Trans Eurasia travel

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The road descends from the Shahristan Pass through juniper woods, the valley broadens out and becomes arid. The first town is Shahristan, by a river with irrigated fields. The interest is the ruins of the ancient city of Bunjikat. Just across the bridge to the west of the town is a narrow road to the left after 100m, leading to a flat area below the ramparts. Bunjikat was a major Sogdian city. The ramparts are very eroded, but it is easy to discern the citadel and the size of a fortified city, divided by a small valley. The scale takes some getting used to; this was far bigger than any city in Europe at the time of its heyday in the 7th century AD. The site has been extensively excavated, and there are several exhibits in the Museum of National Antiquities in Dushanbe, including burnt statues from a Zoroastrian temple and frescoes showing scenes from Aesop's Fables, similar to those at Penjikent. The most famous is of a she wolf suckling twins, probably showing that this town had some contact with Rome. (The mythical founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were said to have been suckled by a she-wolf.) There is a statue of the she wolf and the twins on the way south. This site is seldom visited, and you are almost certain to be the only visitor.

Just 3km before Shahristan is the village of Jarqutan. Turn left, go across a causeway and follow a tarmac road for 1km to where the road veers right up a small hill. A gate leads to a path through the cemetery for 200m to Chehel Hujra, one of the best-preserved Sogdian buildings in the country. The castle stands on a bluff above the river and consists of two storeys with thick walls and a labyrinth of passages. The castle was continuously occupied from the 4th to 6th centuries AD, and intermittently to the 9th. Very seldom visited, it is worth the short detour.