Appreciating the Remaining Rock Art & Lamenting Their Impending Loss (Part 1) Meandering Along the Karakorum Highway

I will introduce photos of the rock paintings I came across during my November 2021 visit, traveling along the Indus River. This blog will be broken up into several parts to cover the many different things I saw.

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In northern Pakistan, on the banks of the Indus River -from Shatial to Hunza, there are said to be more than 50,000 historic rock paintings that remain. These rock paintings mark the places where travelers crossed the Indus River, as they traveled along the Silk Road. When the Indus River waters were too precarious, travelers were forced to wait on the banks until the water levels fell enough to be able to make a safe crossing. While they waited, these carvings in the rocks were made by the various travelers, pilgrims, and merchants who were from all over. Most of the themes of the pictures relate to Buddhist traditions, but there are various motifs of animals (such as Ibex ,snow leopard) carved perhaps before Buddhism passed through this area. There are various ethnic groups represented based on the written languages as well, such as Kharosthi, Sogdian and Brahmi engraved.

A  bridge crossing over the Indus River

A modern bridge crossing over the Indus RiverWith most of the regular sightseeing tours being lead to Hunza and in this area, due to strict travel restrictions on the times allowed between destinations, you cannot take much time to make stops to see the rock art along the Karakorum Highway, as you could in the past. Last year, I made a research tour in November, taking time to stay in Chilas for a few nights, allowing me time to take leisurely tours of the riverbank to inspect and record the rock art I saw.

I was so shocked that there were so many rock paintings along the Karakorum Highway, places that I had so many times before, usually only passed on the road, without a thought. These photos were taken at Hudur, which is about 20 minutes west of Chilas along the Karakorum Highway.

Rock art of a pagoda with the flags fluttering in the wind

There are many places outside of Hudur where you can see many pagodas depicted in the rock art, probably made during the Kushan Dynasty in the height of Buddhism being spread across many different regions, and the various people who came from all over, as they travelled along the Silk Road.

A person reaching out with both hands, holding objects

A person holding a piece of armor in his left hand and a hunted animal in his right hand. This type of design, in which a person is drawn facing straight forward with the objects held in both hands held high, is one that has long been used in West Asia.In Gichi, just 10 minutes east of Hudur, there were many rock paintings of pagodas. Perhaps this is because many Buddhists stayed there, or because these relics were left untouched in the area.

Rock art of a pagoda that remains in Gichi-1.

In Oshibat, located about 10 minutes further east of Gichi, as soon as you get off the bus, you can see rock art scattered here and there. There were many there, but each one was very interesting and aroused my curiosity.

Rock art with an ibex image on the lower right side

On the lower right side you will clearly see the long-horned Ibex, and then to the left side, perhaps a hunter who is chasing it, looking very dynamic and looks like they are running.

Rock art with handprints and footprints

I’m not sure if it’s out of pure boredom, just waiting for the river water to go down, perhaps it is an old type of graffiti being carved, or perhaps it has a more mystical meaning. It is unclear.

Rock Art depicting what could be a Greek person

Painted with what appears to be a tool of some sort, this figure has a Greek-hairstyle and is painted in a Greek-style.

A figure that seems to be Greek

Drawn with the face in a side profile, the heavily emphasized eyes, the long fluttering hair and the type of wear that is similar to the image of Alexander the Great (in the next image).

A mosaic of Alexander the Great

This mosaic of Alexander the Great (Historical Museum of Sughd, in Khujand, Tajikistan) riding his steed Bucephalas.The next photo is of rock art that is located only 5 minutes by bus from the Shangrila Hotel, where I stayed in Chilas. I have visited this site on general sightseeing tours to Hunza and nearby locations many times before. But when I took more time to look around, I found a very detailed and expertly carved pagoda designs.

Rock art of a pagoda
A very detailed Buddha and pagoda drawn into the rock art near the Indus River

All of this rock art will sadly, be destined to be flooded by a dam, which is going to be completed around 2027. Some rock paintings will be relocated and preserved, but most of the more than 50,000 pieces, will be left behind and submerged by the river. I would like to continue to introduce you to the precious rock art that will be lost in the next installments of this blog.

 

Photo & text : Koji YAMADA

Visit : Nov 2021, Chilas area, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Indus river bank > - Rock art / Petroglyph > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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(Video) The Pakistan Railway Journey : From Peshwar to Rawal Pindi!

