leaving Yawkawlang, the road reaches the bazaar town of Lal-o-Sar Jangal. Lal (as it’s locally known) is the tradi- tional limit of Hazara territory, and sits below the Kirmin Pass (3110m), the water- shed between the Helmand river system, flowing south, and the Hari Rud, which the road follows until it reaches Herat. Lal’s bazaar is well stocked and is over-

looked by a ruined fort. There are several chaikhanas – the Sdaqat Hotel (near the fuel station, 70Afg) on the southern edge of town is adequate. Minibuses leave in the morning to Chaghcheran (500Afg, eight hours) and Panjao (100Afg, two hours).




At Chaghcheran the dense mountains the road has been winding through appear to recede, as the road climbs to a wide and largely barren plateau. A large sprawl of low buildings strung along the banks of the Hari Rud, Chaghcheran is the capital of Ghor province and its size comes as something of a shock after so many tiny villages. Although the town has a mixed popula- tion, it sits at the heart of Aimaq territory. A seminomadic Turkic people, Aimaq camps

Bamiyan & Central Afghanistan

Pasaband Sangan Tamazan

are easily spotted by their distinctive yurts. These are in contrast to the black felt tents of the Kuchi, who also live in the region in sizable numbers. It’s not uncommon to see Kuchi camel caravans travelling to and from Chaghcheran to sell livestock. The town also hosts a Lithuanian-led PRT. Despite its size, sleeping options in Chagh-

cheran are restricted to chaikhanas, which are found in a cluster south of the river – turn west at the red-and-white roundabout. None are signed in English, and all are de- pressingly basic. The Koswar Hotel (100Afg) at least has the advantage of a toilet cubicle and a couple of private rooms. Chaghcheran is the regional transport hub, all arranged from the non-descript transport office (next to Farvaden Phar- macy) near the chaikhanas – look for the small painted with a bus and truck. HiAces run daily to Herat (800Afg, 1½ days) and Lal-o-Sar Jangal (500Afg, eight hours), and occasionally to Yawkawlang (650Afg, one day) and Kabul (via Panjao, 900Afg, 1½ days). The office also has 4WDs – we were quoted US$200 for a two-day trip to Herat via the Minaret of Jam. There is a small airstrip on the eastern edge of town, with regular UNHAS and Pactec flights to Kabul (via Bamiyan) and Herat.

The Minaret of Jam

Reaching a dizzying height of 65m, the Min-

aret of Jam (Minar-e Jam; ticket US$5, still/video camera US$5/10, vehicle US$10, translator US$15) stands as a

مﺎﺟ رﺎﻨﻣ

lonely sentinel at the confluence of the Hari Rud and Jam Rud rivers, the greatest surviv- ing monument of the medieval Ghorid em- pire. Forgotten by the outside world until the mid-20th century, it remains a holy grail for many travellers to Afghanistan. The first view of the minaret as it looms suddenly and unexpectedly from the folds of the moun- tains is worth all the rough roads it takes to get there.

The minaret was built in 1194 for Sultan Ghiyasuddin, the grandest of the Ghorid rulers, and marks the highpoint of their fired-brick architecture (Ghiyasuddin also commissioned Herat’s Friday Mosque at this time). Three tapering cylindrical sto- reys rise from an octagonal base, the whole completely covered in intricate café-au-


Unlike the majority of Afghan empires that arose from the plains, the Ghorids were born of the mountain fastness of the Hindu Kush. Even so, the decision to build their capital Firuzkoh (‘The Turquoise Mountain’) in such an inaccessible place – far from the trade routes, with barely a square metre of flat arable land – seems an act of almost wilful perversity. Until recently, archaeologists were reluctant to accept Jam as the site of the lost city. Post-Taliban surveys have forced a change of mind. In the immediate vicinity of the minaret,

several courtyards and pavements of baked brick have been uncovered (possibly the minaret’s mosque), along with the remains of other buildings. If the Ghorids’ own chronicles are to be be- lieved, the mortar for these was mixed with the blood of prisoners taken from recently conquered Ghazni. A Jewish cemetery was also recorded at the site before the war, while the watchtowers on the slopes to the west of the minaret were probably part of Firuzkoh’s larger defences. Smaller looted artefacts have included carved doors, coins and pottery from as far as Iran and China. Archaeologists continue to survey the site.

Khwazagak Besa Khar Bid Syahkhaki


Garmao Kamenj

Jam Rud

Qos Tirdawan Shahrak

Masjed Negar

Garmaw Dektur Qocanghi Shekhabad Khadir

Shosh-e Sofla

Dangak Jangiay

Qala-i Khan

Dowlat Yar Badgah

of Jam Minaret

Lal-o-Sar Jangal



Shahtu Pass (3350m)


Sange Sanda

To Maidna Shahr (20km); Kabul (60km)

Darrahe Awd

Band-e Amir Lakes


0 0

To Doshi (100km)

Shikari Sheik Ali

Shibar Pass (2960m)

Shahr-e Zohak

Hajigak Pass


Unai Pass (3300m)

Jalez Ghorband

To Kabul (130km)

100 km 60 miles

THE CENTRAL ROUTE •• Chaghcheran to Herat 127

lait brick decoration. Interlocking chains, polygons and medallions wind delicately around the shaft, interspersed with text from the Quran. At the neck of the first section, a band

of Kufic text spells out Ghiyasuddin’s name in glazed turquoise, the only colour on the minaret. Above this are spars from the orig- inal wooden scaffold and brick buttresses that would originally have supported a bal- cony. The second and third shafts are more restrained in their decoration, surmounted by a final lantern gallery with pinched and pointed arches. Few muezzins have ever had such a stage for their call to prayer. At the time of its construction, the mina-

ret was the tallest in the world and until the 20th century only the Qutb Minar in Delhi was taller. For many years, archaeologists were mystified as to its purpose. Its isolated location begs the same question from every visitor: why here? Given the lack of associ- ated buildings, it was assumed by many to be part of a concurrent Central Asian trend for raising single massive towers as state- ments of political power, possibly marking victory over a pagan populace. Jam is now recognised to be the site of the lost city of Firuzkoh, the Ghorids’ capital destroyed by the Mongols (see the boxed text, below ). It’s possible to climb the minaret and the views are amazing. A ladder allows you to crawl through a narrow entrance hole to the interior. There are two staircases, wind- ing around each other like a DNA double- helix. Care should be taken on the narrow steps and a torch isn’t a bad idea. The stairs end in an open chamber, from where you


H i n d u K u s h

Koh-e Baba


l m H


a n d e









Hari Rud

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