Our Cultural Assets (Silk Road)  

 

  Date of Issue (June 07, 2004)  

 

 

Caravansarays on the silk-road stretching from China to Anatolia and Europe over Central Asia are the most valuable examples of our cultural heritage with artful value, providing resting and accommodation means. Silkroad caravans not only carried silk, spice and porcelain from East to West throughout their history of 2000 years but transported the languages, religions, traditions, inventions, in short the cultures of the countries they passed through.

A Union named Eurasia Postal Union was established in 2001 among Azerbaijan, The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Pakistan and Turkey in order to promote commonalities on the international postal platform keeping in view the increase in traffic volume in parallel with the economic, cultural and political relations with the countries in Central Asia, the Balkans and Caucasia and also the globalisation in the world seen in recent years.

One of the targets of the Postal Union of Eurasia is to issue postal stamps having common topics and to organize the common stamp exhibitions. The member countries have chosen to issue a stamp on historical Silk Road that bound the region together for centuries. Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan and China which can be termed as the 8th Wonder of the world is an important portion of the Silk Road.

The 8th wonder of the world the Karakoram Highway, a portion of Silk Road: The name spells adventure even to those who know next to nothing about the road and its awe-inspiring environs. It conjures up pictures of a winding roadway high in the skies, amid snow-clad peaks towering almost beyond the reach of vision, while in the distance a wool-robed figure trudges alongside a heavily laden, shaggy yak.

Korakoram Highway, popularly known as KKH, is 805 kms. long, but it traverses some of the most picturesque and rugged terrain in the world. It runs from lslamabad Pakistan's capital, up the Indus River valley to Gilgit, then winds among the peaks of the Hunza region to Khunjerab (Water Dagger) Pass, a plateau in the Himalayas and rank among the highest in the world. Within 105 kms. of Gilgit there are 11 peaks of an height between 18,000 to 26,000 feet. There are glaciers too, the largest in the world outside the polar regions.

On its arduous climb the road passes through fabled lands, each of them worthy of being termed "Shangri-La". Kohistan, Hunza, Nagar, all these are places unspoiled by civilization, and inhabited by a people supremely happy despite want and poverty. In point of fact, it was to open these lands to the "benefits" of civilization that the KKH was planned. Food and merchandise from the lowlands are now cheaper, and hospital care is only hours away by jeep instead of days away by horse or donkey.

For centuries, the people of the unplands have led isolated, insulated lives, cheerfully unaware of the fact that they lacked most of what the rest of the world considers necessary. They held their festivals, played their flutes, channelled water from melting snow of the glaciers to their terraced, postage-stamp-size farms, pruned their fig, apricot and peach trees, and lived in health to a remarkable age on a diet based on a minimum amount of animal fat and plentiful nuts and fruits. Travellers of the past were so taken by the sight of 90 and 100-years old men and women working by day in the fields, yet ready for dancing in the evening, that fanciful tales of the region were inevitable-birds ferrying people across the mountains. The longevity of the mountain people is a fact, says the former Mir (or ruler) of Hunza, but the travellers tales do tend to exaggerate, especially when they speak of people living to the age of 130 and more.

The first European travellers in the area were some Greek scholars sent by Darius of Persia in about 500 B.C. Their accounts are among the earliest and most reliable.

For centuries afterward, it was fashionable for many of the notables of the area to claim Greek descent Indeed, those on the higher rungs of the social ladder and most of the chieftains and members of the aristocracy, claimed direct descent from the doughty Macedonian himself. Knowing something of Alexander, this seems highly improbable. But certainly many of the people seen in Swat, Chitral and the surrounding regions have distinctly Greek features. And legend has it that the kingdom of pale-skinned Hunzakuts was found by five wanderers from Alexander's army.

The investigators may find valuable hauls, not in gold or jewels (although the area is known to be mineral-rich), but in forgotten history. Much of the highway follows the old Silk Route, which was opened during the Han Dynasty 200 years before the birth of Christ. At its zenith, around 200 A.D., Silk Route and its connections with the Roman system to the west constituted the longest road on earth. For centuries until incessant warfare and raids by the Mongols and other nomads closed the route to commercial traffic camel caravans traveled across the "top of the world" bringing tea, silk and porcelain from China to India, and returning with gold, ivory, jewels and spices as well as Buddhism and Christianity. Marco Polo followed the route, as did Ghengis Khan the Mongol emperor, Chinese Pilgrims and Teddy Roosevelt, most adventurous of American presidents.

