Legends of the Pamirs


Text by Robert Middleton and Fred Daudon


When God created the world, he asked all the people to form a line so that he could distribute the lands of the earth to them.

Now everyone knows that the Pamiri is not big, he is very polite and does not use his elbows. So the Pamiri representative founds himself at the end of the queue.

When it was his turn, God looked surprised: “It seems I miscalculated, I don’t have any land left for you.” he said.

The Pamiri began to cry – and everyone knows that when a Pamiri cries, even God cries too.

God put his arm around the Pamiri. “It was my fault,” he said. “Actually, I do have one little piece of land left that I was going to keep for myself as my garden. But since I made such a foolish mistake I will give it to you. It is called Badakhshan.”


When God created man he began with a handful of earth brought by the angels. He asked the angels to think how best to design this new being. The angels were perplexed and God said, “Look in this pail of water and you will find inspiration.”

The angels looked into the pail held by God and saw the reflection of God’s countenance. In this way, man came to be created in God’s image.

When the body had been made, God asked the angels to give it a soul. The angels brought a spirit and ordered it to enter the body. When the spirit reached the throat it complained that the passage was too narrow and it would go no further. God ordered the angels to play music; the spirit began to dance and in this way it entered man’s body – that is why man’s voice recalls the music played by the angels and man dances when his soul is awakened by music.

The spirit continued to complain to God about the limits of the body and threatened to leave. God agreed that the spirit should be bound to the body only for a limited time. In this way, the spirit is able to leave the body when man is dead.

Note: this is exactly the same story as in Yarsan religion. More than 2000 kms from Pamir region.


When God created man, he gave him a life of thirty years. Man was not happy with this and complained to God.

God replied that He had already allocated life to all living beings – to give man a longer life He would have to take years from the life of other animals. Man insisted.

So God gave man ten more years from the donkey, ten from the dog and ten from the monkey.

That is why man lives without care until thirty; then he begins to work like a donkey; after ten years he starts to fight like a dog; and his last ten years are spent playing games with his grandchildren.


Sho Nosir was part of the six holy pirs (meaning the highest religious leagers) sent to the Pamirs to make it inhabitable. At that time, there were no roads and no paths.

Sho Nosir walked as far as the highest part of Porshinev. There was no water there and Sho Nosir was thirsty. An old woman came by with a jug of water from the river below;

Sho Nosir asked her for a drink to slake his thirst.

The old woman laughed at him and said: “You must fetch water for yourself old man.”

Sho Nosir was angry and struck the ground with his staff. He then calmed down and began to pray. At the place where he struck his staff, a pure fountain sprang up. He thanked God for quenching his thirst and requested that the fountain should remain to help the people to cultivate their land. He wrote some words on the stones in Arabic saying “Where there is water there is life”.

Sho Nosir continued on his way but the people came to look at this miracle and understood that he was a very holy man and built a shrine in his honor.


Today this is a holy place where the water still flows. A statue of Sho Nosir was built there.

Every day many local people, but also people from other countries, come there to drink holy water from silver cups and have a rest under the trees.

Before going on a long journey people come to the spring to take some water with them and pray to God to keep them safe. Newly married couples also come to the spring to worship and pray for blessing.

Sumbi duldul shrine

This shrine is located in the center of Barchid.

The shrines of Gorno-Badakhshan are characterised by the presence of sacred stones and the horns of ibex and Marco Polo sheep (Ovis Poli), symbols of purity for pre-islamic religious traditions.

Gumbaz-i Pir Sayyid Farukhshoh

This shrine is located in the village of Saroi Bakor. Saroi Bakor means the place of spring.

The ceiling of a traditional Pamiri house has four different steps representing the four elements: earth, water, fire and air.

Shoh Niosh hand-wrote some verses of the Quran on the ceiling.

The lion/tiger represents Ali who was the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhamed.

Gumbaz-i Pir Sayyid Farukhshoh

Hidoyatullo is the descendant of pir Sayyid Farukh Shoh. His name means the guide of Allah. His grand-father was a calligrapher, an astronomer and a doctor. He spoke arabic and persian. He was the caliph (religious leader) of Porshinev and a part of Khorog until 2004.