Taken from the train, going from Peshwar to Rawal Pindi, this video summaries the scenery during our journey on the Pakistan Railway.
Previously, I posted a blog about the highlights of the “Crossing the Indus River by Pakistan’s Tain,” but this time I could make video, summarized into 2 minutes and 43 seconds, starting from the town of Peshwar to the arrival of Rawal Pindi, including the tunnel along the way.

The Pakistan Railway was built as part of the colonial management during the British Empire’s colonization of the Indian Empire, with 7,791 kilometers of track that runs from Torkham, on Afghanistan’s boarder, to Karachi. From the time of independence to the present day, the nostalgic feeling of the colonial era buildings and operations are maintained for a good Railway journey in which we can still enjoy “The Pakistan Railway.”

 

The Pakistan Railway Journey, From Peshawal to Rawal Pindi

 

Videography: Mariko SAWADA
Boarded on: Feb 2020, the Pakistan Railway between Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) to Rohri (Sindh)

Category : = Video Clip Punjab > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > = Video Clip KPK > - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Peshawar / Khyber Pass > ◆ Punjab > ◇ Pakistan Railways
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Petroglyphs of Shatial (Karakoram Highway)

Heading north on the Karakoram Highway as you enter Gilgit-Baltistan, the famous Buddhist archeological sites can be found between the Tangir and Darel Valleys. It is called the Shatial Rock Art Carving/Petroglyphs.

Since ancient times, this area was the point known as the “Old Silk Road” where the Indus River connects to the other valleys as a junction or crossroads.

Shatial has long been famous as a location for the “Ancient Buddhist Rock Carvings,” but even before these carvings were there, the tradition was for travelers, such as merchants and pilgrims, passing through Central Asia would carve their names and times into the rocks. These images of ancient characters (Sogdian or Bactrian) can be found near the bridges of Shatial.

 

People graze their goats along the banks of the Indus River. Rocks that were weathered down by water and time into sand. This is a place where people used to come to look for gold, but not so much anymore.

 

Taking the bridge that hangs over the Indus River in the Tangir Valley. Travelers from afar would cross this river during the winter months when the water was low, etching their footprints in the riverbanks. During the Buddhist era, monks and pilgrims would make their way to  “Gandhara.” They carved the Jataka tales and Stupas into the large rocks, creating an alter on the riverbanks.

 

The bridge of Shatial and Art Rock Carvings. Depicted is a stupa and the form of a Buddha carved into the stone.

 

Motifs of ibex are also engraved on the upper right. Ibex only live in elevations of 3,000m or higher so possibly the travelers saw them on the way along the Hunza River as they crossed the Hindu Kush – Karakoram Mountain range. There are no dates or names of the artists included with each carving, but these are precious relics that pay tribute to the history and people who have lived here since ancient times.

 

Sadly, the scenery along the Indus river is about to change.

There are two major projects to build dams between Besham and Chilas along the Karakoram Highway. There will be the Dasu Dam and Daimer Basha Dam Hydroelectric Power Plants installed along the river.
Although this plan has been in place for a long time, the construction is proceeding at a very fast pace as there is a shortage of power. This is following a decision to cancel the plans for a coal burning power plant.

Parts of the Karakoram Highway and some villages will be submerged, but along with that the historical features and the lifestyle of the people who live along the Indus river will also be forever altered. It is a great pity that such scenery along this great river will be lost.

Some of the main rock paintings will probably be relocated, but many of them will be submerged.

How much time does this scenery have left?

It was hard to get to and such a long-distance trip to get to see the Karakoram Highway and landscape. But it is in its final countdown.

Will this end up being only a precious memory?

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Dec 2020, The Karakorum Highway, Shatial, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Indus river bank > - Rock art / Petroglyph
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The Khyber Pass 2019

One of the places where it is very difficult to get an entry permit is the Khyber Pass. It is right on the border with Afghanistan, located in the former tribal area on the road leading to Torkham. In 2018, it was transferred to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but it is still one of the more difficult places to visit.

The historic Khyber Pass has been an important trade route connecting the eastern and western cultures. The Sulaiman mountains on the border are where Alexander the Great’s army, and the Chinese Buddhist Scholar, Xuanzang (In Japanese known as Genjō) crossed here. During the Mughal Dynasty, it was developed as the Grand Trunk Road running from India to Kabul in Afghanistan. It also became a significant battlefield from the First British War to the independence of Pakistan in modern times. After Pakistan’s independence it became a tribal area.

