ROUTE INFORMATION – T.B.D.: Summer 2019
- Alexandria Eschate, Tajikistan
- Alexandria in Margiana (Merv), Turkmenistan
The Pamir Mountains are a mountain range in Central Asia, at the junction of the Himalayas with the Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, Hindu Kush, Suleman, and Hindu Raj ranges. Tajikistan is home to some of the highest mountains in the world, including the Pamir and Alay ranges. 93% of Tajikistan is mountainous with altitudes ranging from 300 m (980 ft) to almost 7,500 m (24,600 ft), and nearly 50% of Tajikistan’s territory is above 3,000 m (9,800 ft).
The massive mountain ranges are cut by hundreds of canyons and gorges at the bottom of which run streams that flow into larger river valleys where the majority of the country’s population lives and works. The Pamirs in particular are heavily glaciated, and Tajikistan is home to the largest non-polar glacier in the world, the Fedchenko Glacier.
The Pamir Mountains lie mostly in the Gorno-Badakhshan province of Tajikistan. To the north, they join the Tian Shan mountains along the Alay Valley of Kyrgyzstan. To the south, they border the Hindu Kush mountains along Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. To the east, they extend to the range that includes China’s Kongur Tagh, in the “Eastern Pamirs”, separated by the Yarkand valley from the Kunlun Mountains.
The Pamir Highway captivating route was once part of the historic Silk Road. The M41, known informally and more commonly as the Pamir Highway (Russian: “Pamirsky Trakt”, Памирский тракт) is a road traversing the Pamir Mountains through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. It is the only continuous route through the difficult terrain of the mountains and serves as the main supply route to Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. The route has been in use for millennia, as there are a limited number of viable routes through the high Pamir Mountains. The road formed one link of the ancient Silk Road trade route. M41 is the Soviet road number, but no road number is generally signposted along the road today, only destinations.
The Pamir Highway is one of the world’s greatest road trips and is known as the second highest altitude international highway in the world (4,655 m).
The Pamir Highway is part of the M41 highway, which starts at Termiz (37°12′39″N 67°16′20″E) and ends at Kara-Balta (42°49′40″N 73°52′53″E) to the west of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The route is turning east and crossing into Tajikistan. It then follows a general eastward route through Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, to Khorog, crossing the Kafirnigan, Vakhsh, and Bartang Rivers. From there, it continues east for about 310 kilometers to Murghab, where it crosses the Murghab River. The highway then passes through the 4,655-meter (15,270 ft) high Ak-Baital Pass and past Lake Karakul before crossing into Kyrgyzstan to its terminus in Osh. The stretch of road between Khorog and Osh attracts a small amount of tourism due to its rugged natural beauty.
Alexandria Eschate, modern Khojand in Tajikistan (N40° 17.097′ E69° 37.108′)
Alexandria Eschate or Alexandria Eskhata (Greek Ἀλεξάνδρεια Ἐσχάτη), literally “Alexandria the Farthest”, was a city founded by Alexander the Great, at the south-western end of the Fergana Valley (modern Tajikistan) in August 329 BCE. It was the most northerly outpost of the Greek Empire in Central Asia. Alexandria Eschate was established on the south bank of the river Jaxartes (Syr Darya), at or close to the site of modern Khujand. According to the Roman writer Curtius, Alexandria Ultima retained its Hellenistic culture as late as 30 BCE.
Of the many cities founded by Alexander the Great, Alexandria Eschatê was probably the one that created most problems. From the very beginning, there were troubles; and this must have surprised Alexander, because the march to the river Jaxartes, in the early summer of 329, had been easy. The last resistance to his rule had vanished after his friend Ptolemy had captured the Persian leader, Bessus.
Now, he wanted to build a city on the bank of the river that was the boundary between Sogdia and the Hunger Steppe, which was inhabited by the Sacae. It was to replace an older city, which is called Kyreschata in the Greek sources and must render Persian Kuruškatha (‘town of Cyrus’). It was to be an important site because on the one hand, it was to be the empire’s northernmost military base, and a defense against the Sacan tribesmen, and on the other hand, it could be a base for a return to the west across the plains of Ukraine. The city also controlled the route to the lush Fergana Valley, where a road across the Pamir Range led to China. Probably, the Macedonians also wanted some rest after a war that had lasted five years.
Alexander was unaware of the subtle balance that in Sogdia existed between the nomads and the town dwellers. In southern Bactria, there were some well-established cities; in Sogdia, towns like Maracanda (Samarkand) and Nautaca coexisted with the nomads; but beyond the Jaxartes, nomads did not appreciate urban life. The Ma Saka (or Massagetes, as the Greeks called them) and Apa Saka (Abian Scythians) felt threatened and sent ambassadors; but the Sogdians near the new town choose not to negotiate and killed some Macedonian soldiers.
Alexander immediately retaliated and destroyed seven settlements in the neighborhood. The populations were deported and put to work, building the new city with a wall of 6 km length. Together with invalid Macedonians and Greek mercenaries, they were to be the new inhabitants of Alexandria. The remains of its walls and a couple of Hellenistic sherds have been found near modern Khodzent, but not much else has been excavated.
A fter defeating the Saka and a guerilla war, in which Alexander defeated Spitamenes, rest returned to Sogdia, although it was the rest of a graveyard, and new insurrections were to follow soon. Still, the city continued to exist and maintained close ties to the Seleucid Empire and its local successors, the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom and the Parthian Empire.
The city also also was part of the Silk road, which connected China with the Mediterranean. This also meant that the eastern frontier was open to invaders, and it appears that in the second century, Yuezhi nomads invaded Sogdia from Xinjiang. They took over the region, but it seems that the city retained some of its Greek character, if we are to believe the Roman author Curtius Rufus. The city is still mentioned as an important center by the seventh-century Chinese traveler Xuan Zang.