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Re-discovering Afghanistan:Bamiyan Valley

“Bamiyan? There are no more big Buddha statues there, right?”

In March 2001, two huge Buddha statues, one 55 meters and the other 38 meters high, were cruelly destroyed by the Taliban of the time. It was an eye-opening event that made the world aware of the Taliban and the situation in Afghanistan at that time.

Though the Great Buddha has been lost and many of the caves destroyed, the valley of Bamiyan has much more to offer than that. Nowadays, the bazaar has expanded, more hotels have been built, and Bamiyan now attracts domestic tourists from Kabul and other urban areas on weekends as well as foreign tourists. Those who knew the old Bamiyan will be surprised at its changes.

There are two routes from the capital Kabul to Bamiyan. One is the so-called ”northbound route over the Shibar Pass“ and the other is the ”southbound route over the Hajigak Pass“. Both routes lead to the Shahr-i-Zohak, which stands in front of the checkpoint at the entrance to the Bamiyan Valley.

Shahr-i-Zohak, located at the entrance of the Bamiyan Valley


Shahr-i-Zohak is the remains of a fortress located at the confluence of the Bamiyan and Kalu Rivers, 17 kilometers east of the town of Bamiyan. The present ruins of the fort are said to date back to the reign of the Shansabani kings in the 12th century (during the Genghis Khan invasion), but in fact it was used as a natural fortress from around the 6th century. It is said that remains from the Buddhist period were also found. It was also used in modern warfare during the civil war. In the evening sun, Shahr-i-Zohak glows red, giving it the nickname ”Red City.“ From the top of the fort, you can see the beautiful valley along the Kar River.

Bamiyan valley seen from Shahr-i-Zohak

Passing Shahr-i-Zohak, you can continue to Bamiyan. On your left, you will see the ruins of an old caravanserai, followed by the village of the Hazara people. Soon you will see a group of caves ahead. These are the Bamiyan Caves.

Bamiyan Caves

The Bamiyan Caves are comprised of approximately 750 caves built over a length of 1,300 m on the northern cliffs of the Bamiyan Valley. Located on the east and west sides of the caves are the Western Buddha (55 m high) and Eastern Buddha (38 m high), both of which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. In 2003, the site was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the ”Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley“. In the past, UNESCO and archaeologists from various countries were working to restore and preserve the site, but conservation work has been suspended since the new Taliban regime came to power.

Bamiyan West Buddha

As of 2024, visitors can walk from the West Buddha to the East Buddha and climb the stairs to the interior of the East Buddha. The caves with remaining murals are often locked to protect them from destruction by local tourists.

Bamiyan East Buddha
Part of the Buddha statue that was blown up and collapsed in March 2001
Mural paintings remaining on the terrace of the East Buddha

As you go up inside the East Buddha, you can see a view of the Bamiyan Valley from the terraced caves and the terrace near where the head of the Buddha used to be. The area between the Bamiyan Caves and the bazaar has been preserved without development as a UNESCO Scenic Area, but after the new Taliban regime, this has not been followed and new gas stations and stores have begun to be built.

Bamiyan Valley seen from the terrace of the East Buddha niche

The large hill at the edge of town is Shahr-i-Gholghola.



Shahr-i-Gholghola is the ruins of a fort, which was also known as the ”City of Screams“. 12th century Bamiyan was a prosperous city of the Shansabani dynasty, the successor to the Ghurid dynasty, but it was turned into a ghost town after Genghis Khan’s army attacked the city in 1221. The screams of those slaughtered at that time were the reason for the fort’s name. Although part of the ruins have been renovated and renewed with international aid, some people say that it has been cleaned up too much and was more impressive in the past. From the top of the fort, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Bamiyan Valley.

Bamiyan valley seen from Shahr-i-Gholghola

In addition to the famous Bamiyan Caves, there are two other cave complexes in Bamiyan: the Foladi Caves and the Kakrak Caves. Both caves are located by the river and are accessible by a short walk. Tourists who visited here before the Soviet invasion used to visit the Kakrak Caves in the evening and call the standing Buddha statue “Sunset Buddha,” because of the view when the setting sun shone on it.

Foladi Caves

This is a group of about 50 caves built along the Foladi River, which runs along the west side of the Bamiyan Valley. Although the caves are damaged because villagers continue to use them as livestock pens and dwellings, ceiling decorations such as those of the Laternendecke can still be seen. It is a peaceful place where visitors can see glimpses of village life.

People living near Foladi Caves
People have used the grottoes as livestock pens and dwellings.
Laternendecke ceiling decoration

Kakrak Caves

A group of caves built along the Kakrak River, which runs along the eastern side of the Valley. These caves are the site of the famous red-toned mural paintings that are kept in the Guimet Museum in France and the Kabul Museum. There was a 6.4-meter-high standing Buddha statue, but it was destroyed by the former Taliban regime in 2001, along with two Great Buddha statues. The ruins of an Islamic watchtower can be seen on top of the caves. Although nothing remains, visitors can enjoy a typical view of Bamiyan Valley while walking through the farmland.

Distant view of Kakrak Caves
A wall niche that once housed a standing Buddha, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 along with two Great Buddha

Dragon Valley

The valley is located 9 km southwest of Bamiyan. According to legend, when a village girl was about to be sacrificed to a dragon, a brave man (Hazrat Ali) confronted the dragon and cut it in two. The dragon cried tears of regret. The dragon’s split back is the cleft in the rock, and the ”tears” still flow as a mineral spring. After the civil war, this valley, which had been empty, has grown into a new residential area.

The place that corresponds to the “dragon’s back
At the bottom is “Tears of the Dragon”, a mineral spring gushing out

This has been a brief introduction to the highlights of the Bamiyan Valley, but since the topic of our discussion is Afghanistan, some of you may be wondering whether there are still any remnants from the civil war. In Bamiyan and the surrounding area, mine clearing began at an early stage. For a while after the civil war, tanks were seen here and there on the road from Kabul to Bamiyan and in the valley, but they are long gone now.

