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128 THE CENTRAL ROUTE •• Chaghcheran to Herat

can look out over the confluence of the riv- ers. A second staircase continues from here up to the lantern gallery, although the climb feels more than a little precarious. In 2002, the Minaret of Jam became Af-

ghanistan’s first World Heritage site, simul- taneously being placed on the list of World Heritage sites in danger. It’s easy to see why. Sat on the confluence of the Hari Rud and Jam Rud rivers, erosion of the foundations has been a constant worry, and gabion walls have been built to reinforce the structure. Even so, the minaret still lists at a worry- ing angle. Illegal looting, which ironically reached its peak after the fall of the Taliban, has also damaged the site, and robber holes can easily be spotted in the area.


There is a small government-run guesthouse

(r US$30; dinner US$10, breakfast US$5) next to the

minaret. Rooms are simple, but the mat- tresses are comfortable and the shower is one of the most welcome you’ll take in the country. Meals are hearty. In Garmao, the nearest village 15km away up the Jam Rud, the Hotel Jam (70Afg) offers the usual chaikhana deal of a space on the floor for the price of dinner.


No public transport goes to Jam. The best option is to take transport between Chagh- cheran and Herat and get off at Garmao, where several locals act as motorbike taxis to the minaret (500Afg, two hours). The road is little more than a track, and is the roughest on the central route. Onward transport op- tions from Garmao can be tricky, as vehicles are usually full when they drive through the village, but HiAces usually pass through en route to Chaghcheran (400Afg, five hours) around dawn, or to Herat (500Afg, one day, staying overnight at Darya Takht) in the afternoon. The road west, with its villages and orchards, is very picturesque. With your own vehicle, Jam can be

reached from Chaghcheran in seven hours, or from Herat in about 15 hours. There are two equally dramatic routes from Chagh- cheran – the southerly main road via Garmao, or the northern road via Ghar-e Payon. The latter brings you to the minaret from the opposite bank of the Jam Rud. There is no bridge and the river can only

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be forded by vehicles in the late summer. When the spring melt is in full spate, it can only be crossed by means of a zip wire – not for the faint-hearted!

Chist-e Sharif

ﻒﻳﺮﺷ ﺖﺸﭼ

Travelling from the centre, Chist-e Sharif marks the end of the high peaks and the start of the wide plains leading to Herat. Building styles change, from rough squat mountain architecture to mud-brick com- pounds with domes and badgirs (wind tow- ers) to keep them cool. Chist-e Sharif is another Ghorid centre, and the ancient home of the Chistiyah Sufi order, founded in the 12th century. The order left behind two fine domed tombs (go- mbads), which sit among pine trees on the western edge of town. Like the Minaret of Jam, they are decorated with intricate raised fired brick, although are in considerably poorer repair. The Chistiyah were noted for their use of music in their devotions, which brought them into conflict with the orthodoxies of the day. The main centre for the order is now in Ajmer, Rajasthan, although Afghans still visit the tomb of the 12th-century leader Maulana Maudud Chishti for blessings. The tomb, rebuilt in the last century, is on the western side of the pines, picturesquely looking down the main bazaar street. Chist-e Sharif has a busy bazaar and

several chaikhanas for eating and sleeping. The Eqbal Hotel (Main bazaar; 70Afg) is the pick of the bunch, with decent food, ice-cold drinks and airy rooms. The Chist Hotel (Herat Rd), a kilometre out of town, is a large white modern building built in the aftermath of the Taliban’s ouster, but has yet to open its doors to customers. Heading west, the road dramatically im-

proves after Chist-e Sharif. There are regu- lar minibuses to Herat (180Afg, four hours), stopping at Obey (100Afg, two hours). Transport to Chaghcheran is not frequent so take whatever is available – minibuses to Chaghcheran from Herat usually stop for the night in Darya Takht, 40km away.



Compared to the rest of the central route, Obey feels like civilisation – the main streets are paved and the bazaar is busy. Burqas, which have been largely absent

THE CENTRAL ROUTE •• Chaghcheran to Herat 129

since Bamiyan, reappear in large numbers. The Hari Rud, a rushing river since Chagh- cheran, becomes tamed and lazy, anticipat- ing its eventual dissipation in the deserts of Turkmenistan.

Obey is known for its hot springs, which

are actually 10km to the west of town, where a road off the highway curves up into the hills. There is a bathhouse with grubby tubs and an older building with a deep pool. A chowkidar (caretaker) will let you in and ex- pect a tip of around 50Afg. If you follow the path along the river for an hour, following the right fork where it splits, there is an-

other spring, used by local villagers. There’s a simple pool covered with thatch and with a sandy bottom – it’s a much more pleasurable experience, although the water is ferociously hot. As women come here to wash and do laundry, it’s best to go with a trusted local who knows the way. Minibuses and yellow taxis travel through- out the day to Herat (80Afg, two hours) from the road with the large square pigeon towers. Transport west is best arranged from Herat – also a more preferable option for sleeping, although there are several chaikhanas along Obey’s main bazaar street.

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