For travelers, it is an exciting part of history and romance as a pass that connects the “Central Asian world” and the “Indian world”.

 

The first monument from Peshawar to Khyber Pass is this Khyber Gate ‘Bab-e- Khyber’. Peshawar was already quite a busy town, but the tram in the middle of the main road made the road even narrower and the traffic was horrible.

 

The giant Shagai Fort was built by the British Army in 1920 and is now used by the Pakistani Army.

 

Students who we passed along the road. These students commuting to school was really refreshing in the old tribal area.

 

This was the narrowest place of the Khyber Pass road, mountains on both sides, and for that it became a strategically important position. It a fierce battlefield during many wars. This is the Ali Masjid Mosque and on the hill is the Pakistani military fortress Ali Masjid Fort.

 

One of the most shocking things we learned was that the fortress was built beside buddhist stupa of Kushan Empire, which amazingly dates back to the 2nd and 5th centuries.
This is Sphola Stupa sits on a three-story platform. It housed some Gandhara sculptures, Buddha statues that were excavated in the early 20th century.

 

The other shocking thing is the miserable state of this “Khyber Railway” track. It is such a pity because I expected that the “Khyber Railway” steam locomotive would be revived to invigorate the domestic tourism.

The railroad was originally opened in 1926, while under British rule for the purpose of transporting military supplies. The trip from Peshawar to Landi Kotal, which is 34 kilometers long and rises in elevation by 600 meters, crosses 34 tunnels and 92 iron bridges, and the steam locomotive trip here was one of the highlights of tourism.

 

It is said that the military from various times and various countries that passed through this area have carved their coat of arms on the rock surface as a memorial.

 

Then we passed through the Landi Kotal market. This was once a famous place for the smuggling trade.

 

This is the Michni Checkpost where “The Guardians of Khyber Pass” overlook the Pakistani border with Afghanistan. The observatory serves as a lookout post over at Afghanistan.

 

A view of Afghanistan from the Michni Checkpost. In the valley, there are immigration and customs offices of both countries, and passing through here, will take you to Torkham.

Click here for more information on Khyber Pass (It was written based on photos from around 2008. Please compare it with the old photo and see how it has changed.)

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA
※These photos were taken in October 2019 during the visit.

Category : - Peshawar / Khyber Pass > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
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Bazaar of Landi Kotal

Landi Kotal is a small town, found on the way from Peshawar to the Afghanistan border town of Torkham.  Located in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), it was once known as the “Smuggling Market,” known for trading goods like appliances and car parts into smuggled items like weapons and narcotics. When I first visited around 1992, I was surprised to see chocolate-shaped narcotics lined up in stores.
Now the status of the “Smuggling Bazaar” has disappeared and it is a normal market for rural Pashtun tribes.

 

The shop owners call out ‘Hello! Hello!’ to try to earn some business.

 

When a foreigner pass them by, everyone pays attention! It really reminded me of old Pakistan.

 

The Pashtun officer who accompanies us, took us to a local butcher shop and request some popular Landi Kotal Domba Sheep. These unique sheep have a big butt which is a delicacy for the locals.

 

We purchased a cut of meat and it was grilled over charcoal.

 

This is a typical Domba sheep lunch. We ate it along with a the local green tea called Kahwa Tea!
By the day, I did not see any women, the whole day.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : Oct 2019, Landi Kotal, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Category : - Peshawar / Khyber Pass > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
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(Video) Crossing the Indus river by Pakistan Railways

Pakistan’s railways are less developed compared to India’s. However, it retained the original railway system and station buildings, as they were, created by the British during the colonial period.

Especially near Attock, this railway crosses over the Indus river!
 
Pakitan Railway Crossing the Indus, Attock

 

It is a great heritage trip where you can see not only the railway bridge and stations of the British Indian Empire era, but also the Mughal Empire’s Attock Fort, all from the train windows.