Hiduyatullo’s grand-father


Saroi Bakor

Sacred stones

Saroi Bakor

According to the local legend, this hole in the rock would be the track of Ali’s horse.


Imom Zaynulobidin shrine and mosque


View from Baroj village on the valley.

Before becoming Ismaili, Pamiri people were Zoroastrians.

Shoh Burhon arrived in the village around 1600AD. He settled there and continued the work initiated by the first Ismaili missionaries.

Rudjek was one of them. He came to the village to talk about Islam and convert people. But locals did not listen to him and was banned from the village.

Later a rich local Pamiri wanted to throw a party and kill a sheep to make food for all the villagers. People asked him where he got the sheep from. He answered « I bought it from this man, Rudjek. » Villagers were scared.

At the same time they were eating, the ghost of the sheep took a human appearance and Rudjek disappeared.

Shoh Burhon went also to other villages around, like Tikrom. In Tikrom, a fountain appeared. That is why locals are celebrating the water each year and the arrival of spring. They dig canals for the agriculture.


« I was a farmer and then I managed all the farmers of the village. Now I receive a pension. I have 6 sons.

For the wedding, the man chooses a woman. Then his father meets the father of the woman. They discuss about the dowry that the man will offer to his bride one or two weeks before the wedding: 1 sheep, 1 house, 10kg of oil, some clothes. » Saifiddin (on the left hand side)

« I am a teacher. There are 21 teachers working with the school of Baroj and 130 children. The school goes normally until the 4th grade but actually goes until the 11th grade. » Akin (on the right hand side)

Tusyan village

During ancient times Tusyan was a prosperous village. The hills were covered with vineyards, and in the fields there was wheat and many fruit trees – it reminded people of paradise. At that time, wine-making was unknown and all the grapes were used for eating.

The leader of the village was called Davlatsho. He was a good man and required no payment from the villagers but each gave him freely from their produce. The inhabitants lived in peace and harmony and no army was necessary to keep order. Davlatsho and Tusyan were known throughout the world.

The fame of the village reached Chingiz Khan who was jealous of this beautiful village with its peaceful leader and resolved to take an army to Tusyan to crush Davlatsho.

One day news reached Davlatsho that Chingiz Khan was on his way to destroy the village. Davlatsho held a meeting of all the elders to discuss how to defend their village.

After many hours’ discussion, none had an idea how to prevent the disaster, other than to take up arms for the first time, even though they knew that it was hopeless against such bloodthirsty opponents.

Davlatsho had no sons but he had a daughter called Malika. She was only sixteen years old but beautiful and intelligent and was loved in the village for her kindness. She listened to the debate of the elders but was too shy to participate in the discussion.

When she realized that they could find no solution to the problem, she turned to her father and said: “My sacred father, if you and the elders allow me to speak, I will make a suggestion.”

All fell silent. “Father and respected elders,” she said, “in ancient books I have read, that if grapes are pressed and the juice kept for several days in a barrel they produce a water that sends men to sleep. If you allow me, I will take all the young people to the vineyards and we will pick the grapes and press them with our feet so that the juice runs out into barrels.”

The elders were not convinced by what she said but because they respected her father and they had no better ideas, they called together all the young people and Malika led them to the vineyards. Read the read of the story on next slide.

Tusyan village

All day long the air on the hills above Tusyan was full of dust as the young people worked in the vineyards and their songs and shouts could be heard down in the village. Seventy-seven barrels of grape juice were filled and placed in the sun at the entrance to the village next to the hanging bridge across the Shokhdara.

After five days, the village watchman warned the people that Chingiz Khan and his soldiers were approaching down the valley. The people began to hide in their houses for fear. But Malika ordered each family to kill a ram, and to prepare the meat. The people did as she told them.

When all was ready, Malika ordered the young people to bring the meat to the entrance of the village and place it next to the barrels.

Malika stood on the bridge and addressed Chingiz Khan and his soldiers: “My brothers, we know that you come not in peace but to destroy our village. Although we have many young people we are not used to carry arms and are peace-loving. We shall not resist you but before you attack, we invite you to a meal.”

