Wonders of Tourism
Location - Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, Rosh-tqala district. Shohdara River basin, opposite Mayakovsky peak.
Transportation - hitchhike or taxi.
Lazurite, lapis lazuli, lazulik, etc. These are the names of the mineral known with its various shades of indigo, violet, cornflower blue or green-blue. There are only a few of these stone deposits in the world in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Russia and Chile. The best indigo minerals are mined only in the West Pamirs and Afghanistan, and they are very rare. Samples of lapis lazuli are usually spotted or striped because of minor calcite, dolomite or diopcite contamination. Small crystals of golden pyrites (sulphuric pyrites) make it particularly beautiful. Lazuli is unbreakable even when heated. These qualities were known in antiquity and used to confirm the authenticity of the material. In Armenian manuscripts of the 17th century it is written: "A real, precious lazuli is that which can be kept in the fire for 10 days without losing its colour".
The fact that people knew the stone long ago is supported by the finding of a beetle-scarab figure in the tomb of an Egyptian Pharaoh, and beads made out of the Badakhshan lazuli in Scythian burials. Lazuli once served as a trimming on royal thrones and temple columns. An ultramarine pigment, used by the greatest painters for vibrant paintings of skies, was made from lazuli. Due to its rarity and high price, lazuli sometimes was sold along with silver and gold in China. Lazuli was used for making balls on the headgear of Chinese mandarins, as a symbol of their power.
Lazuli powder was used in ceramic production for making enamels, glaze, Chinese porcelain and Venetian glass. The blue domes of mosques and clay tiles of minarets and madrassahs in many Central Asia cities also contain some of this wonderful stone.
Up to the early 20th century this mineral was considered medicinal in Central Asia. It is known that it was used for treating eye diseases and improving blood coagulation. Despite its widespread reputation, the exact location of lazuli mines remained unknown for a long time. Usually people said it was from Bukhara, Turkestan, Afghanistan, India, Persia, and Tibet, but those were only places where it was sold.
Expeditions in the early 19th century began to uncover the secret. It became known that Sari-Sang lazuli deposits were located in Afghanistan approximately 70km south from Fayzobod, three kilometres south of the village of Goran, on the steep of the western slope of the Kokcha River (or Jirm River). The precious and beautiful indigo lazuli was mined there, and in the Afghan dialect it was called niili. A light-blue lazuli of slightly lower quality was called asmani, and the poorest, of greenish colour - sufsi. Lazuli mining started in the late Stone Age period (4th century B.C.). The road used for transportation of the mineral to other countries was called "The Great Lazuli Road". The Sari-Sang deposit was described by Al-Biruni (11^ century), and the stone was called the "Badakhshan lazuli".
Lazuli mining was done using the primitive "fire" method - heating a pit-face with fire and then cooling it with water. Gunpowder was later used for this purpose. The mines were thoroughly hidden, and all the deposits were the property of the Afghan ruler.
Whether it was the only lazuli deposit or not was a secret for a long time. Only in the 1930s was more discovered in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast of Tajikistan, 4,500m above sea level. It was in the valley of the small Lojvar Dara River, a tributary of the larger Bodom Dara River (which is itself a tributary of the Sho-hdara River).
As the locals recall, the existence of lazuli deposits in the Pamirs (besides Badakhshan) was known long ago, but they were inaccessible, holy, and even fatal. They had such fame because, according to legend, in ancient times syahpush (men dressed in black) came from India to the Pamirs in search of lazuli but could not overcome the high rocks that stood in the way of the lazuli deposit. They demanded an innocent boy, girl, and dogrose bush brushwood from the local people. They made a sacrificial bonfire with these, and prayed to their god. Then they cut up cattle and put the meat on the rock. Since the deposit was located very high up where it was always cold, the blood of the animals froze and the meat froze to the rock. The invaders climbed up using these meat "steps". But there were not enough animals, and it was still too far to reach the mountain peak. So then the syahpush started killing the locals to make a staircase from the bodies. The Pamiris could not stand the violence any longer, so they killed their uninvited guests. After that, no one tried to mine lazuli there. The place itself became prohibited and holy, such that no one was to know about it, under threat of death.
Another legendary deposit of the mineral has kept its local Pamiri name - Lojvar. A small river in the deep valley on which the deposit is located has the same name. The first geological description of the deposit was made in 1934 by a Tajik-Pamir expedition. It was preliminary data, but that information gave the clear idea that the deposit was large. Later studies traced the Lojvar Dara lazuli along a huge lazuli zone containing marble and stretching for about 400m. The mineral was not only on the surface, but was found to depths of at least 60m. During the Soviet period, lazuli was mined industrially.