 

Video & text: Mariko SAWADA
(Video is from a trip in Feb 2020)

Category : = Video Clip Punjab > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > ◆ Punjab > ◇ Pakistan Railways
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The Fusion of Eastern and Western Civilizations in Gandhara (Peshawar Museum Exhibitions)

Gandhara’s art is strongly influenced by many civilizations and art influences such as Greece, West Asia, Persia (Iran), India, and more. The first Greek civilization in the 4th century BC, was brought to the Gandhara region with Alexander the Great in the Great Expedition to the East. This is when the fusion of the Greek and Orient civilizations, was born and is now called the Hellenistic civilization.

Gandhara art reached its peak in a later period, in the 1st to 5th century AD with the Kushan dynasty. Buddhism, which was born in India, so alongside the Buddhist statues met with the Western gods and elements of both were incorporated into Gandhara Buddhist art.

This sculpture is of the Greek god Atlas, that appeared in Gandhara.

 

Atlas, the mythological Greek god that supports the sky at the western end of the world. In Gandhara, Atlas sits at the pedestal of the Buddha’s stupa and supports it. The Greek god that supports the Buddhist’s worldview…what a wonderful thought!

 

This is the Centaur, a half-horse monster that appears in Greek mythology.

The upper part of the body is human, the lower part of the body is a horse’s forelegs, and the rear part is a swirl-shaped tail fin like that of Trītōn (the son of Poseidon, the god of half-man and half-fish)

Centaur and Trītōn motifs often appear in right-angled triangular panels that are thought to have decorated the corners of buildings.

 

This is Vajrapāṇi (one of the Bodhisatvas in Mahayana Buddhism), who holds in his hand the Vajra (a weapon that symbolizes both the property of a diamond and a thunderbolt).

Its origin is Hercules, a hero of Greek mythology. Hercules, who assisted Kings with his awesome power, is depicted in the Gandhara as a guardian deity who is always beside the Buddha.

Hercules of Gandhara carries with him a Vajra, but the Hercules of Greece often has a club in his hands.

 

This piece shows a festoon pattern. A young man holding a wavy festoon (garland of flowers), which originated in Greece and Rome, and was very popular in Gandhara.
The cupid seems to carry the raised part of the festoon, and the lower part is decorated with grapes and a ribbon.

 

This is Hārītī and Pāñcika. Hārītī is both a goddess and a demon in the Buddhist tradition.

Hārītī was at first a cannibal demon that kidnapped and ate children. After the Buddha taught her a lesson about how parents suffer from the loss of their children, she became a “protector of children” and started to love both her own children and all others. In addition, since Hārītī had about 500 or 1,000 of her own kids, she is also a “guardian of safe childbirth.” She adorns pomegranate flowers on her hair, which is also a symbol of “fertility.”

This Hārītī looks like a Greek goddess, because it is based on the goddess of fate, Tȳchē in Greece.

 

The style of pillars that appear in Gandhara is generally the Greek Corinthian style decorated with acanthus leaves. However, the one pictured is another style that you might see in Gandhara.

At the top of the column, two humped cows are placed back to back, with (what is thought to be) a lion’s head in the middle of the design. This is the principle style of the capital (topmost part of the column) of ancient Persia (Iran) and can be seen in the ruins of Persepolis.

 

And this animal is a lion. Maybe you might think that a lion is an African animal, but at that time, there were “Asian lions” in Pakistan.

The relief of “the Lion Hunt” drawn on the ruins of Mesopotamia and the lion drawn on the ruins of Persepolis in Iran are famous, but this example is a lion in Gandhara art.

Although the wild Asian lions are now extinct in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, they still live in the forests of Sasan Gir National Park, in Gujarat, India. There are about 500 of them!

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
(The photos are from a trip in Oct 2019 – Feb 2020)
Location: Peshawar Museum, Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Peshawar / Khyber Pass > - Gandhara > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan > ◇ Museum of Pakistan
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Peshawar Museum

The Peshawar Museum has the best collection of Gandhara historical artifacts. Most of the exhibits are about Gandhara art and there are so many Buddhist biographical panels and decorations, there isn’t enough time to look through them all.

Like all other museums, this museum dates back to the days of the British Indian Empire and was built back in 1907 with the “Victoria Hall” to commemorate Queen Victoria.

 

This is the main hall of the Peshawar Museum. The Gandhara arts are exhibited in the gallery from the hall to the left of the entrance.

This exhibit featured unearthed sculptures from archaeological sites centered around Swat, like items found on the walls of the monasteries and from the base of stupas.

They express the stories of the Buddha (also called Jataka tales) and various scenes from the Buddha’s life. There are many exhibits and even if it is in the same scene, they have many different styles, so take the time to explore the museum, at your own pace.