Chingiz was very surprised at her words, but because his men were hungry and thirsty after their long journey, he agreed to pause and eat and drink before destroying the village.

Chingiz and his men ate and drank their fill. But because the grape juice had fermented, it made them all sleepy.

When they were all asleep, Malika gathered the young men and they beheaded all of Chingiz Khan’s soldiers and threw their bodies in a big hole in the ground where their bones lie today.

In this way the beautiful village of Tusyan and its peaceful people were spared. When Davlatsho died, the people appointed Malika as their leader in gratitude for what she had done. Their peace was never disturbed again. And so the art of winemaking was brought to the Pamirs.


Sayyid Jalol Bukhari shrine


Sayyid Jalol Bukhari shrine (interior) with the portrait of Aga Khan.


Sayyid Jalol Bukhari shrine (interior)



The legend of KakhkahA

It is said that it took Kakhkaha three years, with seventy thousand strong men, to complete the Namadgut fortress. Clay was dug in Arghu, five days’ march away in Afghanistan, and passed hand-to-hand by a long line of men reaching from Arghu to Namadgut.

Kakhkaha was a giant of a man and he and his followers all dressed in black. He had a wife (the legends do not mention her name), a daughter (Qumrisaymo), two sisters (Zulkhomor and Zulhasham) and two brothers (Zangibar and Zamri Otashparast, the latter meaning ‘fire worshipper’), who ruled in the fortresses further up the Wakhan.

One of his chiefs, Mobashir, had previously served in the prophet Muhammed’s army and had informed Kakhkaha of the spread of Islam by the prophet’s forces. Kakhkaha built a watchtower for Mobashir on a hill above Ryn and asked him to control the entrance to the Wakhan and watch out for travellers dressed in green.

One day one of Kakhkaha’s men told him that the prophet Muhammed had visited him in a dream. Hearing the prophet’s name, Kakhkaha became so angry that he gave orders to imprison and kill the man. He escaped, however, travelled to Mecca and told the prophet of his dream, revealing the location of the fortress and asking Muhammed to conquer Kakhkaha.

Muhammed ordered ten thousand soldiers to march on the fortress under the command of Hashid Ibn-i-Vashid. The army camped in a place named Aspadev, opposite the village of Ryn. The well in this place was poisoned: all travellers who stopped there died from the bad water and Mobashir’s men used to divide their property among themselves. Miraculously, however, the army survived.

Moboshir was in the watchtower at the time and saw the army’s arrival with their green flags and that they had not died from the poisoned water. He immediately informed Kakhkaha who sent him to request 10 days to prepare for battle.

Hashid Ibn-i Vashid agreed to this request, but Kakhkaha broke the agreement and after only three days launched a surprise attack at night and captured or killed all the soldiers by treachery. One of the captives managed to escape and reached Mecca after a difficult journey of three months.

The Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, asked permission to go and destroy Kakhkaha. The Prophet granted it readily and Ali set off with only a few followers, arriving in Aspadev where there is a huge stone near a well. Ali picked up the stone and hurled it far up in the air away from the well. Muboshir witnessed all this and informed Kakhkaha who sent him to find out more about the travellers. “We are just players,” said Ali.

Mobashir said: “You are not a player, you are Haidari Safdar, the invincible lion – Shohi Mardon, the King of men.” Ali asked him how he knew this.

“I was your servant for 11 years until I was taken as a slave by Kakhkaha,” answered Mobashir. Convinced of Ali’s power he asked to join Ali’s men and that Ali should grant him Kakhkaha’s daughter as a wife after they had defeated him.

Ali requested Mobashir to tell Kakhkaha nothing of what he knew, and to inform him that the group were only players. Curious, Kakhkaha ordered that they be brought to the fortress, where he gave them dinner and accommodation and asked for games the next day.

That night, in a dream, Kakhkaha saw a snake that came into the fortress. In the morning he called his guests and asked them the meaning of this dream. Ali told him that the snake indicated to Kakhkaha that his enemies would be in trouble. “My only enemies are Ali and Mohamed and I do not think they are any danger to me here,” said Kakhkaha.

