Rihla Book 5

Through Khorasan to India 1333

Battuta's route from the Volga through Central Asia to the Indus

After his return from Constantinople Battuta sent out to conquer the Central Asian steppes along the Shythian Silk Road in the Winter of 1333-34. The reason for choosing the Winter season was the absence of the parching, waterless heat. In this eason the streams and swamps between the Caspian and the Aral Sea were fozen. The heavy tent-wagons they used would have been bogged down.

Rihla 5 , 1333
Hajji Tarkhan-Astrahan

Astrakhan in the summer
Photo Wikipedia

From Astrahan on the Volga they headed east towards Sarajuk. Skirting the Caspian they headed south-east towards the Aral Sea and along the Skythian Silk Road into Khorazan. The cities of Khorazan had, before Genghis Khan and his grandsons, been Buddhist and Syrian Christian (Nestorian) lands. In Battuta's times they were still in ruins – the eastern Islamic frontier.

Rihla 5 , 1333
Skythian Silk Road Winter 1333-34

One of Battuta's slave girls on the Silk Road
Photo mmorgtorfree.web

From Sarajuk we made rapid marchs for thirty days, halting only for two hours each day. Each person eats and sleeps in his wagon while it is on the move. Travelers make this journey with the utmost speed, because of the scarcity of grass for the animals. The greater number of camels which cross the desert perish and the remainder are of no use until the following year, when they are fattened up again. Water is obtained from rain-pools or shallow wells at known points separated by two or three days' march.

We put rugs on the animals because of the cold. We entered the desert which is between Khwarizm and Bukhara, an eighteen days' journey; through sands, with no settlements on the way except the small town of Kat.

One night one of my slave girls gave birth to a child. I was told at first that it was a boy but afterwards I found out that it was a girl. She was born under a lucky star, and from that time on I experienced everything to give me joy and satisfaction. She died two months after my arrival in India.

After a number of rapid marches they reached Khwarizm, now Urgench, the only city Battuta gets excited about. - Little has survived there, a few Islamic mausolea, a tall minaret.

Rihla 5 , Winter 1333-34
Khwarizm-Khorezmia Kunya-Urgench

Khwarizm-Urgench, Mausoleum
Photo flickr.com

Khwarizm is the largest, greatest, most beautiful and most important city of the Turks. It shakes under the weight of its population, whose movements lend it the semblance of a billowy sea.
One day as I was riding in the bazaar I became stuck in the crowd, unable to go either forward or backward. I did not know what to do and only with great difficulty made my way back.
The Khwarizmians, or more generous or more friendly to strangers. They have a praiseworthy custom in regard to the prayer-services which I have not seen elsewhere. Each muezzin goes round the houses adjoining his mosque alerting them to attend the service, and any person who absents himself from the communal prayers is beaten by the qadi in the presence of the people.
Outside the city flows the river Jayhun [Oxus], one of the four rivers of Paradise, which freezes over for five months in the cold season like the Itil [Volga]. In the summer it is navigable for ships as far as Tirmidh [Termez], the journey down-stream taking ten days.

Rihla 5 , 1334


Bukhara has been rebuilt in the centuries after Battuta and is now after Samarkand one of the splendors of Central Asia.

Bukhara was formerly the capital of the lands beyond the Oxus. It was destroyed by the accursed Tinkiz [Genghiz] Khan the Tatar, the ancestor of the kings of 'Iraq, and all but a few of its mosques, academies, and bazaars are now lying in ruins. There is not one of its inhabitants today who possesses any theological learning or makes any attempt to acquire it.

[Notwithstanding] we lodged at a hospice [Sufi tekke] in a suburb of Bukhara called Fath Abad. The shaykh entertained me at his house and invited the principal men of the town. We spent a most delightful night there; the Koran-readers recited in pleasing voices, and the preacher delivered an address, and then they sang melodiously in Turkish and Persian and danced in our presence.

The Derwishes are dancing.
Photo amerune, flickr.com

Rihla 5 ,1334

\Sunset over the US airbase at Karshi (2007)!
Photo expat012, Panoramio

From Bukhara we set out for the camp of the pious Sultan Tarmashirin near Nakhshab [Qarshi], a small city surrounded by gardens and water channels. The Sultan of Turkistan, Tarmashirin, is a powerful sovereign, possessing a large army and a vast kingdom, and upright in his government. His territories lie between four of the great kings of the world, the kings of China, India, 'Iraq and King Uzbeg Khan, all of whom send him gifts and show him honor.
We used to attend the prayer services with him (this was during a period of intense and perishing cold weather) and he never failed to attend the dawn and evening prayers with the congregation.

One day when I was present at the afternoon prayer, one of his pages came in with a prayer mat and spread it in the place where the sultan usually prayed, saying to the imam "Our master desires you to delay the prayer for a moment while he performs his ablutions." The imam said in Persian "Is prayer for God or Tarmashirin?" and ordered the muezzin to recite the second call.
The sultan arrived when the service was half over, and made the remaining two prostrations at the end of the ranks, in the place where the shoes are left near the door of the mosque. He then performed the prostrations that he had missed, and went up laughing to the imam to shake his hand, and sitting down in his place said to me "When you return to your country tell how a Persian mendicant acted thus with the sultan of the Turks."

