Hindu Kush

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Hindu Kush

Hindu Kush Range
Highest point
PeakTirich Mir
Elevation7,690 m (25,230 ft)
Coordinates36°14′45″N 71°50′38″E / 36.24583°N 71.84389°E / 36.24583; 71.84389
The Hindu Kush range. The largest country on the map is Afghanistan, with Pakistan to its east; the three countries along the top are Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. On the right edge, a small piece of India and a smaller piece of China are also visible.
CountriesAfghanistan and Pakistan
RegionSouth-Central Asia
Parent rangeHimalayas
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Coordinates: 35°N 71°E / 35°N 71°E / 35; 71

Hindu Kush

Hindu Kush Range
Highest point
PeakTirich Mir
Elevation7,690 m (25,230 ft)
Coordinates36°14′45″N 71°50′38″E / 36.24583°N 71.84389°E / 36.24583; 71.84389
The Hindu Kush range. The largest country on the map is Afghanistan, with Pakistan to its east; the three countries along the top are Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. On the right edge, a small piece of India and a smaller piece of China are also visible.
CountriesAfghanistan and Pakistan
RegionSouth-Central Asia
Parent rangeHimalayas

The Hindu Kush (Pashto/Persian/Urdu: ھندوکُش), also known as Pāriyātra Parvata (Sanskrit: पारियात्र पर्वत) or Paropamisadae (Greek: Παροπαμισάδαι), is an 800 km (500 mi) long mountain range that stretches between central Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. The highest point in the Hindu Kush is Tirich Mir (7,708 m or 25,289 ft) in Chitral District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.



The origins of the name "Hindu Kush" are uncertain, with multiple theories being propounded by different scholars and writers. Hindu Kūh (ھندوکوه) and Kūh-e Hind (کوهِ ھند) are usually applied to the entire range separating the basins of the Kabul and Helmand rivers from that of the Amu River (ancient Oxus) or more specifically to that part of the range, northwest of the Afghan capital Kabul. Sanskrit documents refer to the Hindu Kush as Pāriyātra Parvata (पारियात्र पर्वत).

The mountain range was called "Paropamisadae" by Greeks in the late first millennium BC.[1] In the time of Alexander the Great, they were further referred to as the Caucasus Indicus or "Indian Caucasus" (as opposed to the Iberian Caucasus range), which past authors have additionally considered as a possible derivation of the name "Hindu Kush".

Other sources state that the term "Hindu Kush" originally applied only to the peak in the area of the Kushan Pass, which had become a center of the Kushan Empire by the 1st century AD.

The Persian-English dictionary [2] indicates that the word 'koš' [kʰoʃ] is derived from the verb ('koštan' کشتن [kʰoʃˈt̪ʰæn]), meaning to kill. Although the derivation is only a possible one, some authors have proposed the meaning 'Kills the Hindu' for "Hindu Kush", a derivation that is reproduced in Encyclopedia Americana:

The name Hindu Kush means literally 'Kills the Hindu', a reminder of the days when Indian slaves from the Indian subcontinent died in the harsh weather typical of the Afghan mountains while being transported to Central Asia.[3]

However, such a derivation is strongly challenged by historical documents, such as the one found in the writings of 14th century explorer Ibn Battutah, who explains that the words "Hindu Kush" refers to the harsh meteorological conditions and frost that was responsible for the death of many local travelers in that region. At the time, the word Hindu was a secular term which was used to describe all inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent – or Hindustan – irrespective of their religious affiliation. It was only towards the end of the 18th century that European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of some Indian religions as Hindus.

The World Book Encyclopedia states that "the name Kush, .. means Death".[4] While Encyclopædia Britannica says 'The name Hindu Kush first appears in 1333 AD in the writings of Ibn Battutah, the medieval Berber traveller, who said the name meant 'Hindu Killer', a meaning still given by Afghan mountain dwellers who are traditional enemies of Indian plainsmen.[5]

The word "Koh" or "Kuh" means mountain in many of the local languages. According to Nigel Allan, there were at least two meanings for "Hindu Kush" common centuries ago "mountains of India" and "sparkling snows of India" - he notes that the name is clearly applied from a Central Asian perspective.[6] Others maintain that the name Hindu Kush is probably a corruption of Hindi-Kash or Hindi-Kesh, the boundary of Hind (i.e. Indian subcontinent).[7]


Landscape of Afghanistan with a T-62 in the foreground.

The mountains have historical significance in the Indian subcontinent and China. There has been a military presence in the mountains since the time of Darius the Great. The Great Game of the 19th century often involved military, intelligence and/or espionage personnel from both the Russian and British Empires operating in areas of the Hindu Kush. The Hindu Kush were considered, informally, the dividing line between Russian and British areas of influence in Afghanistan.

During the Cold War the mountains again became militarized, especially during the 1980s when Soviet forces and their Afghan allies fought the mujahideen. After the Soviet withdrawal, Afghan warlords fought each other and later the Taliban and the Northern Alliance and others fought in and around the mountains.

The American and ISAF campaign against Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies has once again resulted in a major military presence in the Hindu Kush.[8][9]

Alexander the Great explored the Afghan areas between Bactria and the Indus River after his conquest of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BC. It became part of the Seleucid Empire before falling to the Indian Maurya Empire around 305 BC.