Remaining tanks on the hill of Bamiyan
Remaining tanks on the hill of Bamiyan

This is surprising, isn’t it? It was painted by an Iranian artist.

Remaining self-propelled anti-aircraft gun on the Shibar Pass

Perhaps the best-preserved tank in the vicinity of Bamiyan is the one on top of Shibar Pass.
Here we have an everyday scene from the bazaar in Bamiyan.

Main Bazaar of Bamiyan

Bamiyan is famous for growing potatoes. Walking around the village, you will encounter many people.

A father and kids met in a potato field in Kakrak
at Kakrak potato field
Girls I met in Foradi

The valley of Bamiyan is photogenic and inspiring enough just for its scenery surrounded by the Hindu Kush mountains and the seasonal life of the Hazara people.


Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Afghanistan. >> Our Afghanistan tour .

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The Joshi Spring Festival: A Kalash Ritual

The Joshi Festival is held at the end of the long winter to celebrate the arrival of spring. Locals dress up in new clothes made during the winter and pray for the safety of livestock going out to pasture in the summer after the festival. The festival also serves as a place where young men and women can meet.

It has been a while since I last attended the Joshi festival. In the past few years, Pakistan’s frontier has been experiencing overtourism, with tourists from not only Europe and the United States but also Thailand, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian countries now flocking to the area. In contrast, the Kalash Valley is dominated by Western tourists.

I was surprised to see the changes in the Chilam Joshi Festival via photos which recent Pakistani tourists upload on social media—for those who knew Kalash in the past, it may be an unfortunate sight to behold. I would like to share with you some of the rituals of the Joshi Festival that I experienced in the spring of 2024. The names, spellings, etc., were provided by the local people who guided me, and may differ from those found in official literature on the matter: I am merely presenting them as I saw and heard them in the field.

 To the Kalash Valley

Although the suspension bridge across the Kunar River has been replaced by a concrete bridge, the traditional Ayun “villagescape” remains. Continuing on the road, there is a place where you can see the highest peak of Hindu Kush, Tirich Mir (7,708m), and if you keep going, you will drive along the river off-road with some overhanging cliffs. Then, starting from a suspension bridge, the road leads to the Bumburet valley on the left and the Rumbur valley on the right.

The road to Kalash valley

The Joshi festival of Kalash includes several rituals.

Picking Bisha Flowers (Pushen Parik)

Children go into the mountains to pick bisha flowers for temple decorations and, in the case of the Bumburet valley, for the Chirik Pipi ceremony. The bisha is a member of the bean family Piptanthus Nepalensis, and blooms earlier than other flowers. For the Kalash people, it is considered the flower that heralds the arrival of spring.

Girl heading home after picking bisha flowers

Temple Decorations (Pushi Behak)

Decorating a house or temple with bisha flowers is called pushi behak. In the Rumbur Valley, people were gathering flowers until evening, and at around 8:00 p.m., children gathered together until the start of the decorating ceremony. Around 9:00 p.m., someone banged a drum and the children all began to dance. After about 30 minutes of dancing, the children moved to their sleeping places. Early in the morning around 3:00 a.m., children carrying bisha flowers amd walnut branches started walking to the Temple of Jestak Han. At the entrance of the temple, last year’s flowers were removed and everyone decorated the temple with new flowers and walnut branches. After the outside was finished, they went inside to the altars of the four clans of the village, situated in the corner of the temple. One child went up as a representative, took down the old flowers, and decorated the altars with new ones. Then they went out to the square and danced for about half an hour.

Children heading to the Temple with bisha flowers and walnut branches
Women adorn the outer walls of the Temple of Jestak Han. Jestak is the goddess of family life, family, and marriage; the residence in which this goddess lives is called Jestak Han.
Inside the Temple of Jestak Han. When last year’s flowers are taken down, the altars of the village’s four clans are revealed
Altars covered with new bisha flowers and walnut branches

Baby Purification Ceremony (Gul Parik) in the Rumbur Valley

Gul Parik in the Rumbur Valley is performed on babies born during the period between festivals. For the Gul Parik ceremony performed during the Joshi festival, this includes babies born between the Chaumos festival in December and the Joshi festival in May. The mother and baby are considered “impure” before this ceremony, and Gul Parik purifies them both, while also acting as a prayer for the health of the baby.

The man who performs the ceremony purifies himself and the place where he bakes the ceremonial bread. He makes the sacred walnut bread from special flour that has been purified and prepared for this ceremony, using similarly purified tools. At least five pieces of bread are baked for the men and five for the women (each with a different flour), and about twenty pieces are baked, including those to be served.

Purified flour, walnuts and rock salt prepared for baking sacred bread for women and men
Man crushing walnuts and rock salt
Sacred Walnut Bread

After the sacred walnut bread is baked, the mother and baby appear in the temple and the ceremony begins.

Gul Parik, Baby Purification Ceremony

It was an amazing experience to be in such a divine space and to witness the unique “world” of Kalash prayer.

Milk Ceremony (Chirik Pipi)

The Chirik Pipi in the Bumburet valley in the morning,  girls gather with milk containers and bisha flowers collected the day before. When the ceremony begins, all the children and ladies go to the sacred livestock shed. According to the villagers, this is sacred goat’s milk that has been stored since May 1st. It is then given out to the women. Normally, the Chirik Pipi song (flower song) is sung here, but I did not get the chance to hear it. There are not one but several livestock sheds, and we visited two of them. Afterwards, we witnessed a beautiful scene of villagers dancing with the mountains in the background.

