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The Hindu Kush, Hindū Kūsh, Hindoo Koosh or Hindukush (هندوکش in Persian) is a mountain range in Afghanistan as well as in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. It is the westernmost extension of the Pamir Mountains, the Karakoram Range, and the Himalaya. It was previously known as the Caucasus Indicus, a name given to it by the ancient Greeks, who ruled the Hindu Kush region for centuries (see Seleucid Empire and Greco-Bactrian.)
The name Hindu Kush is usually applied to the whole of the range separating the basins of the Kabul and Helmand rivers from that of the Amu Darya (or ancient Oxus), or, more specifically, to that part of the range to the northwest of Kabul which was called the (Indian) Caucasus by the historians with Alexander. It was also referred to by the Greeks as the "Paropanisos".
The origin of the term "Hindu Kush" (and whether it translates as "Indian Killer") is a point of contention. The earliest known use of this name was by the famous Arab traveller, Ibn Battūta c. 1334, who wrote: "Another reason for our halt was fear of the snow, for on the road there is a mountain called Hindūkūsh, which means "Slayer of Indians," because the slave boys and girls who are brought from India die there in large numbers as a result of the extreme cold and the quantity of snow."
However, this interpretation is usually considered to be only a "folk etymology." Numerous possibilities for its origin have been put forward; several of which are listed here:
- that the name is a corruption of "Caucasus Indicus."
- In modern Persian, the word "Kush" is derived from the verb Kushtan - to defeat, kill, or subdue. This could be interpreted as a memorial to the Indian captives who perished in the mountains while being transported to Central Asian slave markets.
- that the name refers to the last great 'killer' mountains to cross when moving between the Afghan plateau and the Indian subcontinent, named after the toll it took on anyone crossing them;
- that the name is a corruption of Hindu Koh, from the (modern) Persian word Kuh, meaning mountain. Rennell, writing in 1793, refers to the range as the "Hindoo-Kho or Hindoo-Kush";
- that the name means Mountains of India or Mountains of the Indus in some of the Iranian languages that are still spoken in the region; that furthermore, many peaks, mountains, and related places in the region have "Kosh" or "Kush" in their names.
- that the name is a posited Avestan appellation meaning "water mountains."
It should be noted that the word Hindu originally referred to any inhabitant of the Indian subcontinent, or Hind, not followers of the religion as it does now.
The mountain peaks in the eastern part of Afghanistan reach more than 7,000 metres. The highest, in Pakistan, is Tirich Mir at 7,705 m (cf. Mount Everest in Nepal which stands 8,850 m high). The Pamir mountains, which Afghans refer to as the "Roof of the World", extend into Tajikistan, China and Kashmir.
The mountains of the Hindu Kush system diminish in height as they stretch westward: toward the middle, near Kabul, they extend from 4,500 to 6,000 meters; in the west, they attain heights of 3,500 to 4,000 meters. The average altitude of the Hindu Kush is 4,500 meters. The Hindu Kush system stretches about 966 kilometers laterally, and its median north-south measurement is about 240 kilometers. Only about 600 kilometers of the Hindu Kush system is called the Hindu Kush mountains. The rest of the system consists of numerous smaller mountain ranges including the Koh-e Baba , Salang , Koh-e Paghman , Spin Ghar (also called the eastern Safid Koh), Suleiman, Siah Koh , Koh-e Khwaja Mohammad and Selseleh-e Band-e Turkestan . The western Safid Koh, the Siah Band and Doshakh are commonly referred to as the Paropamisus by western scholars.
Numerous high passes ("kotal") transect the mountains, forming a strategically important network for the transit of caravans. The most important mountain pass is the Kotal-e Salang (3,878 m); it links Kabul and points south to northern Afghanistan. The completion of a tunnel within this pass in 1964 reduced travel time between Kabul and the north to a few hours. Previously access to the north through the Kotal-e Shibar (3,260 m) took three days. The Salang Tunnel at 3,363 m and the extensive network of galleries on the approach roads were constructed with Soviet financial and technological assistance and involved drilling 1.7 miles through the heart of the Hindu Kush.