When I decided to continue my journey after a stay of fifty-four days with the sultan, he gave me seven hundred silver dinars and a sable coat worth a hundred dinars, which I had asked for on account of the cold, as well as two horses and two camels.

Rihla 5 ,1334

Samarkand under the Half-Moon
Photo RWFG

There were formerly great palaces in Smarkand, but most of them are in ruins, as also is much of the city itself, and it has no walls or gates. We set out from Samarqand towards Tirmidh [Termez].

Did Battuta really go to Samarkand? I doubt it. It would have been a detour of 300 km and out of his way. His desription of the destroyed town is historically correct. Today's Samarkand - and the medresses of my photo - were built by the accursed Timur Tamerlane (1336 - 1405) and his descendants. The city of Alexander the Great, Afrasiab, was then and still is a field of unexcavated mud hills.

Rihla 5 ,1334

The old town of Tirmidh was built on the bank of the Oxus, and when it was laid in ruins by Tinkiz [Ginghiz Khan] this new town was built two miles from the river.

Rihla 5 ,1334

The Ruins of Balkh are clearly visible from space on GE
Photo forumancientcoins.com

Balkh is in utter ruins and uninhabited, but anyone seeing it would think it it should have survived on account of the solidity of its construction. The accursed Tinkiz [Genghis Khan] destroyed the [Zaroastrian, Greek] city and demolished about a third of its mosques(?) on account of a treasure which he was told lay under one of its columns. He pulled down a third of them and found nothing and left the rest as it was.

Another of Battuta's improbable “Side Tours”:

Our traveller claims that he went from Balkh to Herat, Jam, Mashed, Nishapur and Bistam - from which he flies in one sentence to Baghlan. The total distance of this improbable excursion along the main Silk Road is 2650 km (Balkh-Bistam-Baghlan). He left Serai in the Winter of 1333/34 and arrived at the Indus in September 1334, a distance of 3500 km on the shortened route. It is impossible that he also went to Bistam within these 9 months (at an average of 20 km/day). The descriptions of the towns of Khorasan, which were well known and visited by many travelers (among them Polo) along that route, are generic and cover a whole of 3 pages in the Rihla. I guess he wanted to show that he had also been to the places other travelers had described. - I omitted that part of his trip to India.

Rihla 5 ,1334

We stayed outside Qundus for about forty days to pasture our camels and horses, for there is excellent pasturage there and perfect security, owing to the strict measures of the amir, who enforces the Turkish laws regarding horse-stealing.

Battuta may have considered following the Southern Silk Road which comes from Balkh and Nishapur and passes from here through the Wakhang to Kashgar in Chinese Turkestan. Another reason may have been that Marco Polo crossed the Pamirs along this route through Kunduz on his way to Karakhoram. Polo had come from Nishapur via Herat and Balkh just as Battuta claims to have done.

Rihla 5 ,1334

Baghlan Pass

Near Baghlan a pass crosses the mountains called Hindukush, which means "Slayer of Indians," because the slave boys and girls who are brought from India die there in large numbers as a result of the extreme cold and the quantity of snow.

Rihla 5 ,1334
Andar, Andarab

The Hindukush pass
Photo Õnne Pärl, afghanistan-photogallery.blogspot.com

The passage of the passes south of Baghlan requires a whole day's march. We stayed until the warm weather had definitely set in, and crossed these mountain by a continuous march from before dawn to sunset. We kept spreading felt cloths in front of the camels for them to tread on so that they should not sink in the snow.

We reached a place called Andar [Andarab]. In former times there was a town here whose traces have disappeared [Alexandria of the Caucasus, see Parwan]. We halted at a large village where there is a hospice belonging to an excellent man named Muhammad al-Mahrawi. We stayed with him and he treated us with consideration.

Rihla 5 ,1334

The road from Parwan pass
Photo Dziadek Mroz , flikr.com

From Andar we journeyed to a place called Parwan, where we met the amir Burunatyh.

In 329 BC, Alexander the Great founded the settlement of Parwan as his Alexandria of the Caucasus. It was conquered by the Arabs in 792. In 1221, the town was the site of a battle between the invading Mongols and the Khwarezmian Empire led by Jalal ad-Din, where the Mongols were defeated.

Rihla 5 ,1334

Bala Hissar the castle of Kabul (1879)

Kabul, formerly a vast town, is now occupied by a Persian-speaking tribe called Afghans. They hold mountains fasts and defiles and possess considerable strength, and are mostly highway robbers.

Rihla 5 ,1334
Karmash Gorge

Karmash or Karamlesh is the name of a very old town near Mosul and a center of the Syrian Chaldean Catholic, the Syriac Orthodox and the Syriac Catholic Churches – it must be a mistake. It happens frequently that Battuta uses Arabic names when he cannot remember the local names.