Kalash people gather to sing and dance before the ceremony
Children gathered with milk containers in hand
Distribution of milk from purified livestock. Chirik Pipi Ceremony
Women coming out of a livestock shed decorated with bisha flowers after receiving milk
Women dancing after the ceremony

Baby Purification Ceremony (Gul Parik) in Bumburet Valley

The Gul Parik in Bumburet is a different style of ceremony from that in Rumbur. All babies and mothers born since last year’s Joshi festival are purified, and prayers are made for the health of the babies. (There are actually several purification ceremonies—this is the final stage of the purification.)

A basket of walnuts and dried mulberries is delivered from the house where the baby is born to the village center. When signaled, the women of the village and the mothers and babies who are to undergo the ritual move to the area near the livestock shed. Then, a man from the village who has been assigned to perform the ritual throws milk at the gathered women and babies to purify them.

After the ceremony, the women gather again in the center of village, where baskets of walnuts and mulberries are distributed to everyone, including the tourists! Then, everyone returns to their homes to prepare for the “small Joshi (festival)” of Bumburet to be held on the same day.

Carry a basket of walnuts and dried mulberries. In some villages, it may be cheese
Mother and baby on their way to the purification ceremony
The man (chir histau) on the roof purifies the women and their babies with milk. This ritual is called Chirhistic
Walnuts and mulberries being distributed. The dog in the photo stayed with them throughout the ceremony. It seems that the people of Kalash and their dogs are very closely connected

 Joshi Festival in the Rumbur Valley

After a series of ceremonies, the small Joshi festival (Satak Joshi) and the big Joshi festival (Gonna Joshi) are held. The festival is held in a covered venue and attracts a large number of tourists.

The small Joshi consists of repeated drumming, singing, and dancing, including Cha (a fast tempo song), Dushak (a slow tempo song), and the more complex Dalaija-i-lak, while the big Joshi includes a ceremonial performance at the end.

Kalash songs consist of drumming and singing, with limited melodic repetition. The lyrics are said to vary from ritualistic, to those touching on the mythology and history of Kalash, to those about love, and so on. The basic purpose of this music is to pray for a good harvest of milk and for the Kalash people to reaffirm their common identity.

At the end of the Joshi Festival, the special songs “Gandori” and “Daginai” are performed.

”Gandori” Both women and men hold walnut branches in their hands and wait for the moment to throw them

Daginai is a song that concludes the Joshi. It is a tragic love song, sung in a Cha melody. During the song, people dance in a chain connected by a string or cloth (originally woven from willow branches). It is said that if this chain breaks, it will bring misfortune, so everyone desperately grips the string. At the end, the sound of the drums suddenly stops, and all throw this cloth at once, ending the Joshi.

”Daginai” a dance connected by strings

Lyrics of “Daginai.” (From article of “Kalash Symphony ‘Joshi’,” by Reiko Kojima, published by National Museum of Ethnology Japan in 1991)


Daginai, o’er the great valley
Some moons before the fest of Uchal, to the mountain pasture I took
O Daginai, O Daginai
With white-hilt blade, my bare stomach pierc’d
O Daginai


The background of this song is a tragic love story that is familiar to all Kalash people.


Once upon a time, a man fell in love with his wife’s sister.

Overwhelmed by jealousy, the wife killed her sister using snake poison, all while her husband was out on the pasture.

By the time he returned, the snake’s poison had already turned his lover yellow as a bisha flower; no life remained in her body.

In the throes of his sorrow, he sang the song “Daginai” and threw himself belly-first upon a blade, ending his life.

The man and his love were placed in separate coffins to rest, but when the next morning came, they were found together, sleeping peacefully beside each other.

Stunned by this, the village people separated them, returning them to their proper places. The next day, however, the couple’s bodies were found reunited in the same coffin once again.

So strong was their love, that not even death could part them.


Young people in Kalash today

The Joshi Festival is also significant because it acts as a meeting place for men and women. Traditionally, after the Joshi Festival, people go to their summer pastures, meaning the Uchaw Festival in late August (which is held after they return) is where the romance really happens. During the Uchaw Festival, the same stage as the Joshi is used, but this time only young men and women dance at night—in the hopes of finding a partner.


A gentleman who has been attending the Kalash Spring Festival for more than 25 years told me that although the Kalash costumes and the lifestyle of the young people have changed, the rituals are still the same as they were 25 years ago.


Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA

Reference :”Kalash Symphony ‘Joshi’,” by Reiko Kojima, published by National Museum of Ethnology Japan in 1991)

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Re-discovering Afghanistan: Band-e Amir

Band-e Amir is a group of lakes located 75 km west of Bamiyan at an altitude of approximately 3,000 meters. Band-e Amir is so beautiful that it is often referred to as the ”Pearl of the Desert,” and is the most picturesque site in Afghanistan, which has many spectacular views.

The road from Bamiyan to Band-e Amir crosses the beautiful valleys and passes of Shahidan. In summer, the road offers spectacular views of the green meadows, which feature beautiful alpine vegetation and pastures. The road before the lake is now paved, making it much easier to access.

Watchtower of the Ghurid dynasty

Departing from Bamiyan, shortly after passing the checkpoint for the Kotal Aqrabat Pass, a watchtower dating back to the Islamic period can be seen in front of you. The watchtowers, dating back to the Ghurid dynasty in the 12th century, remain along the roads around Bamiyan.

Near Shahidan Pass

As you ascend the Shahidan pass, you will see the snow-capped mountains of the Hindu Kush, smooth green meadows, and grazing livestock.

Near Shahidan Pass

Healthy goats and sheep blessed with abundant water and grass!

Ruins of medieval buildings Qala-i-Shahidahn

Ruins of a medieval castle (fortress) in the village of Shahidan. It is a proof that people have been passing through the area as part of the “Silk Road” for a long time. There is also a small bazaar.

Girls running to school

There was also a school, the Hazara girls were just heading to class.

