Silk road embodies the spirit of discovery and exchange .It encourages people to look for what unites them, instead of what divides them
For centuries, mankind has been in a churn pulled in different directions by forces friendly as well as inimical to it. Off all the forces which have had a profound effect on mankind, it has been forces of religion for times to come. From religion a man derives his identity and raison d’etre to live when all else is lost .As man made advances in his lifestyle and became master of his destiny, he realized the overarching importance of religion and its profound effect on his well being .India has had the unique distinction among the comity of nations which bestowed great religions on mankind of the world viz ,Hinduism, Jainism ,Sikhism and Buddhism. Of all these religions ,Buddhism has had the unique distinction of spreading far and wide taking into its fold countries as near as Nepal to the easternmost end of Asia like Japan ,Korea and China, not to miss countries like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan etc of central Asia.
Buddhism in central Asia ,refers to the forms of Buddhism that existed and related to the silk route transmission of Buddhism during the 1st millennium .Mintaka pass or Minteke pass is a mountainous pass in the Karkorum mountains between POK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) and Xinjiang region of China .In ancient times this Mintaka pass was the main access point into Gojal (upper Hunza valley) of Jammu and Kashmir from the north .With an elevation of about 4709 mts/15449 ft Mintaka pass was the shortest and quickest way into the then undivided Jammu and Kashmir from the Tarim Basin and was usually open all year around ,but extremely dangerous and only suited for travelers on foot. From Tashkungam, one travelled just over 70 kms(43 miles) south to the junction of Mintaka river and heading some 80 kms(50 miles) west up this valley ,one reached the Mintaka pass which led into upper Hunza from where one could travel to Gilgit and from there to Kashmir or the Gandharan plains.
Load on animals could be taken from the Mintaka pass into upper Hunza, but then loads would have to be carried by the coolies to Gilgit .From here on the cargoes would be reloaded into pack animals and taken east to Kashmir and then on to Taxila or to Chitral .Buddhism entered central Asia and Han China via the silk road /route in the 1st or 2nd century CE. Mintaka pass was one of the major halting points for the Buddhist monks enroute to central Asia or back to Kashmir. Buddhist monks travelled with merchant caravans on the silk route to preach their new religion. The lucrative Chinese silk trade along this trade route began during the Han dynasty .The silk road was a vital route not just for physical goods but ideas as well, and it had a significant impact on the spread of Buddhism through central Asia .The cradle of Buddhism is to be found in the iron age India .Around the middle of 1st millennium BC this region bordering the Tarim basin under Kanishka the great had build great contacts with Buddhism throughout the eastern world. The sacred rock of Hunza has numerous petroglyphs depicting mounted horsemen and Ibex along with Kharoshthi inscriptions that mention Saka and Pahlava rulers. Mintaka pass was the main route used until the recent advance of glaciers. The KKH (Karakorum highway) pass also known as the Friendship route /highway between China and Pakistan initially was planned along this pass, but then due to Chinese reservations, the highway passed through the Kunjerab pass. Mintaka pass in fact was a gateway to the Wakhan corridor and the Pamir basin also known as the Pamir knot, a place from where most of the mountains radiated into central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Though a conduit for silk route, Mintaka pass along with Kilik pass was infamous for Mongol marauders who in the early 12th /13 th century invaded india from the north for their occasional looting forays. Interestingly the passage of time has not been able to obliterate the cruel hand of nature which struck the travelers on Mintaka pass from time to time ,and one can even today see mass of bones and skulls scattered around the pass as a grim reminder of the days of yore. The danger lurking around Mintaka pass was in the form of its remoteness from civilized world as also the unpredictable weather conditions surrounding that general area.
The famous ‘Great Game’ of 19th century, a power play between Victorian England and Czarist Russia had many lynchpins on which revolved their entire geostrategic thinking. Mintaka pass was one such lynch pin which demanded constant attention from both superpowers for its covetous position near the Pamir basin, since the pass was a virtual gateway for entry into Indian Hinterland as well as mineral rich central Asia. Peter Hopkirk the world famous author on issues concerning Central Asia , in his book The ‘Great Game- On His Majesty’s secret service has very succinctly put forward the point that from threat perception point of view to the Indian subcontinent in the 18 th and 19 th century ,no such mountain pass commanded that much attention as the duo of Mintaka pass and the Bolan pass near Baluchistan. The former afforded easy access to invaders from the north and the later from the west to include the then Persia (Iran). Accordingly these two passes were always on the radar of British India, which constructed far flung outposts in their near vicinity to provide them inherent security. Incidentally Bolan Pass is the world’s longest pass with a length of about 89 kilometers and 120 kms from the Afghanistan border in the Toba Kakkar range of Baluchistan. Though with the changed geo political situation in the past couple of decades, these passes have lost their relevance, but none the less they provide an interesting peek into history for mankind to learn no matter what time line.