EMPIRE OF THE SPIRIT | PAKISTAN AND THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION
At 15,397 feet above sea level, the Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border crossing in the world, and our ancient, rattling public bus creaked and groaned up to it through spectacular mountain scenery, around hairpin bends with terrifying drops...
Welcome to part II of my Journey to the West, a six-week overland trip from Beijing, China, to Islamabad, Pakistan.
Click on photos to enlarge.
2001 Silk Road Slideshows
- Silk Road Slideshow (1) Xian to Kashgar | 138 Photos
- Silk Road Slideshow (2) Kashgar to Pakistan Border | 57 Photos
- Silk Road Slideshow (3) Pakistan Border to Islamabad | 107 Photos
- Taxila Archaeological Site, Pakistan | 21 Photos
- Harappa Archaeological Site, Pakistan | 23 Photos
- Resized for this page 1800 x 1200 | 70 Photos
The Karakoram Highway to Pakistan | Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, Xinjiang, China
Passing through the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous country on the notorious Karakoram Highway (KKH), I spent one night at this final Chinese outpost at 3,090 m/10,140 ft on my Journey to the West. According to the Chinese bus driver, the Pakistan border was an estimated 10 hour drive, depending on the changing conditions of the road.
Much of the Karakoram Highway was a narrow, rugged track, chiseled out of an unstable complex of different types of rock formed through violent seismic activity and extreme weather. I witnessed massive landslides, ice avalanches, and unpredictable flooding, and these events delayed the two-day crossing from Kashgar, China, several times.
From interpretation signage posted along the way, I learned that the Karakoram Highway was developed by Pakistani and Chinese engineers, and took 20 years and over 1,000 lives to construct, with particular hardship occurring in the remote areas of Pakistani‐controlled Kashmir.
Indeed, things didn't always go as planned when travelling the Silk Road, a common theme in the journals of ancient Chinese monks, such as Xuan Zang, the who traveled this very route in the mid-seventh century.
Half way to the Pakistan border from Tashkurgan, the bus was forced to stop at a section of road that had been washed out from a flash flood during the night.
In the spirit of the monks and merchants of yesteryear who had experienced great challenges on the Silk Road, I felt it was a great opportunity to get off the bus and get my hands dirty. Fortunately, the road workers allowed me to help them construct the cages of rocks in wire needed to temporarily repair the road so we could pass.
The Khunjerab Pass | Sino-Pakistani border
At 4,693 m/15,397 ft above sea level, the Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border crossing in the world, and our ancient, rattling public bus creaked and groaned up to it through spectacular mountain scenery, around hairpin bends with terrifying drops.
The Hunza Valley | Gilgit-Baltistan
The first evening in Pakistan, I arrived in the Hunza Valley with my new Pakistani guide, Iqbal, and driver, Usman (featured image at top of page). Waking up at first light and walking outside, I was stunned by the view of Rakaposhi, towering 7,788 m/25,551 ft above, surrounded by deep blue sky.
The Hunza is a high-mountain sanctuary fed by glacial streams and known for the longevity of its people. In the morning, I woke to views of snowcapped mountain peaks, melting glaciers, and fertile valleys with apple, apricot, and pear orchards. The headwaters of the fertile Hunza River, rich with minerals from the high glaciers, sparkled on the valley floor, it's waters flowing to join the Indus from Tibet.
Landslides from sedimentary rock, shale, and glacial debris shaken lose from earthquakes characterize the landscape, and it is logical to assume this led to the name Karakoram, Turkish for black gravel, given by early Central Asian traders. Today, K for Karakoram, stands for the second highest mountain in the world, K-2.
My driver, Usman, said to me, with his eyes peeled to the road, “I use both eyes, one for the road, one for falling rocks.” He suggested buckling my seat belt: “Muslims believe that life is very precious.”
The junction point of three greatest mountain ranges of the world
Following the Gilgit River south, we reached a place that geographers dream about – the junction point of the three highest mountain ranges in the world.
In the photo below, the ranges are as follows: Himalayas (right), the Karakoram (distant center), and the Hindu Kush (left).
This was also my first glimpse of the Indus River (right) as it emerges from the Tibetan Plateau. The Gilgit River is on the left.
Taxila | Archaeological site visit
As described on my Silk Road page, the UNESCO-listed Taxila was one of the most ancient universities in the world, where people from all over Asia came to study medicine, religion, and science. Instruction was available in at least five different languages, and this multicultural environment contributed to the pre-eminence of Taxila as a center of learning by the 5th century BCE.
The Jaulian Monastery
The Jaulian Monastery is the treasure of Taxila, an ancient education and art center with preserved stupas depicting Greek, Indian and Chinese cultural images. The site was of special interest to archaeologist Sir John Marshall (discussed below).
A place of ancient pilgrimage, my local Muslim guide compared it to Mecca, "Many people in history made a great journey to reach this location."
Sir John Marshall (1876-1958)
Any account of the research and excavations at Taxila, and the Indus Valley Civilization sites of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, would be incomplete without mentioning Sir John Marshall, the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1902 to 1928. He was the first person in modern times to recognize the significance of these abandoned cities, and worked extensively to document, protect, and popularize these mysterious ancient sites.
