Khyber Pass
"Khyber is a Hebrew word meaning a fort"

The Khyber Pass is a 53-kilometer (33-miles) passage through the Hindu Kush mountain range. It connects the northern frontier of Pakistan with Afghanistan. At its narrowest point, the pass is only 3 meters wide. On the north side of the Khyber Pass rise the towering, snow-covered mountains of the Hindu Kush. The Khyber Pass is one of the most famous mountain passes in the World. It is one of the most important passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is the best land route between India and Pakistan and has had a long and often violent history. Conquering armies have used the Khyber as an entry point for their invasions. It was also been a major trade route for centuries.

Khyber Pass, mountain pass in western Asia, the most important pass connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan, controlled by Pakistan. The Khyber Pass winds northwest through the Sefid Koh Range near Peshawar, Pakistan to Kabul, Afghanistan, varying in width from 3 to 137 m. The mountains on either side can be climbed only in a few places. The pass is walled by precipitous cliffs that vary in height from about 180 to 300 m. The pass reaches its highest elevation at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The history of the Khyber Pass as a strategic gateway dates from 326 B.C., when Alexander the Great and his army marched through the Khyber to reach the plains of India. From their, he sailed down Indus River and led his army across the desert of Gedrosia. In the A.D. 900s, Persian, Mongol, and Tartar armies forced their way through the Khyber, bringing Islam to India. Centuries later, India became part of the British Empire, and British troops defended the Khyber Pass from the British Indian side. During the Afghan Wars the pass was the scene of numerous skirmishes between Anglo-Indian soldiers and native Afghans. Particularly well known is the battle of January 1842, in which about 16,000 British and Indian troops were killed. The British constructed a road through the pass in 1879 and converted it into a highway during the 1920s. A railroad was also built here in the 1920s.

The Khyber, in its chequered history, has seen countless invasions. It witnessed the march of Aryans and victorious advance of Persian and Greek armies. It also saw the Scythians, White Huns, Seljuks, Tartars, Mongols, Sassanians, Turks, Mughals and Durranis making successive inroads into the territories beyond Peshawar Valley and Indus.  The very sight of the Khyber reminds one of the conquerors who forced their way through its dangerous defiles. It is this Pass through which the subcontinent was invaded time and again by conquerors like Timur, Babar, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. Again, it was through this Pass that the Russian invasion of the subcontinent was feared by the British in the 19th century.  The story of Khyber Pass is composed of such colour and romance, such tragedy and glory that fact really looks stranger than fiction in this case. The Khyber Pass has been a silent witness to countless great events in the history of mankind. As one drives through the Pass at a leisurely pace, imagination unfolds pages of history.

The Aryans descending upon the fertile northern plains in 1500 BC subjugating the indigenous Dravidian population and settling down to open a glorious chapter in history of civilization. The Persian hordes under Darius (6 century B.C.) crossing into the Punjab to annex yet another province to the Archaemenian Empire. The armies of Alexander the Great (326 BC) marching through the rugged pass to fulfill the wishes of a young, ambitious conqueror. The terror of Ghenghis Khan enwraping the majestic hills and turning back towards the trophies of ancient Persia. The White house bringing fire and destruction in their wake, the Scythians and the Parthians, the Mughals and the Afghans, conquerors all, crossing over to leave their impact and add more chapters to the diverse history of this subcontinent. 

The Muslim armies first passed through in 997 AD under the command of Subuktagin and later his celebrated son, Mahmud of Ghaznawi, marched through with his army as many as seventeen times between 1001-1030 AD. Some of his campaigns were directed through the Khyber Pass. Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghaur, a renowned ruler of Ghauri dynasty, crossed the Khyber Pass in 1175 AD to consolidate the gains of the Muslims in India. He used Khyber Pass again in 1193 to measure strength with Pirthvi Raj Chouhan and show his mettle on the field of Tarain. This battle helped Muslims carve out a Muslim Kingdom in India. In 1398 AD Amir Timur, the firebrand from Central Asia, invaded India through the Khyber Pass and his descendant Zahiruddin Babur made use of this pass first in 1505 and then in 1526 to establish a mighty Mughal empire.In 1672, it was the Khyber Pass where the Afridis under the able leadership of Ajmal Khan defeated Muhammad Amin Khan's army and besides inflicting losses, both in men and material, on the enemy, the Afridis captured about 10,000 Mughal soldiers. Nadir Shah Afshar of Iran used the Khyber Valley in 1739 AD to attach Delhi. The famous Afghan King, Ahmad Shah Abdali, crossed the Khyber Pass in 1761 AD and crushed the Marattha confederacy on the field of Panipat (India). The Khyber Valley saw a great deal of fighting between 1839-1919. During the First Afghan War (1839-42) General Pollock used the Khyber Pass on his way to Afghanistan to retrieve the British honour. Again, in 1878, the British forces marched through the Khyber Pass to launch an offensive against the Afghans in the Second Afghan War (1878-79). In 1897 a revolt flared up on the frontier region and the valleys of Khyber started vibrating with the echoes of war.

The year 1919 again saw the movement of British troops through the Khyber during the Third Afghan War. The valiant sons of Khyber converged upon Peshawar in 1930 to give vent to their feelings of resentment against the indiscriminate firing of the British troops on freedom lovers in the famous Qissa Khawani Bazaar. The chapter of fighting in Khyber, however, came to a close with the dawn of Independence in August, 1957. Since the establishment of Pakistan, the situation has changed altogether and the sentinels of Khyber are now interested in the welfare of their country-Pakistan - with which is linked their own future. But one thing remains unchanged. The invasion of the Khyber Pass is still on. Conquerors no longer traverse it, tourist do. The Khyber Pass is attracting thousands of tourists every year, besides a large number of foreign dignitaries, including Heads of States and Government leaders.

For hundreds of years, great camel caravans traveled through the Khyber Pass, bringing goods to trade. These ancient merchants and traders brought luxurious silks and fine porcelain objects from China to the Middle East. Often, they stopped at Herat, the great oasis in western Afghanistan. The traders traveled in caravans as a protection against the hazards of travel. Even so, they were often robbed by local tribesmen when traveling through the Khyber Pass.

The Khyber Pass today........

Today, two highways thread their way through the Khyber Pass-one for motor traffic, and one for the traditional caravans. A railway line also travels to the head of the pass. Recently, the Khyber Pass has been used to transport refugees from the Afghan civil war into Pakistan, and transport arms into Afghanistan. The highway over the Khyber Pass links Kabul to Peshawar. Villages lie on each side of the Khyber Pass. The people of the Khyber Pass are mainly Pashtuns.

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