A boy carrying grass for fuel

From Shahidan, drive along a scenic road through Shebartu and Qarghanatu, and finally enter the road to Band-e Amir. A large gate has recently been built. From here, the road is unpaved.

Band-e Zulfiqar

Driving slowly along the dirt road, you will see a beautiful lake in front of you. This is the first view of Band-e Amir. This is part of Band-e Zulfiqar. You will be surprised at how beautiful the color blue can be as it appears in the midst of the desolate landscape.

The ticket office is just ahead, and further along the road, the viewpoint of the main lake, Band-e Haibat, appears.

Band-e Haibat

Band-e Haibat has a first and second parking lot (and a third on weekends…), accommodations, chaikhana, and even an amusement park of sorts. Since the new Taliban regime, the number of tourists from urban areas (especially Pashtuns) who never used to come to this area has increased, and the area has become so crowded that if you can choose the day of your visit, you should avoid the weekend.

Band-e Haibat

For domestic tourists, boat rides are one of the must-do activities when visiting Bande Amir.

Band-e Haibat

This is the 12-meter-high natural dam at Band-e Haibat. The wall (a natural dam) separating the lakes of Band-e Amir is composed of a calcium carbonate called travertine. Mineral-rich water seeping through faults and fissures in the rocky terrain has deposited layers of travertine that have been solidified over time, creating this natural dam.

Band-e Haibat fish

This is a fish from Band-e Haibat, though we’re not sure of the species. Band-e Haibat is the deepest of the six lakes, about 150 meters deep, according to a survey by a New Zealand diving team.

Water overflowing from Band-e Haibat

There are a total of six lakes in Band-e Amir. Of these, Band-e Qambar is almost dry.

Band-e Zulfiqar   (Lake of the sword of Ali)

Band-e Haibat  (Lake of grandiose)

Band-e Gholaman (Lake of the slaves)

Band-e Qambar (Lake of Caliph Ali’s slave)

Band-e Panir  (Lake of cheese)

Band-e Pudina  (Lake of wild mint)

here is a shrine on the banks of Band-e Haibat that is considered sacred as the place where Hazrat Ali spent the night, and people have been making pilgrimages to the lake for a long time. In the past few years, the area has been transformed from a pilgrimage site to a major tourist destination.

Natural dam between Band-e Haibat and Band-e Panir

Natural dam (travertine deposits) between Band-e Haibat (left), Band-e Paneer (right), and Band-e Pudina (top center right).

Band-e Paneer, Band-e Pudina

This photo shows Band-e Paneer and Band-e Pudina about 10 years ago. Now the topography seems to have changed a bit. Also, facilities for tourists have been built.

Walkway between lakes

A boardwalk built between Band-e Paneer and Band-e Pudina. It continues to Band-e Zulfiqar

Band-e Pair

Picnic huts built around Bande Paneer. For domestic tourists, having a picnic in Band-e Amir is like a dream come true.

The truly beautiful Band-e Amir has become a major tourist attraction—one that is very crowded on weekends. However, we are very concerned about the water pollution caused by the garbage left by domestic tourists and the washing the leftover food.

By the way, on the way to Band-e Amir, you may encounter some very beautiful sights, such as the local Hazara people on the move.

A Hazara family traveling on donkeys. The red color stands out in the desolate landscape.
Transporting grass for fuel

We hope you enjoyed this showcase of the spectacular Band-e Amir and the Hazara people who live there. Afghanistan is always undergoing great changes, but we hope that all the ethnic groups living in Afghanistan can live in peace.


Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Afghanistan, Bamiyan and Band-e Amir.

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Butkara I – Gandhara Site of the Swat Valley

Butkara I is an archaeological site in the Swat Valley, which was one of the centers of Gandhara. It is known for its main stupa, which dates back to the 3rd century B.C. to King Ashoka of the Maurya Empire, and for the 272 votive stupas that surround it. Butkara I has not only a group of stupas, but also a monastery and other buildings—though that part has not yet been excavated, and houses have already been built on top of it.

The site was excavated between 1956 and 1962 by the Italian Archaeological Mission and the Department of Archaeology of the Government of Pakistan. The site dates back to the 3rd century B.C. during the Maurya Empire and is believed to have been in use until around the 11th century A.D.

The main stupa, with its circular Sanchi-shaped base, was enlarged five times over the centuries, with the oldest part, a 3rd century B.C. Maurya Empire stupa. Part of the excavation site reveals the process of its expansion.

Around the main stupa, there is a path that devotees walked along to the right. The visitors must have worshipped not only the stupa but also the reliefs carved on the drum.

The paths around the stupa are covered with paving stones, and some of them still have glass decorations.

This seated Buddha relief was excavated from a layer containing coins of Azes II of the Indo-Scythians, dated 35-12 B.C., so the relief is considered to date to the late 1st century B.C. or early posterior AD. Conservative archaeologists believe it dates to the 1st or 2nd century AD, since the Buddha image is believed to have appeared later. The origin of the Buddha image has always been one of the major themes of Gandhara art. The date of the Buddha image’s appearance continues to be debated.

Let’s take a look at the votive stupa surrounding the main stupa. This votive stupa is a small stupa-shaped structure built around the main stupa. It is thought to have been donated by the royalty and nobility of the time. Votive stupas were also objects of worship at that time.

This is part of the relief on the square base of the votive stupa. This figure may be a depiction of the Great Departure from the life of the Buddha, in which the beloved horse Kanthaka is licking Siddhartha’s feet and farewells him. This votive stupa may have been decorated with motifs favored by the donor.

Relief of grapes on a votive stupa

The head of a tiger depicted in relief. In the lower right is a delicately carved Corinthian capital.

Tigers are believed to have become extinct in Pakistan around 1900. At that time, Bengal tigers must have roamed the rich Swat forests.

Relief of a person holding a bowl in a memorial service.

