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Balkh  

City in northern Afghanistan, believed to be the site of Bactra, capital of ancient Bactria, and a major city in the province of Khurasan during the Islamic period. Located on a fertile plain, Balkh commanded trade routes between India, China, Turkestan and Iran. It was already a wealthy city under the Achaemenid dynasty (538–331 bc) and a centre of Zoroastrianism. Following the conquests of Alexander the Great, it became important under the Bactrian monarchies (323–87 bc) and then under the Kushana and Hephthalites, and it was a Buddhist centre. The most substantial remains from the early periods are the mud ramparts, which stand more than 20 m at several places. The circular plan around the citadel (modern Bala-Hisar) may date back as far as the Achaemenid period. The only other monuments to survive from the pre-Islamic period are four Buddhist stupas. That excavated at Tepe Rustam in the south of the city is the most monumental found north of the Hindu Kush (platform 54 m on a side; cylindrical dome 47 m in diameter; total height ...

Article

Clare Harris and M. E. Heston

[Kuchi Bandar]

City on the coast of Kerala, India. Facing the Arabian Sea, Cochin experienced strong contacts with Europe and other parts of Asia from early times, and signs of Portuguese, Chinese, Jewish, early Christian, Dutch and British influence are evident everywhere.

Clare Harris

St Thomas the Apostle is said to have visited the area in ad 52, making Cochin the oldest European settlement in India. The Moplah Christian colony dates from this period, and the first Jewish community in Cochin is said to have been established at around the same time; both Jewish and Syrian Christian communities are reported to have been well developed by the 8th century. A friar named Jordanus was in Cochin in 1347, Chinese travellers stopped there in 1409, and a Persian visited in 1442. Many of the early visitors to the port were seeking spices from the Kerala hinterland: in 1500 the Portuguese explorer Pedralvares Cabral (...

Article

Gyantse  

Barry Till

[rgyal rtse; Gyangzê]

Fourth largest city in Tibet, strategically located between Lhasa and Shigatse along the caravan route to India, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. Gyantse is most famous for its fortress citadel, or Dzong, and its lamasery. The 15th-century fortress, situated on a hill overlooking the town, served as an effective buffer against invasions from the south for centuries until 1904, when it was partially destroyed and conquered by British forces led by Francis Younghusband. It suffered further damage by the Chinese in the 1960s. Although in poor condition, the fort still has significant traces of ancient wall paintings.

The complex of buildings within the old walls at Gyantse, often referred to as the Palkhor Choide or Pelkor Chode (dpal ‘khor chos sde) Lamasery, was founded in 1418 by Rabten Kunsang (1389–1442), a follower of Khedrup Je (1385–1438), himself a disciple of Tsong Khapa (1357–1419), the founder of the Gelugpa sect. The monastic complex was formerly much more extensive, but a number of buildings were dismantled during the 1960s. The main buildings have survived relatively intact, however. Chief among these and one of the most impressive buildings in all of Tibet is the ...

Article

Leh  

Kirit Mankodi

Capital of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India. Located near the River Indus on an ancient trade route between India, Tibet and China, Leh is notable for a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, known as the Tsemo Gompa, and the Lechen Pelkar palace and fort, all erected under the Namgyel rulers of the 16th–17th centuries. Among the buildings of the Tsemo Gompa is the Temple of the Guardian Deities, built by Tashi Namgyel in the 16th century, which contains images of the fierce protector Mahakala, Vaishravana (one of the four heavenly kings), the Great Goddess and another fierce guardian (yet to be identified). Also in the Tsemo Gompa, the Maitreya Temple contains a celebrated three-storey-high figure of the Future Buddha flanked by the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri; the shrine may date to the 16th century, but it has been extensively renovated in recent times. The palace is a ruined nine-storey structure set on a hill north-east of the town; founded by ...

Article

Kamil Khan Mumtaz

City in Pakistan lying close to the country’s north-west border with Afghanistan, said to have been founded by King Parras (or Porus) in the 4th century. The earliest references to the site occur in documents by Chinese pilgrims visiting the celebrated Buddhist stupa at Shah-ji-ki-Dheri, on the city’s south-east edge. Faxian, writing in ad 400, knew the town as Fo-lou-sha; Sung Yun mentioned it in 502, when it was ruled by the king of Gandhara; and Xuanzang, visiting the country in 630, called the capital Pu-lu-sha-pu-luo, or Purushapura. It was next mentioned, under the name of Purushavar, by Mas‛udi and al-Biruni in the 10th and 11th centuries and again by the first Mughal emperor, Babur (reg 1526–30), in 1519; it was given its present name of Peshawar (‘frontier town’) by Akbar (reg 1556–1605). From 1818 Peshawar became part of Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire. In 1849 it fell to the British and remained under their rule until independence and the partition of Pakistan and India in ...

Article

[anc. Ānandapura]

Town and temple site in northern Gujarat, India. While the date of its foundation is uncertain, references in the ancient religious text known as the Skanda purā ṇa and the writings of the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (7th century ad) indicate the considerable importance the town enjoyed by this date as a centre of Hindu and Jaina learning. Two elaborately carved monumental arched gateways (tora ṇas) dating to the 11th century and located just outside the northern walls are the major artistic remains. In form, sculptural style and trabeate construction technique they resemble the gateways at Modhera and Sidhpur. Nothing remains of the temple to which they were originally attached. Several stone-lined, stepped tanks of the 11th and 12th centuries also survive, the largest being the Sarmishta Tank; these were embellished with figurative relief sculptures. A stone inscription embedded in one of Vadnagar’s six gates commemorates the building of the town’s walls and dates to ...