Kakhkaha asked Ali to begin the games. First Ali showed the game of kolbozi, in which contestants lift and throw heavy stones. Ali threw the stones so far and hard that some of Kakhkaha’s people were killed. Some of these stones were gathered by the local people after the contest and were later placed in the shrines of the Wakhan – there are five in the Oston-i Shoh-i Mardon in Namadgut.

Kakhkaha did not like the loss of his soldiers and asked Ali to demonstrate another game.

Ali proposed a horse race. He rode Sumbi Duldul so hard that one of the horse’s shoes broke: Ali pressed the pieces in his hand and repaired the shoe. After this, none of Kakhkaha’s men wanted to ride against Ali.

Ali asked Kakhkaha if he had a warrior in the fortress who would compete with his small son Hasan. Kakhkaha told him that this was a strange request and that his warriors had been trained to fight only with Mohamed and Ali. Ali asked if Kakhkaha was frightened to try one of his men against his young son. Furious, Kakhkaha ordered that the giant Muboriz be brought to the playing field. Muboriz was dragged from the dungeon with his hands and feet in chains, restrained by forty men. Muboriz broke out of the chains and knocked over the people holding him.

A horse was brought but it threw off all those who tried to ride or saddle it, including Muboriz. When Hasan approached it, however, the horse calmed down and he was able to saddle it.

Ali showed Kakhkaha the sword Zulfiqar, mentioning its powers, and gave it to Hasan. With one stroke, Zulfiqar destroyed the sword of Muboriz, breaking it into a thousand pieces and killing Muboriz.

Kakhkaha then began to be afraid and offered Ali thirty thousand gold pieces if he would let Hasan join his army. Ali replied that a father cannot sell his child and revealed the real purpose of his visit. Kakhkaha finally understood who stood in front of him: he fled and hid in the fortieth room in the very centre of his fortress. Ali found him there, however, and challenged him to battle.

Ali took Zulfiqar and mortally wounded Kakhkaha; he asked him where he should throw his dead body: on the ground or in the river. “Whoever loses should be buried in the ground,” answered Kakhkaha. Ali was worried that if he left Kakhkaha’s dead body on the ground it would cover the entire world with its terrible smell and with a final stroke he cut Kakhkaha in two from head to toe and threw him in the Panj, where the body was washed clean.

Ali then freed all the people who had been terrorised by Kakhkaha and went on to defeat the other brothers, taking control over all the Wakhan and converting the people. He kept his promise to Mobashir and gave him Qumrisaymo as a wife.

Since this time, the Oston-i Shoh-i Mardon in Namadgut celebrates Ali’s victory over Kakhkaha and the conversion of the fire-worshippers to Islam.

MAZOR-i Shoh Isomiddin

Ptup village


The guide of the museum of Pamiri traditions located in Yamg.



This observatory was built by Mubarak Qadam in XIXth century. He was a sufi master.

It consists of pieces of carved stones used in sky observation. The different pieces are named Chilla-sang, Hamal-Khona, Darvoza and Sangi oftob. Scholars concluded that this observatory was the most sophisticated in the Pamir region.


Mubarak Qadam shrine


Vrang was a very active buddhist monastery before the arrival of Islam. Only remain the stupa (4th century CE) and the grottoes where monks were living. Buddhism spread through many parts of Central Asia, including the Pamirs, where it became the dominant religion during the first centuries CE.


The dragon stone of shirgin VILLAGE

There is a yellow stone in Shirgin village called the dragon stone. It is said that in the past, the people of Shirgin were constantly quarrelling with one another about land and water. Not even their religious leaders could calm them. One day, Allah in his anger sent a dragon to the Panj River below the village, and the dragon started eating travelers from both sides of the river.

To pacify the dragon, the people took to the river bank every week forty baskets of bread, one animal and one young person who was tied to a tree as a sacrifice. Then the dragon came out and swallowed everything placed there.

One day it was the turn of a family where there were only a father and a daughter. The father reluctantly took his daughter with the bread and the animal to the river bank and returned home in tears. The daughter was terrified and sobbed her heart out, waiting for the dragon. Suddenly, a young man appeared and asked her: “Why are you crying?”