Relief of a votive stupa, Triratna (the Three Jewels). It depicts the three chakras which represent the Dharma, the Buddha, and the Sangha, as objects of worship.

The motif is not known due to the large number of missing parts. The material used for the sculpture is generally green phyllite.

Here are some of the Butkara I artifacts on display at the Swat Museum. I picked out some items that are unique to Swat.

Artifacts from Butkara I: A panel showing a scene from the life of Buddha: Siddhartha Going to School. This scene in Gandhara depicts him going to school riding on a sheep. Sometimes he rides directly on the sheep, and sometimes he rides in a sheep-led cart. So far, no theories seem to explain the reason for this.

Artifact from Butkara I: A female figure of an aristocrat of the time. She is wearing a very gorgeous hair ornament, showing the Swat customs of the time.

Artifact from Butkara I: Likewise, a statue that seems to represent an aristocratic woman of the time. The costume and decoration of the woman holding a lotus flower in one hand is beautifully depicted.

Artifact from Butkara I: This relief used to be at the site but was moved to the Swat Museum. In the scene of Siddhartha’s supposed “Engagement,” the prince Siddhartha stands in the center, the rightmost figure is a shy Yashodhara, and beside him is the priest that introduces Yashodhara. To the left of Siddhartha is a kneeling Mara and around her are Mara’s three daughters. Mara is depicted as a symbol of worldliness and a preventer of Siddhartha’s enlightenment.

Corinthian capital. It depicts a woman, possibly the donor, with acanthus leaves.

The Swat Museum has rooms for exhibiting artifacts from Barikot, the Saidu Sharif Stupa, and Butkara I. Please take your time to visit the museum.

↓↓ Butkara – Gandhara site of Pakistan

Butkara I – Although now surrounded by residential areas, a record of a visit by the Chinese monk Song Yun in AD 520 describes the very ornate Butkara Stupa complex.


Image & text: Mariko SAWADA

References: The Life of Buddha, by Isao Kurita, etc.

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Category : = Video Clip KPK > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Swat
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Re-discovering Afghanistan : The Kyrgyz Buzkashi, Wakhan Corridor

Buzkashi being held on the shores of Lake Chaqmaqtin, Wakhan corridor, in summer. It is practised among the Kyrgyz peoples of the Wakhan corridor at weddings as well as during Eid, the Islamic festival of sacrifice.

>Re-discovering Afghanistan: Wakhan Corridor, and the Kyrgyz in the Afghan Pamir


Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan, in which two groups of horse riders compete for a goat. In Persian, it means exactly what it sounds like: goat = buz , pulling= kashi. I saw buz kashi on the last day of my three-days stay in a Kyrgyz camp. That was the day when the men I had seen in the camp mounted their horses and, suddenly for the first time, began to looked cool to me. To be honest, up until that point I had felt that while the women were working from the morning milking and making Qurut, the men weren’t doing much to help …

↑↑The Kyrgyz buzkashi being held amidst the spectacular scenery of the Wakhan corridor.

From 1996 to 2001, when the former Taliban (not the current Taliban regime) was in control, many entertainment activities were banned as ‘immoral’ and buzkashi was also banned. Buzkashi has since been revived and is now a major national event, with tournaments organised in each state. While in big cities buzkashi is sometimes held in stadiums in costumes with sponsors’ logos, in rural areas buzkashi is purely a traditional event for people to enjoy.

People heading to  wedding .

A sheep being dismembered for a wedding celebration meal.

Kyrgyz girls carrying sheep meat.

A man and his child who came to celebrate and participate in the buzkashi.

Everyone praying and offering food before the Buzkashi. Milk tea and fried bread were served.

Children at play until the buzkashi starts.

A Kyrgyz boy who wants to try buzkashi.

After prayers and food offerings, the buzkashi finally begins.

A goat with its head cut off. The goat used was not the one killed on the day, but a stuffed goat that was prepared in the village for buzkashi.

The goat is thrown down to the earth and the contest begins.

It requires strength and skill to pull this goat up from the ground with one hand and ride while holding it. During all this, the whip is held in the mouth.

Competing for the goat.

Family watching the game over a cup of tea.

Participants also take a break, to have some milk tea.

After a break, they return to thebuzkashi.

Kyrgyz buzkashi, performed amidst the spectacular mountain scenery of the Wakhan corridor.


Image & Text : Mariko SAWADA

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“Alter Rock”, Thalpan – Petroglyphs along the Indus River

The Altar Rock at Thalpan is located on the sandy north bank of the Indus River. The rock is carved with motifs, mainly animal rather than Buddhist motifs. This is a fascinating example of Petroglyphs from the ancient Silk Road.

Since ancient times, Thalpan has had many visitors who come and go through this area.  It was the nomads who first chose this site to carve. The rock face in front of the Alter Rock may have been used as a veritable ‘altar’, with various animals and slaughter scenes depicted.
These Petroglyphs with non-Buddhist motifs are thought to date from the mid-1st millennium BC.

overall view of Alter Rock

One of the Petroglyphs that stands out on this Altar Rock is this image of a Warrior with Sacrifice. It appears to be a scene of a man slaughtering an  animal (many sources call it a goat, but as an animal lover, it looks like an ibex to me). The figure of a Central Asian-style man holding a large knife is very distinctive.

The man’s dress is thought to be that of an equestrian nomad of the time, and it has been suggested that he may be from the Parthia, a dynasty that flourished on the Iranian plateau from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD.

This animal sacrifice (or slaughter) Petroglyphs motif suggests that the influence of Central Asian peoples was stronger than the influence of Buddhism, which forbids the killing of animals.

This is a designed horse or unicorn with its forelegs bent at 45 degrees.

This pose, called “Knielauf,” was used in ancient Greece to depict a flying condition and was also popular in Achaemenid Persian art. The horse’s mane and tail are braided, giving them an appearance of bows.