Before the Salang road was constructed, the most famous passes in the Western historical perceptions of Afghanistan were those leading to the Indian subcontinent. They include the Khyber Pass (1,027 m), in Pakistan, and the Kotal-e Lataband (2,499 m) east of Kabul, which was superseded in 1960 by a road constructed within the Kabul River 's most spectacular gorge, the Tang-e Gharu . This remarkable engineering feat reduced travel time between Kabul and the Pakistan border from two days to a few hours.
The roads through the Salang and Tang-e Gharu passes played critical strategic roles during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and were used extensively by heavy military vehicles. Consequently, these roads are in very bad repair. Many bombed out bridges have been repaired, but numbers of the larger structures remain broken. Periodic closures due to conflicts in the area seriously affect the economy and well-being of many regions, for these are major routes carrying commercial trade, emergency relief and reconstruction assistance supplies destined for all parts of the country.
There are a number of other important passes in Afghanistan. The Wakhjir (4,923 m), proceeds from the Wakhan Corridor into Xinjiang, China, and into Kashmir. Passes which join Afghanistan to Chitral, Pakistan, include the Baroghil (3,798 m) and the Kachin (5,639 m), which also cross from the Wakhan. Important passes located farther west are the Shotorgardan (3,720 m), linking Logar and Paktiya provinces; the Bazarak (2,713 m), leading into Mazar-e Sharif; the Khawak (3,550 m) in the Panjsher Valley , and the Anjuman (3,858 m) at the head of the Panjsher Valley giving entrance to the north. The Hajigak (2,713 m) and Unai (3,350 m) lead into the eastern Hazarajat and Bamiyan Valley. The passes of the Paropamisus in the west are relatively low, averaging around 600 meters; the most well-known of these is the Sabzak between the Herat and Badghis provinces, which links the western and northwestern parts of Afghanistan.
These mountainous areas are mostly barren, or at the most sparsely sprinkled with trees and stunted bushes. Very ancient mines producing lapiz lazuli are found in Kowkcheh Valley, while gem-grade emeralds are found north of Kabul in the valley of the Panjsher River and some of its tributaries. The famous 'balas rubies' or spinels were mined until the 19th century in the valley of the Ab-e Panj or Upper Amu Darya River, considered to be the meeting place between the Hindu Kush and the Pamir ranges. Unfortunately, these mines appear to be now exhausted.
- Frederic Drew . 1877. “The Northern Barrier of India: a popular account of the Jammoo and Kashmir Territories with Illustrations.” Frederic Drew. 1st edition: Edward Stanford, London. Reprint: Light & Life Publishers, Jammu. 1971.
- Gibb, H.A.R., 1929. Ibn Battūta: Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1354. Translated and selected by H.A.R. Gibb. Reprint: Asian Educational Services, New Delhi and Madras, 1992.
- T. E. Gordon , 1876. The Roof of the World: Being the Narrative of a Journey over the high plateau of Tibet to the Russian Frontier and the Oxus sources on Pamir. Edinburgh. Edmonston and Douglas. Reprint: Ch’eng Wen Publishing Company. Tapei. 1971.
- Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, 1890. Dardistan in 1866, 1886 and 1893: Being An Account of the History, Religions, Customs, Legends, Fables and Songs of Gilgit, Chilas, Kandia (Gabrial) Yasin, Chitral, Hunza, Nagyr and other parts of the Hindukush, as also a supplement to the second edition of The Hunza and Nagyr Handbook. And An Epitome of Part III of the author's “The Languages and Races of Dardistan. First Reprint 1978. Manjusri Publishing House, New Delhi.
- Yule, Henry and Burnell, A. C. 1886. Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo-Indian Dictionary. 1996 reprint by Wordsworth Editions Ltd. ISBN 1-8536-363-X
- - Afghanistan
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