Surprised, the girl told him to go away immediately, or he would also be killed by the dragon. The young man felt no fear, however, and asked only to rest there: he put his head in her lap and went to sleep. After a while there was a frightening movement in the water: first it turned yellow then red and then black; the girl’s tears dropped into the young man’s face and he woke up instantly.

Just as the dragon was about to swallow the girl, the man raised his sword, mortally wounded the dragon and told the girl to go home. When the neighbors saw her coming back they thought that the girl had run away and when the dragon woke up it would swallow the entire village.

The girl told them what happened and the people ran towards the bank of the river and saw that the dragon was really covered in blood. As it was about to die, the dragon asked the man: “Now tell me the name of your powerful sword and where I should throw myself when I die: in the water or in the ground?”

The man replied: “Know that my sword is Zulfiqar* and if you throw yourself on the ground you will be turned into stone and if you throw yourself into the water Zulfiqar will strike you again. The dragon threw itself to the ground and the man touched it with Zulfiqar and said: “Turn into stone.”

He went above the river to pray and planted his sword in the ground. When he pulled it out again, warm water sprang from that place and the man disappeared. At this spot, there is today a kuk, a hot spring where people go for swimming and to cure diseases.

The dragon stone itself is situated in a pleasant spot near the bank of the river and is surrounded by trees. Every year pieces of the dragon stone are broken off and used by the people as a medicine for many diseases.

NB: Zulfiqar is the name of Ali’s sword. Ali is the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammed.


Near the village of Zong there is a famous shrine called Oston-i Gesuy-i Balogardon (literally Gesuy, who prevents harm’). According to the local legend, in ancient times worship at this holy place prevented the spread of cholera in the upper part of the Wakhan valley, and it therefore acquired this name.


Shogun praying in front of Oston-i Gesuy-i Balogardon shrine. Shogun is a driver. On the very dangerous roads of Pamir region, drivers are praying anytime there is a cemetary or an important worship place.


Mazor-i Khoja Behzod


Mazor-i Shast-i Murtuzo Ali


Details of the shrine Mazor-i Shoh Kambar-i Oftob, one of the most popular pilgrimage place in Wakhan valley.


Mazor-i Shoh Kambar-i Oftob, meaning literally ‘Master of the Sun’. Some say that this holy place, like many other ostons of the Wakhan valley, was revered already in pre-Islamic times. Its location is known as Khriz (from the ancient Iranian ‘khvar’ – ‘place of worshipping the Sun’). The garden is very beautiful with old sacred trees and a place where aromatic herbs are burnt.

The name of the place suggests that it was a zoroastrian temple in pre-islamic times.


Mazor-i Shoh Kambar-i Oftob entrance.


In Kikhcharv, a place in Langar village, there are the ruins of a fortress known as “Shirkhun” (meaning “bloody milk”).

In very old times in Zong village there lived a hunter called Shirmalik. Whenever he went hunting he always caught many deer. One day, as he was about to shoot at a deer, he heard a voice saying “don’t shoot, don’t shoot”. However, Shirmalik paid no attention to the voice and kept taking aim at the animal. Suddenly, a man appeared, captured Shirmalik and took him to the place of fairies (pariho). One of them told him: “Next time, when you go hunting, don’t take your dog with you. We will help you to hunt.”

Soon after, Shirmalik went hunting and his dog ran after him. However he tried, he could not make the dog stop following him. In despair, he hid it in his armpit.

When he reached the summer pasture he saw that the pariho were are putting the deer in a trance. He walked towards them and suddenly the dog started to bark. As soon as the deer heard the dog the spell was broken and they ran away.

The pariho were angry and took Shirmalik up to the fortress above Zong and cut off his head. They mixed his blood with milk and spread it around the fortress. From that day this fortress was called “Shirkhun”. The colour of the biggest stone of the fortress where the pariho dropped the blood and milk is red on one side and black on the other.

After this event the pariho took the body of Shirmalik and left it next to the shrine of “Chiltan” with two animals. One of the animals could be used for the first day of mourning (charoghravshankuni – lighting the way for the soul in the other world) the other for the ceremony of the seventh day. Shirmalik’s family and relatives went to search for him and found his body in the shrine. They scratched their faces in grief, tore the hair and cried so loudly that even the pariho started crying.