During my site visit at Taxila, I had the opportunity to personally interview the grandson of Basharai Khan, who was Sir John Marshal's personal assistant. Alongside learning about Marshal's fieldwork, I was also fortunate to visit the Taxila museum, which he founded in 1918.
The works of Sir John Marshall in PDF
John Marshall’s outstanding work is currently online and publicly available at: Archive.org.
Below, I have provided direct links to three relevant books from Sir John Marshall’s legacy.
- Marshall, J. (ed.) (1931). Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization. | 30Mb
- Marshall, J. (1951). Taxila: An illustrated account of archaeological excavations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. | 65Mb
- Marshall, J. (1960). The Buddhist art of Gandhara: the story of the early school, its birth, growth and decline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. | 65Mb
Gandhāra Civilization | Greco-Buddhist art
Academic Resource Online | Gandhara Sculpture from Pakistan Museums
In 1960, a comprehensive exhibition of Gandharan sculpture was brought to America. Subsequently, sixty-five free-standing and relief sculptures dating from the 2nd -5th centuries A.D. were photographed, catalogued and published as Gandhara Sculpture from Pakistan Museums. The book visually represents the golden age of Gandhara, when the flourishing Buddhist colonies created some of the first representations of the Buddha in human form. Benjamin Rowland, Harvard University,1960
The Indus River Valley Civilization | Harappa
Continuing to travel south from the Taxila archaeological sites, I began to understand what makes the Indus River Valley such a unique area of historical significance, and why the entire subcontinent is named after it. This valley was the cradle of many great Indian cultures, not only Hindu, Jain and Buddhist, but also older and more mysterious cultures whose scripts remain undeciphered.
A day's drive south from Taxila and the capital city of Islamabad, I felt like a time-traveler, heading back thousands of years before the 2000-year-old Gandhara Civilization to experience first-hand the 5000-year-old Harappa archaeological site and the Indus Valley Civilization, an enigmatic slice of ancient history that has profoundly influenced the way people think throughout Asia and the world.
Harappa | Archaeological site visit
Beginning over five thousand years ago, the UNESCO-listed site of Harappa was once one of the world’s most important cities and cultural centers.
Through personal interview with my Pakistani guide, Shafik Malik, he told me a story of a young Sir John Marshall working on a British railroad project in the area:
"Villagers were bringing wheelbarrows loaded with red bricks for use as fill under the railroad tracks, and Marshall, suspecting that they looked unusual, asked where they came from. The villagers told him about a place where there were scores of old bricks spread out all over the land, and no one had idea where they were actually from. Marshall went to investigate..."
Since the discovery and excavation of the site in 1921 by Marshall, Harappa has come to be recognized as one of the oldest and most important civilizations and archaeological sites in the world.
UNESCO divides Harappa’s history into five key phases:
c. 3300-2800 BCE – Ravi
c. 2800-2600 BCE – Early Harappan
c. 2600-1900 BCE – Harappan
c. 1900-1800 BCE – Transitional
c. 1800-1300 BCE – Late Harappan
As explained by Mr. Malik and outlined in the interpretation signage at the site, the earliest settlement at Harappa was the Ravi phase, founded on an ancient levee of the river Ravi between 3500 and 3300 BCE.
With more than a decade of experience working at Harappa, I wanted to know more about Malik's personal feelings about the site:
“At 2600 BC the Harappa Civilization is magnificent, a great city center with monumental public buildings, craft areas, bazaars, and connecting trade routes to the world... Small manufactured seals still puzzle us with undeciphered inscriptions… When I think about Harappa, I get a mystic feeling.”
Archaeological work on the Ravi phase has revealed that these early inhabitants imported stone from what is now Afghanistan and western India, and shells from the Arabian Sea to make beads. They manufactured earthenware vessels and figurines of clay by hand.
Pakistan Photo Journal | June 2001
The 15 photos shown below were taken during the drive south from the Sino-Pakistani border to Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.
Personal photos and PDF presentations
- Gandhara and the Buddha Image | Presentation
- Harappa Archaeological Site | Maps
- Harappa Archaeological Site | Photos
- Harappa Archaeological Site | Presentation
- Pakistan Webpage | Photos
- Silk Road (1) Xian to Kashgar | Photos
- Silk Road (2) Kashgar to Pakistan Border | Photos
- Silk Road (3) Pakistan Border to Islamabad | Photos
- Taxila Archaeological Site | Photos
- Taxila Archaeological Site | Presentation
- Taxila Archaeological Site | Personal Interview
- Ancient History | Gandhara Civilization
- Ancient History | Indus Valley Civilization
- Ancient History | Taxila
- Archaeology Online
- Archive.org | Marshall (1931) Mohenjo-Daro
- Archive.org | Marshall (1936) Taxila
- BBC Bitesize | Indus Valley
- Gandhara Sculpture from Pakistan Museums
- Oxford Scholarship | Roots of Hinduism
- UNESCO | Harrapa
- UNESCO | Moenjodaro
- UNESCO | Taxila
Mohenjo Daro 101 | National Geographic 3:14
Thank you for visiting my Pakistan Page.
If you feel motivated to know more about the Silk Road or other Learning Adventures, or would like to arrange for me to give a public talk, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.