WHAT TO SEE : Shrines



Gorno-Badakhshan has a wealth of shrines (‘Mazar’, pronounced locally ‘Mazor’) and sacred places (‘Oston’) dedicated to holy men. The majority of these are venerated by the Ismaili community in the Pamirs, but there are also shrines in Sunni villages - for example, the picture below is from the village of Poi-Mazar at the upper end of the Vanch valley - a region in which the population is almost totally Sunni - showing what, according to legend, is the grave of Ali.

Graveyard Poi Mansur

The shrines of Gorno-Badakhshan are characterised by the presence of sacred stones and the horns of ibex and Marco Polo sheep (Ovis Poli), symbols of purity under Aryan and Zoroastrian religious traditions, long before the introduction of Islam; they also show evidence of regular use for fire rituals, in which aromatic herbs ('strachm' or 'yob') and animal fat ('roghan') are burnt. The local traditions and legends attached to some shrines also pre-date the introduction of Islam in the Pamirs.

This section has been put together with the kind assistance of Professor Jo-Ann Gross, of the College of New Jersey, who is currently preparing a scholarly study of Tajik shrines. A non-exhaustive list of shrines in Gorno-Badakhshan follows, the more interesting of which are shown in bold. N.B. The name of the village is followed by the name of the shrine(s) there.

Professor Gross subdivides the shrines of Badakhshan in the following categories:

- sacred places associated with nature, including hot and/or mineral springs, large or unusual trees, caves, and rock formations;

- shrines where eminent religious figures are buried (Ismaili pirs, khalifas, or Sufis);

- shrines in places where eminent religious figures are believed to have visited in the past (including figures from early Islamic history such as ‘Ali or Muhammad Baqir);

- sacred places where animals carrying early Islamic figures passed or are believed to have left footprints in the ground or rock.

Prominent at most shrine sites are collections of animal horns and special stones, which also have sacred properties. In general, rituals associated with sacred places are reserved for special holidays such as Navruz or Eid-e Qurbon, rather than the previous practice of weekly Friday village gatherings. The photographs that accompany the list illustrate these features.

Darwaz District

Yoged: Ostoni Khoja Khizr, Ostoni Shah Owliyo, Ostoni Khoja Chiltan, Ostoni Khoja Nazar

Vanch District

Poi Mazar: Sardi Sad, Sardy Bard, Abdulkakhori Sarmast
Vanvan: Khotchai Sabz Poosh
Ubaghn: 'Alexander's tomb'

Shugnan District

Porshnev: Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadoni – Kushk, Sumbi Duldul – Barchiddara

Saroi Bahor Oston az Pir Said Saroi Bahor

Gumbazi Pir Sayyid Farukhshoh – Saroi Bakhor (above)

Nasir Husraw

Piri Shohnosir – Midenshor (above)
Tem: Imom Zaynulobidin
Sokhcharv: Piri Dukman
Suchon: Shohi Viloyat
Sijd: Shohmalang
Ver: Sumbi Duldul
Vankala: Imom Muhammad Bokir

Roshtkala District

Sayyid Jalol Tavdem Sayyid Jalol Interior

Tavdem: Oston and mazor of Sayyid Jalol

The recent renovation was intended to preserve rather than rebuild the original shrine: special care was taken to build a new protective structure outside of the original and the old earthen, and stone shrine with carved wooden beams thus remains undisturbed.

Tusyon: Shoh Burhoni Vali
Khichikh: Sho Burhon
Parshed: Khojai Zur
Bodom: Khojai Nur (sister of Khojai Zur), Sumbi Duldul
Baroj: Shoh Burhon
Nimoth: Sho Abdol (Imom Bokir)
Barboz: Ostoni Piri Fokmammad

Rushan District

Vomar: Ostoni Sayyid Jalol
Yemts: Mushkilkusho

Bassid: Khazrati Khojai Nuruddin (below); Safdaron.

Bassid Hazrati Khojai Nuruddin above2 Bassid Hazrati Khojai Nuruddin below

Bardara: Farmon (below).