 

This is “The Birth” panel. Maya (the Buddha’s mother) is in the center, with her right hand extended up and grabbing the tree, the prince is protruding from her upper body on the right side. The God Indra receives him and behind him is the Brahman God blessing him.

The panel of “The Life of the Buddha” is drawn with various motifs from “birth” to “nirvana.”

 

Among the Jataka tales, Gandhara had a very popular story with the Dīpankara Buddha (Buddha of the past).

“One day, when the godly young man, Sumedha (also known as Megha, is actually Shakyamuni in a previous life) heard that the Buddha was coming to town, he was eager to offer flowers to the Buddha, but when he tried to buy flowers, the King had already bought all of them, so he couldn’t purchase any. He met a girl passing by carrying water and flowers, and he convinced her to sell her 5 lotus flowers. When the Buddha appeared, Sumedha threw the flowers just like everyone else, but his 5 flowers did not fall to the ground, but instead floated in the air and decorated the Buddha’s head as a halo (numbus). Seeing some mud on the ground in front of the Buddha, Sumedha then prostrated his body and threw out his long hair to cover it, so that the feet of the Buddha would not get dirty in the mud. The Buddha then blessed Sumedha saying ‘You will be enlightened in the future and become a Buddha.’

In the panel on the photo, there is the young man, Sumedha, who throws his hair, left of center of the panel.

 

One of the most important exhibits of this museum is “The Fasting Buddha” statue. Compared to the one in Lahore’s museum, there are many missing parts, but the blood vessels and supporting bones are very realistic.

 

A statue of Siddhartha meditating under the tree (his first meditation).

While the prince watched a field under a tree, there were insects which emerged from the soil after it was dug up with a hoe; when a small bird eats the bug; then a large eagle in turn eats the bird. It was an event that made him feel the transience of life and later led to his enlightenment.

The pedestal is engraved with the signs of the first spring cultivation. It is a little difficult to see in the photo, but on the right side of the pedestal there are two cows plowing the field.

 

And another famous object in the Peshawar Museum, this is the casket for King Kanishka from Shah-ji-ki Dheri excavations.

The winter city of Gandhara during the Kushan period was Purushapura, now part of Peshawar. The only archaeological site found here is Shah-ji-ki Dheri, known as the Kanishka stupa. The casket was found from this site, and it was written in the Kharosthi script that it was “…this perfume box is the meritorious gift of Maharaja Kanishka in the city of Kanishkapura.” It was a discovery that proved that the legendary stupa actually existed.

So, is this the real thing? Based on the photos from the internet, it’s probably a replica.

 

The Peshawar Museum has two floors. The 2nd story is an exhibition of the various ethnic groups of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In particular I found the Kalash wooden statues “Gandao” (made to commemorate the memory of dead men, their contributions, and achievements) is a precious collection because well preserved ones can no longer be found in the Kalash Valley.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
(Photos are from a trip in Oct2019 – Feb 2020)
Location: Peshawar Museum, Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Peshawar / Khyber Pass > - Gandhara > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan > ◇ Museum of Pakistan
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(Drone Footage) Sirkap City Ruins, Taxila

This is the aerial view of the Taxila City Ruins Sirkap.
You can see the whole Ruins by aerial photography, where the city plan and roads are organized in a grid plan.

For more information about Sirkap Ruins, see here

Drone footage Sirkap, Taxila

 

 

Video & text : Mariko SAWADA

(Video is from a trip in Feb 2020)

Location : Sirkap, Taxila, Punjab

Category : = Video Clip Punjab > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > - Taxila > - Gandhara > ◆ Punjab > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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(Drone Footage) Dharmarajika Stupa, Taxila

This is drone footage of the Dharmarajika Stupa.
Built in the 3rd century BC, it is one of the two stupas created in the Gandhara region by Mauryan King Ashoka. From the sky, you can see the circular platform of the huge stupa and the shrine surrounding it.

For information of the ruins of Dharmarajika, see here

Drone footage Dharmarajika Stupa, Taxila

 

Video & text: Mariko SAWADA
(Video is from a trip in Feb 2020)

Location : Dharnarajika, Taxila, Punjab

Category : ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > = Video Clip Punjab > - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > - Taxila > - Gandhara > ◆ Punjab > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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