Is it a designed ibex? The circular eyes are also an Iranian expression.

This shows a deer-like creature with antler and a predator with two tails chasing it. As a wildlife observer in Pakistan, it looks like a snow leopard attacking an ibex on a cliff to me. What is interesting, is that there is a head of a snake, at the end of the jagged line that also looks like a cliff.

One theory is that it shows an ibex in trouble, with a snake in front, a snow leopard behind, plus a hunter and his dogs, and nowhere to go.”

Such wavy designs are said to be a common feature of the art of the Altai region in southern Siberia.

The presence of Petroglyphs with Iranian elements at Altar Rock is not surprising, as Gandhara and Taxila were already satraps of the Achaemenid period. It is surprising that there was interaction between the Altai region of southern Siberia and this Indus region in the north, across one of the most mountainous regions in the world.

Petroglyphs from Thalpan Zyarat depict motifs from the Okunev culture of southern Siberia.

A large Buddha figure with a halo is seated with four smaller seated Buddha figures, also all with halos.

Each Buddha is in Dhayana Mudra sign and their garments cover their shoulders, with gracefully drawn parallel robe crests. Such garment crests are similar to designs found in the Gupta empire art, which flourished in India between AD 320 – 550.

A creature, possibly an ibex, is depicted on the same rock, and its movement and direction suggest that the ibex was carved first, and then the Buddha image was carved on top of it.

The west panel is also covered with Petroglyphs.

The Alter Rocks are the masterpieces of the Indus River Petroglyphs.

As we posted in previous blogs, it is such a shame that these rock carvings will be lost forever due to the construction of the dam.


Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA

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Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Indus river bank > ◇ Rock carvings / Petroglyph
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Hunza, “Shangri-la” surrounded by apricot blossoms

In late March, the Hunza Valley is blanketed in pale pink apricot blossoms. The fields are green with wheat sprouts. After the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Hunza was ruled by a dynasty until 1974. The valley is inhabited by the people of Brusho, who speak Brushaski.

Hunza is touted as the “Shangri-la” and is known as the “Village of Longevity.” This beauty and the life of this village supported by fruit trees, may be the “secret of longevity” that it is famous for.

Burushaski, the language spoken by the people of Brusho, is an “isolated language” that has not been found to be associated with any other language. It is said that they are the descendants of language groups that existed in this area before the arrival of the Indo-Aryan people. Burushashki-speakers also live in the Hunza Valley, the Nagar Valley across the Hunza River, the Yasin Valley leading to the Wakhan Corridor, and the Ishkoman Valley.

This is a view of the center of Baltit village. In the past, large buildings were limited to the surrounding of the Baltit Fort, which was the castle of the feudal lord, and the Darbar Hotel, but now large buildings (hotels) are becoming more prominent.

Rakaposhi peak (7,788m) seen from Baltit Village. It is in a mountain in the Nagar Valley on the opposite bank of the Hunza River and is a famous peak that can be viewed from everywhere in Hunza.

Also Diran Peak (7,266m) as seen from Baltit Village.

I walked between Altit Village and Duiker Hill, where the flowering apricots bloom.

The apricots in full bloom. You can see just how important the apricot trees are in the lives of the villagers, the fruit, its seeds and the oil taken from the seeds.

Altit Village was covered with many apricot trees. You can meet the beautiful villagers while walking around the village. The people of Hunza  are white in appearance and many of them have light hair.

I met such lovely children this day.

For lunch that day, we had local Hunza cuisine prepared at  Amin’s house in Baltit Village.

Photographer Toshiki Nakanishi had just come to Hunza for a phototour, where he was taking pictures of the local cuisine as it was being made.

Here they were preparing Dowdo soup, a dish representative of Hunza.

They made such a delicious cheese chapatti (called Burus Sapik in Burushaski). Hunza cheese, mint, tomato, green onion, onion and fruit oil wrapped in wheat chapatti. It is very healthy, and it is recommended for vegetarians who come to Pakistan and have trouble finding things to eat.

Today’s lunch. Local cuisine with plenty of fruit oil and Hunza’s local wine are so wonderful.


Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: March 2023, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

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Re-discovering Afghanistan: the majestic Minaret of Jam

One of the two World Heritage Sites in Afghanistan, Jam minaret and archaeological remains of Jam in the mountains of Ghor Province, the site is not easily accessible neither from Bamiyan nor Herat, and can only be reached by a long drive on rough roads.

It is called a “minaret and archaeological site,” but it is unclear if it is actually a minaret. There is no mosque (perhaps there was an open-type mosque), and there are many opinions, including that it may be a victory tower built over a pre-Islamic pagan holy site.
It could well be Firozkoh of the legendary city, according to one of hypothesis.

There were three main capitals in Ghurid dynasty, Ghazni, Bamiyan, and Firozkoh. The location of one of those three, Firozkoh, is not known, and it is speculated that the ruins near the minaret may be the site of that capital. Incidentally, Chaghcharan in Ghor Province has recently changed its name to Firozkoh and has become a gateway town for tourists visiting the Minaret of Jam from the Bamiyan side.

Remains of buildings on the rocky hill by the minaret. The watchtower is clearly visible.

The Minaret of Jam was built during the reign of the Ghurid dynasty that ruled from Afghanistan to northwestern India, reaching the peak of its power from 1150 to 1215 and reached its peak during the reign of the 12th century king, Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad (1162-1203) and his brother Mu’ izz ad-Din Muhammad (1203-1206). The dynasty was divided after the death of these brothers, and the capital was destroyed by Genghis Khan’s army in 1221. In 1943, the governor of Herat publicized the site, and finally in 1957, the Afghan Historical Society and the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan visited and “discovered” this valuable site.

The Minaret of Jam is 65 meters high and has three levels.