Alexander took these away from the Persians and established settlements of his own, but Seleucus Nicator gave them to Sandrocottus (Chandragupta), upon terms of intermarriage and of receiving in exchange 500 elephants.[10]
Strabo64 BC–24 AD

Indo-Scythians expelled the Indo-Greeks by the mid 1st century BC, but lost the area to the Kushan Empire about 100 years later.[11]

Before the Christian era, and afterwards, there was an intimate connection between the Kabul Valley and India. All the passes of the Hindu-Kush descend into that valley; and travellers from the north as soon as they crossed the watershed, found a civilization and religion, the same as that much prevailed in India. The great range was the boundary in those days and barrier that was at time impassable. Hindu-Kuh--the mountain of Hind--was similarly derived.

Pre-Islamic populations of the Hindu Kush included Shins, Yeshkun,[12] Chiliss, Neemchas [13] Koli,[14] Palus,[14] Gaware,[15] Yeshkuns,[16] Krammins,[16] Indo-Scythians, Bactrian Greeks, Kushans.


The Hindu Kush occupy the lower left centre of this satellite image

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 (14,700 feet to 19,100 feet); in the west, they attain heights of 3,500 to 4,000 meters (11,500 feet to 13,000 feet). The average altitude of the Hindu Kush is 4,500 meters (14,700 feet). The Hindu Kush system stretches about 966 kilometres (600 mi) laterally, and its median north-south measurement is about 240 kilometres (150 mi). Only about 600 kilometres (370 mi) 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 Safēd Kōh), Suleiman Range, Siah Koh, Koh-e Khwaja Mohammad and Selseleh-e Band-e Turkestan. The western Safid Koh, the Malmand, Chalap Dalan, Siah Band and Doshakh are commonly referred to as the Paropamise by western scholars, though that name has been slowly falling out of use over the last few decades.

Rivers that flow from the mountain system include the Helmand River, the Hari River and the Kabul River, watersheds for the Sistan Basin.

Numerous high passes ("kotal") transect the mountains, forming a strategically important network for the transit of caravans. The most important mountain pass is the Salang Pass (Kotal-e Salang) (3,878 m); it links Kabul and points south of it 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 India. 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 effect 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.

Valley of Kuran wa Munjan, Badakhshan.
Kabul, situated 5,900 feet (1,800 m) above sea level in a narrow valley, wedged between the Hindu Kush mountains

There are a number of other important passes in Afghanistan. The Wakhjir Pass (4,923 m), proceeds from the Wakhan Corridor into Xinjiang, China, and into Northern Areas of Pakistan. 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 Mazari Sharif; the Khawak Pass (4,370 m) in the Panjsher Valley, and the Anjuman Pass (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 Bamyan 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 lapis 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. These mines now appear to be exhausted.

Eastern Hindu Kush

The Eastern Hindu Kush range, also known as the High Hindu Kush range, is mostly located in northern Pakistan and the Nuristan and Badakhshan provinces of Afghanistan. The Chitral District of Pakistan is home to Tirich Mir, Noshaq, and Istoro Nal, the highest peaks in the Hindu Kush. The range also extends into Ghizar, Yasin Valley, and Ishkoman in Pakistan's Northern Areas.

Chitral is considered to be the pinnacle of the Hindu Kush region. The highest peaks, as well as countless passes and massive glaciers, are located in this region. The Chiantar, Kurambar, and Terich glaciers are amongst the most extensive in the Hindu Kush and the meltwater from these glaciers form the Kunar River, which eventually flows south into Afghanistan and joins the Bashgal, Panjsher, and eventually the much smaller Kabul River.

See also



  1. ^ Vogelsang, Willem (2002). The Afghans. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 1. ISBN 0-631-19841-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=9kfJ6MlMsJQC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  2. ^ Boyle, J.A. (1949). A Practical Dictionary of the Persian Language. Luzac & Co.. p. 129.
  3. ^ Encyclopedia Americana. 14. 1993. p. 206.
  4. ^ The World Book Encyclopedia. 19. 1990. p. 237.
  5. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. 14 (15 ed.). July 1987. pp. 238–240.
  6. ^ Allan, Nigel (2001). "Defining Place and People in Afghanistan". Post Soviet Geography and Economics. 8 42: 545–560.
  7. ^ Tate, George P. (2009). The Kingdom of Afghanistan: A Historical Sketch. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 3. ISBN 1-115-58402-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=fhF-BvWVmYIC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2010-11-05.
  8. ^ A Short March to the Hindu Kush, Alpinist 18.
  9. ^ "Alexander in the Hindu Kush". Livius. Articles on Ancient History. http://www.livius.org/aj-al/alexander/alexander_t16.html. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  10. ^ Nancy Hatch Dupree / Aḥmad ʻAlī Kuhzād (1972). "An Historical Guide to Kabul - The Name". American International School of Kabul. http://www.aisk.org/aisk/NHDAHGTK05.php. Retrieved 2010-09-18.
  11. ^ Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor (1987). E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936. 2. BRILL. p. 159. ISBN 90-04-08265-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=zJU3AAAAIAAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PA159#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2010-08-23.
  12. ^ Biddulph, p.38
  13. ^ Biddulph, p.7
  14. ^ a b Biddulph, p.9
  15. ^ Biddulph, p.11
  16. ^ a b Biddulph, p.12


Further reading

External links