In addition to spectacular scenery and historical significance, the road is of interest for the wildlife that inhabits the regions it traverses. The yak, now domesticated elsewhere in Pakistan, still exists in the wild here. The yak is to the people of Pakistan's Northern Areas what the reindeer is to the Eskimo and what the buffalo once was to the North American Indian. It provides them with food, clothing and means of transportation and in days gone by its bones were fashioned into weapons.

Found in this region, and perhaps nowhere else in the world, is the snow leopard. Also Marco Polo Sheep, the Markhor and Thar (a wild goat) the Bhural (a sheep) and deer were common, but now they are extremely rare. One of the several rare species of birds is the colourful "Ram Chakor". The ordinary chakor, a kind of pheasant is also found in other parts of he country, but the 'Ram' lives along the Karakoram Highway upto the Chinese border. It is much bigger than the chakor found near Quetta far to the south-west. Pheasants of other types also abound - the tragopan, kalege and chir. The first of these, the tragopan, is now almost extinct.

Even without scenery, history and wildlife, the Karakoram Highway would be noteworthy as a miracle of engineering and road building skill. It is the embodiment of the sacrifice of hundreds of lives, untold hardship and the unrelenting labour of 20 years. And above all, it is an incomparable tribute to men of indomitable will and courage. For a developing country such as Pakistan to attempt such a project - and complete it successfully - is little short of incredible. Imagine trying to hack a passageway through a wall of granite with a penknife. It looks something like that to build the road.

Plans for the highway were drawn up in 1958-59. Actual work on the road began in 1960. Writing about the initial part of the project a Pakistan Army engineer said "it took us two weeks to cover 30 kms. (about 2.72 kms a day). There was no suitable equipment ..... the supply of explosives was erratic and when snow blocked the Shangrila Pass, the troops survived on local maize. There was no road to follow not even the semblance of one. Just a narrow footpath that even donkeys found difficult to negotiate. All supplies, including explosives, had to be carried by the soldiers themselves on their backs. Most of the equipment had to be dismantled and then carried to the next camp, to be reassembled there. These were days of extreme hardship".

By 1965; some 224 of the planned 248 kms. had been completed. Then Pakistan became engaged in an armed confrontation with India and work on the highway came to a stop. When hostilities ceased the work was resumed right up to Khunjerab Pass on the Chinese border. This decision followed an agreement by which China undertook to build a similar highway at Khunjerab and go upto Urumchi, capital of Sinkiang, via Tashkurgan and kashgar.

Work on both sides of the border began in real earnest in 1966. In the interest of efficiency, the entire project on Pakistan's side was now entrusted to Army engineers. Further to avoid bottlenecks, a semi- autonomous body the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) was created to execute the job expeditiously. Now a dual - carriage metalled heavy traffic road was planned.

Many mountain tribesmen, a rough, primitive people, could not understand the value of the highway to them and feared that it would take away their small patches of flat arable land. The countryside itself was an even more formidable enemy. But inspite of the monumental difficulties, the road was completed in 1978 and opened to traffic.

At Pattan, a memorial beside the road carries this inscription ,,some time in the future when other will ply the KKH, little will they realise the amount of sweat, courage, dedication, endurance and human sacrifice that has gone into the making of this road. But as you drive along, tarry a little to say a short prayer for those silent brave men of the Pakistan Army who gave their lives to realise a dream, now known as the "Karakoram Highway".

The 160 kms. through Kohistan are as picturesque as one would find anywhere else in the world. There are mighty mountain peaks on all sides, soaring above rushing torrents fed by glaciers. It is a region of stunning beauty and grandeur. Three of the mightiest mountain ranges in the world are interlocked here: the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and the Karakoram.

A couplet by Dr. Muhammad lqbal, Pakistan's philosopher-poet has been carved into a road-side monument just south of Hunza. The two lines are an appropriate tribute to the road-builders. Translated from the Urdu, the lines say "When men set their minds to it, they can kick a mountain into powder".

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SALIENT FEATURES

Size of Stamp:
29 x 34 mm

Size of Print:
25 x 30 mm

Perforation:
13C

Denomination:
Rs. 4/- each design

Printing:
Multi Colours Litho Offset

Printing Inks:
Cyan - Magenta - Yellow - Black by
M/s. Sicpa Inks Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd.

No. of Stamps in each Sheet:
20 Stamps (5 x4)

Paper / Grammage:
Chancellor Litho PVA Gum Paper 102 gsm

Paper Manufacturer:
Tullis Russell Coaters UK

Colour Separation Processed on:
Crossfield Drum Scanner/ Processor

Quantity:
0.5 Million each design of stamp

Designer:
Adil Salahuddin

Printer:
Post Office Foundation Press, (Security Division) Karachi.

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