The site is located at the confluence of two rivers, Harirud and Jam, which has eroded the foundation and tilted the slim tower slightly. The Minaret of Jam is the only remaining structure from the Ghurid dynasty and is very important for understanding Islamic architecture in the medieval period. It was registered as a World Heritage Site (Heritage in Crisis) in 2002.

The Minaret of Jam has three levels, each level separated by a balcony corbel and topped by a circular arcade of six arches.

Six arches arcade at the top

The first tier up to around 37m is elaborately decorated with molded buff-colored brick reliefs.

The octagonal base of the minaret is 14.5 meters in diameter and 65 meters high, with a tapered tower made of baked bricks. The eight vertical panels corresponding to the octagonal base are superbly done with molded bricks. The rich variety of geometric and plant patterns developed in Bukhara. The most amazing feature is the Arabic Kufi script, in which the entire inscription band of the 19th sura of the Koran (or  Qur’an, the holy scripture of Islam), the chapter of Maryam, is represented from one panel to another.

Kufi Arabic, a manifestation of the 19th chapter of the Koran, surrounds the panel and goes on and on and on.Just below the first balcony is a bright Persian blue kufi inscription, the only colored inscription on the surface, declaring the names of the rulers who spearheaded the construction of this minaret. “Ghiyasuddin Mahammad ibn Sam, Sultan Magnificent! King of Kings!” The architect’s name is also inscribed in small letters: “Ali, son of…”.

The name of the founder appear, “Ghiyasuddin Mahammad ibn Sam, Sultan Magnificent! King of Kings!”

The Qutub Minar in Delhi, India, is the world’s tallest minaret (72.5 m) made of bricks, built around 1200 during the Delhi Sultanate, whose founder, Quṭb al-Dīn Aybak, served the Ghurid dynasty. The minaret of Qutub Minar was built under the influence of the minaret of Jam. Conversely, there is a “Ghazni minaret” in Ghazni of Ghazna Dynasty, and the Minaret of Jam was constructed under the influence of this minaret.

Qurub Minar (Delhi), which was inspired by the Minaret of Jam.
Ghazni’s minaret that inspired and influenced the minaret of Jam.

It used to be possible to climb the spiral staircase inside the minaret, but the entrance is now closed, no longer inaccessible.The view of the “Minaret of Jam” at the end of a long and rough journey is breathtaking and full of archeological awe and majectic beauty.


Image & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Reference :”An historical guide to Afghanistan ” Nancy Hatch Dupree

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Climbing Shatung Peak, a 5,000-meter summit on Deosai Plateau

We finally fulfilled our long-cherished dream to climb Shatung Peak in the Deosai Plateau. That became possible only inn summer 2023, while in summer 2020 the tour was cancelled due to Covid -19 pandemic, when international flights were put to a halt. Overcoming the aftermath of pandemic and a tough route, we were able to reach the summit. We are tremendously grateful to our climbing guides and porters from Satpara village for their gracious support.

360-degree panoramic view from the summit. Feel like a high altitude climber!

From Chilas, we drove up to the Deosai Plateau through the Astor Valley. On the way, we were astonished by the view of  Nanga Parbat (8,126m), the 9th highest peak on the planet. On the Deosai Plateau, we camped by the beautiful Sheosar Lake, from where this majestic peak was visible. The lake is a very beautiful peaceful place, but sadly many local tourists were enjoining loud music until late at night. The next morning we entered an area with no other visitors in sight and found the original Deosai Plateau.

The first part of the climb was a relatively easy route, with patches of buttercups and primroses. Little did we know that a difficult scree slope was awaiting.

The mountain en route is dotted with lakes in a very beautiful valley. The snowy mountain in front is Shatung Peak, and we are aiming exactly there!

We walked through a patch of primrose to the camp. It was easy up to this point.

We arrived at Camp 1 on the scree slope. Now where shall we pitch our tents?

Sleeping on the snow is generally much more comfortable than sleeping on scree. Finally, we will challenge the summit early tomorrow morning!

The route from Camp 1 to the summit is this slope, covered with a mass of smaller loose stones. The climb is steep and strenuous.

The view is spectacular when you stop and look back.

Beyond the mountains is Kashmir on the Indian side. Srinagar is also very close. The famous peaks of the Indian Himalaya, Nun peak and Kun Peak were also visible.

The world’s 9th highest peak, Nanga Parbat 8,126m, is on the left.

The steep climb up the scree slope is almost over. The ridge is getting closer.

Once on the ridge, all that remained was to climb up the snowy ridge. The sun was getting high in the sky.

We successfully climbed Shatung Peak (5,260m) with 5 core team members, guides, and porters! Nanga Parbat is in the background!

From the summit, we could see K2 and the Baltoro Mountains. From summit we could see all five of the 8,000 peaks in Pakistan: Nanga Parbat (8,126m), K2 (8,611m), Broad Peak (8,051m), Gasherbrum I (8,068m), and Gasherbrum II (8,034m). The weather was fine, with no wind. Forgetting about the steep scree slope that awaited us, we stayed at the summit for about an hour and enjoyed this blissful moment.


Image & text : Tomoaki TSUTSUMI

Tour conducted in July 2023, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

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Category : - Nanga Parbat > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan
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Re-discovering Afghanistan: Wakhan Corridor, and the Kyrgyz in the Afghan Pamir

Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan is the “last frontier” for travelers who love unexplored areas. Unpaved rough road, bumby and dusty, has been completed to Lake Chaqmaqtin. Now it became possible to drive to Little Pamir, the home of the Kyrgyz people. The four-day trek has become to take a four-hour 4WD trip. See the lifestyle of the Kyrgyz people living on the plateau with your own eyes – as it is rapidly changing,  some old traditions and charming rustic lifestyle may get diluted and disappear in modernity.

Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan corridor is a long and narrow territory, in a way a corridor in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. It is a mountainous plateau where the source of the Amu Darya river originates, and in summer, plentiful water and meadows appear and are called “Pamir”. This idyllic pastoral landscape has a lot of historical significance.
This corridor-like borderline was created in 1873, when the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire was drawn along the Panj and Pamir rivers. Twenty years later, in 1893 the border (the Durand Line) between Afghanistan and the British Indian Empire (now Pakistan) was drawn. It was the buffer zone for the “Great Game” between Russian and British empires at that time.

The landcape around Lake Chaqmaqtin
Bozai Gumbaz, old Kyrgyz tomb situated at the confluence of the Wakhjir River ( the source of the Amu Darya) and the Wakhan River.

In the Wakhan corridor, Wakhi people live from Ishkashim to Sarhad at altitude 2,500 – 3,300 meters, while Kyrgyz people live in the “Pamir” above 4,000 meters above sea level.

The area around Lake Chaqmaqtin is called “Little Pamir” and the plateau along the Pamir River from the Tajikistan border to Lake Zorkul is called “Big Pamir”. Both are mountainous plateaus. In the Little Pamirs, used to the seasonal nomadic element in their traditional lifestyle, Kyrgyz live to south of the lake in the summer, and move north of the lake in the winter.

Kyrgyz family with Lake in the background


Kyrgyz people in Wakhan Corridor

The Kyrgyz are Turkic people living in Central Asia. There have long been small groups of Kyrgyz who came to the Afghan Pamirs in search of summer grazing lands, but many Kyrgyz moved to the Afghan Pamirs during the Russian Revolution of 1917.They then created a lifestyle of seasonal small migrations in this largely isolated region. Later, when China was founded in 1949 and the communist government of Afghanistan was established in 1978, there were cross-border ethnic migrations, and it is said that about 1,300~1,400 Kyrgyz people are currently living in Afghan Pamir. Recently, people who feared the Taliban temporarily moved to the Tajikistan border after the establishment of the new Taliban regime in 2021, but they have returned after hearing that their lives and livestock would be protected.

According to the shura, a village authority in Andamin settlement, Little Pamir has 28 settlements. There used to be 500 people living in Little Pamir and about 800 people in Big Pamir, but about 3 years ago, people moved from Big Pamir to Little Pamir and now there are 1,150 people living in Little Pamir. This move might have happened partially due to the completion of the new road in 2020.

Kyrgyz people living around Lake Chaqmaqtin

Life on the plateau: harsh environment

On the way from Ishkashim to Sarhad, we met a Kyrgyz man who asked for help. According to the man, his wife, who had given birth in Pamir, was not feeling well and the clinic told him to go to a hospital in Ishkashim. “I have no money”, he said.
Some Kyrgyz people get things in exchange for sheep and other livestock with merchants visiting the Pamirs and have no cash. They need money to “get in the car and go to the hospital.” At this time, we could only give money and pray for the safety of this person’s wife.

In the village, we also met parents who lost their children and a man who lost his wife. And there were very few old people. We realized that they live in a harsh environment.

Kyrgyz Boy

The Kyrgyz people of the Afghan Pamirs are not self-sufficient. They raise livestock, produce dairy products, and obtain what they need from merchants who come to the Pamirs (Wakhi people from the Wakhan corridor, and Pashtoon people from the south). They exchange or sell their livestock and dairy products to obtain goods and cash for their daily needs. In many cases, the exchange of sheep is concluded with a promise to receive this year’s lambs next year.

Goats and sheep raised by the Kyrgyz people
Kyrgyz yak. Compared to the yaks of Pakistan, the Kyrgyz yaks are noticeably bigger
Making a dairy product called Qurut

Before the new Taliban regime (2021), there was trade with Chapruson, Pakistan. Every year 500 yaks and Qurut (a type of dried cottage cheese) made during the summer were sold. Now they sell sheep and goats to traders coming from Kabul and other part of Afghanistan and say they are looking forward to resuming trade with Chapruson.

Kyrgyz Women’s Summer Life

Kyrgyz women take care of the offspring of livestock born in the spring and early summer, milking them and making dairy products for a living. In the morning, the milking begins around 8 to 8:30 am. After that, the women wash dishes in the river, bake Naan bread, and make Qurut (cottage cheese which they will dry later for sale). Bargaining with merchants from the Wakhan corridor and southern Afghanistan is also part of the fun. The women like to buy fancy fabrics and wear new clothes for every important occasion. The merchants seem to have a good grasp of what suits their tastes. In comparison, men in Kyrgyzstan wear mainly “second-hand clothes” and look very plain.

milking a yak

Beauty, the life of the Kyrgyz

On our trip to Little Pamir, we spent four days in a settlement where a small group of Kyrgyz people live. Not only did we visit the yurts, but the children and families of the Kyrgyz came to visit our camp, interest in what we have and what we eat. Some of the children were so curious that they stayed at our camp from morning till night, while others could only come with their parents.

They milked yaks in the morning, washed clothes, made Qurut cottage cheese, baked Naan bread, and visited friends in their spare time.

Woman washing her hair while her older relative is making Qurut from fresh milk
Young Kyrgyz lady washing her hair
In the yurt where the Kyrgyz live
Girls washing dishes
Children visiting our campsite

A merchant who has been coming to Pamir for more than 20 years said: “There are people who became poor after the road was built.” and “I saw the guy who became poor because they sold a lot of yak and bought cars, which later broke down”.The construction of the road has probably attracted more traders than before, and the number of cash transactions has increased. While some people have become poor, some Kyrgyz families with cars and livestock seem to have become rich. The disparity is clearly on the rise.

Kyrgyz girl holding a baby goat

The Kyrgyz people’s way of life in the wilderness of Wakhan is absolutely fascinating. These nomads of the Afghan Pamirs have a lot of resilience and the history of coexisting and interacting with other ethnicities.


Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

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