Friday, 8 May 2015

Ancient Invaders, Traders and Pilgrims

Small communities of hunters and herders first visited mountains of northern Pakistan at least six thousand years ago. All the ancient invaders, traders and pilgrims have been finding their ways across the mountain passes, dividing India China and the west at least since ancient Greek and Roman and probably earlier. The Aryans invaded Northern Pakistan from Central Asia in the eighteenth century BC. Darius the Great of Persia took part of northern Pakistan in the seventeenth century BC and Alexander the Great passed through Swat on his way to India in the fourth century BC. The rulers of the Hunza Kalash of Chitral are claimed descendants from the Alexander and his  troops.
Later came heyday of the Silk Route during that time Central Asians became rich as the middlemen in the trade route between China and India and the Roman Empires. Merchants, caravans struggled through the mountains following various trails across 4000 to 5000metre high both South and West from Kasghar.Silk, lacquerwork, bronz , iron, ceramics, furs and China, precious and semi precious stones, linen ,ivory, gold, silver, glasses, and animals such as horses and plants were traded in exchange. The trade started during the Huns dynastiy (206 BC to AD 220), which had its capital at Xian. The Chines used sell their merchandise to Central Asian middlemen, first Scythians in the first and second centuries BC, then the Parthians by defeating the Roman in battle by waving Silken banners that were so fine and light that the Roman soldiers fled in the terror, the material could only be the world of  sorcerers. Next to the rule in Central Asia were the Khushans who established lucrative silk trade, Roman demand for the gossamer fabric having by this time become insatiable.
                 The Khushans established the winter capital of their Ghandhara kingdom in Peshawer and by the second century AD had reached the height of the power, with an empire that stretched from Eastern Iran to the Chines frontier and Sout to Ganges River. The Khushans were Buddhists and the most famous king was Khaniska  built thousands of monestries and stupas while Buddhist missionaries joined traders travelling the treacherous routes through the mountains. Soon pilgrims from the east joined the traffic across the passes , heading Gandahara for search of holy sites, scriptures and original sources of Buddhism. There are thousands of Buddhist carvings in the different parts of north Pakistan left by the pilgrims along the Indus, Gilgit, Hunza and Ghizar and Chitral rivers and top of the passes. Most of the stupas and monasteries however,  have been destroyed.

                 The most famous Buddhist to cross the mountains of north Pakistan were Fa Xia  in 403, Sung Yun in 519, Xaun Zang in 630, Wu Kang in 750, all whome left impressive accounts of their journeys.
                    As Khushan Empires declined between the third fifth centuries, the Northern reaches of the Empires were absorbed by the sassanians rulers of Persia with rise of the Tang dynasty (618 -907)   in China came the golden age of the Silk Route, as more traders missionaries and pilgrims then ever moved through the high mountain passes. The most famous of all missionaries was Padmsasambhva left swat in Pakistan for Tibet during this time in 747.
               By the end of the seventh century BC Persia had discovered the secret making silk and by the end of the eighth century sea routes had been opened for East West trade. The Arab expansion causes political instability in Central Asia breaking the area into tiny principalities and making the land unsafe. The development conspired to rob the Silk Rout of its value.
                When the Mongols united central Asia with their Yuan Dynasty(1279-1368) again for more than a century, allowing Marco Polo to pass through in about 1273, reviving strong culture and commercial links through the mountains.

                   The next strong Central power was the Mughal, who stabilized India throughout sixteenth and seventeenth centuries allowing trade resume through mountains of China


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