The Minaret of Djam, an Excursion in Afgfhanistan (ISBN 9781848853133) is another typical book by Freya Stark, written once again in the style that is so much her own with vivid depictions – rather paintings – of the scenery around her. With a minimum of words she manages to draw a full scale picture. This time she takes on a trip through the very heart of Afghanistan in search of the Minaret of Djam, roughly halfway between Kabul and Herat. It seems as if she travelled in a time beyond time, most probably before the Soviet invasion of 1979.
In any case, this is an adventure by itself for few people have ever seen this minaret and still lesser have crossed the area. She manages to make it through the summer heat, in a Land Rover that serves as sleeping quarters under most primitive conditions, but she always remains optimistic and is so blessed with that British phlegm that makes it all bearable and possible. An admirable woman on an admirable journey, to say the least.
But in the end, it is all about the Minaret of Djam, the second tallest brick minaret in the world. Set in the remoteness of the Afghan slopes between the two highest peaks of the Safed Kuh, 3525 and 3416 meter. The minaret stands alone dressed in brick-color against the perfect blue sky which I now can imagine in the light of my travels through Uzbekistan where similar intricate stone patterns have also been used. It belongs to the fertile years of Islamic art from the 11th and 12th century and must be quite a sight. I’m surprised though that she didn’t climb the one hundred and eighty steps of the double staircase to the top. I would – I think. She mentions a nearby inscription by Sultan Ghiyath al-Dunya, fifth sultan of the Ghurid dynasty, who ruled from 1163 till 1203, and that is all we know of its history.
After finishing this most pleasant and interesting book, I needed to investigate further on this Ghurid Dynasty, totally unknown to me. It turns out that it was very short lived, existing for just over sixty years although they had ruled an empire stretching from eastern Persia all the way to northern India. They even conquered Bamyan and Balkh as well as territories beyond the Oxus River. Their capital city was Firuzbuh, i.e. where this Minaret is still standing. I find it exciting to learn that they lost territories to the Khwarizm, of which I heard for the first time on my recent trip to Uzbekistan! Here too, it was once again Genghis Khan who finally destroyed the cities and probably killed the entire population. Amazingly the Minaret of Djam has survived!
[picture from the UNESCO site]
In order to make this story complete, I would encourage everybody to read the article “Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam” in which UNESCO puts the minaret on the list of World Heritage in Danger.