Location – Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, Murghob district. Right bank of the Ak-Jilga River, 6km above its juncture with the Bazar-Ryk River, at the terrace-like ledge on the right side of the Elgi-Sai River (the right tributary of the Al-Jilga River).
In the Middle Ages, the Pamirs were famous for silver mining. It started in the 10th century with the exploitation of silver deposits near the Tokuz-Bulak River (the left tributary of the Ghunt River), in the Bachor range. Capitalisation of the deposits in this area resulted in the establishment of settlements of miners and metallurgists in Chartim, Varshez, Shazud, Miyonakuh, Kugantukoy and many others.
The mining was not exten90 sive. It grew in the 11th century during the “silver crisis”; silver deposits were developed and intensely exploited in the Eastern Pamirs. Bazar-dara was built up as a miner’s town, in order to control work in the mines and the transport of silver ore to the smelting furnaces. The town is located in the Ak-Jilga valley, on the northern slopes of the North-Alichur range at about 4,000m. There is a caravanserai, a residential area of about 80 houses, and a cemetery (about 500 graves) here. Residential premises are equipped with sufa and fireplaces. An administrative complex, a fire temple, and a bath with kan (under-floor) heating are among the remains from the public buildings. At the peak of production, around 1,200-1,500 people lived in the town.
Local materials, such as slate and rounded stones from the river, were used in the construction of buildings. Slate, due to its bedding, was very good for laying. The buildings were all erected without foundations. Particularly large stones were used at the bases of the walls. It is interesting to note how the town got its water. Although the river was very near, it was inconvenient and difficult to reach, so the people relied instead on small wells or water reservoirs. Bazar-dara residents’ food was quite diverse.
It seems that the people relied mainly on hunting and cattle breeding to provide meat. Interestingly, the remains of legumes, grains, melons, gourds, fruits, and walnut shells were found here — plants that did not and could not grow in the area. It is assumed that some of these goods were Pamiri and others were delivered from the Ferghana valley, probably in exchange for silver or silver ore. Silver deposits were mined for 70–80 years. A natural question arises: what made people establish a permanent settlement in such a remote and desolate place in the East Pamirs, an area which is difficult to access even now? The primary reasons are, of course, economic. While silver mining in the East Pamirs was increasing, a rapid growth of towns, commodity production and monetary trade was occurring in Central Asia and adjoining regions. Undoubtedly, this turn of events required resources – namely, huge quantities of gold and silver. Silver mines in Afghanistan (Pajkhira area) and Iran (Esfahan area) were already exhausted by that time and could not meet the increasing demand. Silver was particularly in demand, and so an intensive exploitation of the deposits was organized, despite the extremely complicated physical and climatic conditions accompanying its mining in the East Pamirs. The high altitude and corresponding climate conditions of the region have helped to preserve the remains of many domestic items which have enabled modern researchers to fully reconstruct the lifestyles and work conditions of the miners and their families, and to discover their trade contacts and the legal status of mine ownership.
Paper document fragments discovered in the ancient city, written in Arabic script with black ink, contributed to the research. The paper was made from mulberry tree and hemp fibre. Climate conditions in the region are unique. From mid-July till September – the best time for visiting the area – the wind almost invariably begins blowing at exactly noon (give or take 5 minutes) and stops at 6.00 pm. The weather is cold here, even in summer. It is possible to get to this ancient city from Khorugh or Murghob by following the Pamir highway to the small Ak-Balyklake, several kilometres from Alichur. The lake is well known among local residents because it is considered holy. After reaching the lake, turn north from the main road (left if driving from Khorugh, right from Murghob) and continue for several kilometres on the relatively passable country road until obliged to stop. It is difficult to say how far any given vehicle can go, since it depends on the state of the road at the time, the model of the vehicle, and the driver’s experience.
The situation changes constantly depending on weather conditions, precipitation, temperature and many other factors. It is best to use a four-wheel drive “off-road” vehicle. However, whatever form of transport you use, you must complete the journey on foot.