Bardara Chanorho Farmon Bardara
Bardara1 Bardara2

Bardara is tucked away at the top of a narrow valley with splendid views of the mountains beyond. The name of the shrine comes from the 'farmon' (firman) sent by Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah (Aga Khan III) to confirm receipt of offerings from Bardara - a document still kept in the village. The shrine is located in the centre of a row of three very old juniper trees, exactly 508m apart. In other parts of Gorno-Badakhshan there are old sacred juniper trees identical to those in Bardara, such as the one on the windswept plain above Roshorv in Bartang - see below. Its presence is a mystery - it is the only tree growing at this location and was once part of a group of three identical trees, equidistant and aligned, just as in Bardara, in a NNW-SSE direction.

Bardara Chanorho

According to one legend, they were planted by Ali to mark the route he took through the Pamirs. According to another, they were planted by Nasr Khusraw for the same reason.

Roshorv: Borkhatsij, Sho Tolib, Sho Husein, Andrim

savnob mazar hozirbosht

Savnob: Hozirbosht (above), Khojai Hizr, Mahfiloston, Hazrati Daoud

'Hozirbosht' means 'be prepared' and the shrine is not far from a cave complex that served in the past as a refuge for women and children during the occasional raids by Kyrgyz maruaders.

Yapshorv: Khojai Shayuz
Nisur: Sho Husein, Pir Nosir, Hazrat Daoud
Khuf: Mustansiri Billoh
Yomj: Ostoni Shohtolib

Ishkashim District

Shambedeh: Ostoni Shohburhon
Rin: Ostoni Zanjiri Kaba

Shohi Mardon Shohi Mardon Shohi Mardon

Namadgut: Ostoni Shohi Mardon (above)

The outer gate to the mazor itself is covered in calligraphy and the door to the mazor is a good example of early wood carving.

Shoh Isomiddin

Ptup: Mazori Shohisomiddin (above - photo Vatani Alidodov).

This mazor has an amazing garden filled with old twisted sacred trees, including huge plane trees. A trip to Ptup is highly recommended, since in addition to the mazor, there is also, above the village, the sacred hot springs Bibi Fotima and the spectacular fortress Zulkhomor in Yamchun.

Piri Fokmamad

Darshay: Ostoni Piri Fokmamad (above)


bobo Khoki

Shitkharv: Ostoni Bobo Khoki (above)


Yamg Yamg Yamg

Yamg: Osorkhonai (and museum) Sufi Muborakkadam (above).

This is the former residence of Sufi Muborakkadam, a famous 19th century philosopher and astronomer, and has superb carved pillars and beams, as well as his manuscripts and the solar stone he used for determining the seasons.

Mazoor Vrang

Vrang: Osorkhonai Abdullo Ansori and museum (above).

A visit to Vrang is highly recommended. Just behind the shrine are caves in the rock wall that served as cells for the monks and the Buddhist ziggurat (stupa), topped with a stone bearing a footprint.

Vrang Cave

Zong: Mazori Shasti Murtuzo Ali, Osorkhonai Pir Saidkaramalishoh (museum), Mazori Pir Saidkaramalishoh - perched up high and very dramatic, Mazori Khoja Behzod, Ostoni Khonai Khudo, Ostoni Murodgokhi Murodoson


Ostoni Gesuv Ostoni Gesuv

Ostoni Gesuv (above)
Zugvand: Ostoni Panjai Shoh

Shohkambari Shohkambari Interior

Langar: Mazori Shohkambari Oftob (above).

Opposite the mazor there is a Pamiri guesthouse and museum with richly carved beams and pillars - worth an overnight stay there (below).

Guest House Guest House

Hisor: Ostoni Nuri Muhammad


Zimudj Chil Mirid

In addition there are a number of small roadside shrines, especially in the Wakhan - above: shrines in Zumudg and Vnukut ('Chil Murid' - 'forty faithful'). Finally, although not strictly speaking a shrine, the (Sunni) mosque in Shaimak (Murghab district - below), built only some fifty years ago, has an unreal Disneyland quality - worth a visit, if in Murghab, for the spectacular scenery of the Aksu river and views of the Little Pamir.



All text and photographs (c) Robert Middleton 2002

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