From Kabul we rode to Karmash, which is a fortress between two mountains, where the Afghans intercept travelers. During our passage of the defile we had an engagement with them. They were posted on the lower slope of the hill, but we shot arrows at them and they fled.

Our party was traveling light and had about four thousand horses and camels. We jettisoned some of our provisions and abandoned the loads of our camels along the route. We rejoined the caravan in the late evening and passed the night at the station of Shashnaghar. Next day our horses returned and picked up our loads.

Rihla 5 ,1334

Gazni 1839
Photo Wikipedia

To add to the confusion Battuta interchanges the order of places: He must have visited Ghazni after Kabul, but he correctly mentions the "warrior-sultan" Mahmud ibn Sabutagin (998-1030), who is buried at Ghazni.

The greater part of town is in ruins and nothing but a fraction remains of the formerly large city.
From here we entered a great desert which extends for fifteen days and can be traversed only in one season of the year, after the rains have fallen in Sind and India, that is in July-September.

Rihla 5, Sept 1334
Kashmore The Indus River at last, Sept 1334

The experts are not sure where he reached the Indus River. If he took the long route (app. 900 km) from Gazni through Kashmore to Sehwan it would also explain topographically why Battuta did not stop at Multan on his way to Sehwan - it was not on his route , besides it lay on the Indian side of the border.

At the night of the 12th of September we reached the river Panjab [Indus] which is the frontier of the territories of the sultan of India and the Sind, the officials of the intelligence service came to us and sent a report about us to the governor of the city of Multan and to Dihli.
From the Sind to the city of Dihli [Delhi], the sultan's capital, it is fifty days' march, but a letter reaches the Sultan in five days by courier service.
The couriers are on foot. At every third of a mile there is a pavilion, where men sit girded up ready to move off. Each of whom has a rod a yard and a half long with brass bells at the top. The courier takes the letter in one hand and the rod with the bells in the other, and runs with all his might. On hearing the sound of the bells, a man in the next pavilion prepare to meet him, takes the letter in his hand and shaking his rod runs to the next station. And so the letter is passed on till it reaches its destination. This post is faster than mounted riders.
Every person proceeding to the court of the sultan [of Delhi] must needs have a gift ready to present to him, in order to gain his favour. The sultan requites him for it by a gift many times its value.
When his subjects grew accustomed to this practice, the merchants in Sind and India began to furnish each newcomer with thousands of dinars as a loan, and to supply him with whatever he might wish to offer as a gift or to use on his own behalf, such as riding animals, camels, and goods.
This trade of theirs is a flourishing business and brings in vast profits. On reaching Sind I followed this practice and bought horses, camels, white slaves and other goods from the merchants. I had already bought from an 'Iraqi merchant in Ghazna about thirty horses and a camel with a load of arrows, for this is one of the things presented to the sultan.
This merchant went off to Khurasan and on returning to Dehli received his money from me. He made an enormous profit through me and became one of the principal merchants. I met him many years later, at Aleppo, when the infidels had robbed me of everything I possessed, but he gave me no assistance.

Instead of waiting for the Sultan's answer Battuta travels south to Sehwan, where he meets the new governor of the Lower Sindh.

The following places are actually part of Book 6. I included them here to preserve the continuity of Battuta's travelog.

Rihla 6, 1334

In Sehwan I met the distinguished doctor 'Ala al-Mulk of Khurasan, formerly qadi of Herat, who had come to join the king of India and had been appointed governor of the town and province of Lahari in [the lower] Sind.

I decided to travel with him. He had fifteen boats with which he sailed down the river, carrying his baggage. One of these was a ship called an
ahavorah, resembling the tartan of our country, but broader and shorter. In the centre of it there was a wooden cabin reached by a staircase, and on top of this there was a place prepared for the governor to sit in.

Rihla 6, 1334

The Indus delta near Lahari
Photo columbia.edu

After five days' traveling by boat from Sehwan we reached 'Ala al-Mulk's province and entered Lahari, a fine town on the coast where the river of Sind discharges itself into the ocean.
It possesses a large harbour, visited by men from Yemen, Fars, and elsewhere. For this reason its contributions to the Treasury and its revenues are considerable; the governor told me that the revenue from this town amounted to sixty lakhs per annum. The governor receives a twentieth part of this, that being the footing on which the sultan commits the provinces to his governors.

I rode out one day with 'Ala al-Mulk, and we came to a plain called Tarna, seven miles from Lahari, where I saw an innumerable quantity of stones in the shape of men and animals. Many of them were disfigured and their forms effaced, but there remained a head or a foot or something of the sort. There were remains of a city wall and house walls. The place had pools of stinking water and an inscription on one of its walls in Indian characters. 'Ala al-Mulk told me that the historians relate that in this place there was a great city. They add that the inscription gives the date of the destruction of the people of that city, which occurred about a thousand years ago.

When I had spent five days in this city with 'Ala al-Mulk, he gave me a generous travelling provision, and I left for the town of Bakar.
Battuta has chosen to cross the Indus, the border of India, in friendly country. This may have been the real reason for his going to Lahiri with al-Mulk. Apparently Sultan Muhammad Tughluq watched his eastern borders carefully.