Articles / Essays

A Unique Gift from Hunza Valley, Northern Pakistan: Historical Persian Quatrains (Ruboyot) on the Ancient Silk Road caravans and Traders

June 13, 2022

By Fazal Amin Beg

Background and Introduction
A high level of fame and significance of the ancient Silk Road starting from Xian (Chang An) China and linking the eastern world with those of the western regions is not hidden from the people. Those interested to know about it have unveiled a lot of aspects of the incredible rout which facilitated not only the traders and their trades but rather also became a great source of cultural and societal change in a broader context, at least, within the concerned states of Asia and Europe. Somewhere, direct and somewhere indirect influences and impacts are evidenced in line with exchange of ideas, religions and missioneries,explorers and adventurists, and the like. In addition, it is also important to be considerate that the Silk Road was not in the form of a single rout but rather it comprised on series of roads in a robust network both via land and sea.
In this regard, being a crossroad among Central and South Asia and China, Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral Region (Northern Pakistan), in general, especially Hunza, Ghizer and Chitral are found at a highly significant level. In addition to the oral narratives , historic poetries/songs and the like, ancient rock inscriptions, grafittis, petroglyphs and so on provide us evidence on the mobility and interaction of the diverse people from thousands of years.
Among all, within the Northern Pakistan, Hunza valley dominates the entire region in terms of its strategically geographic position and proving itself as the actual bridge among the important regions of Central and South Asia and China. Its mountain passes like the robust and natural gates on them, have enabled and disabled uncountable people who travelled from one region to the other.
Hunza valley has thus important side valleys including Chiprsan valley, Misgar valley, Khunzhrav valley (incorrectly written as Khunjerab) and Shimshal valley that border internationally with today’s Afghanistan and China. The mountain gates (Passes or wiyin) in Chipursan valley are Yirs̃hodh Pass and Chillenji Pas that connects the Little Pamir of Afghanistan and the Ishkoman valley of Ghizer district;the misgar valley has three passes including Dilisang Pass (connected with Afghanistan), Kilik and Mintaka Passes (connected with China), and the Pamirs of Shmshal connected with Xinjiang, China (while within Gilgit-Baltistan level, Shimshal borders with Shigar valley of Baltistan and the Nagar district)

Although, the snow-dressed and lofty mountains of the Karakoram and Pamirs within Hunza were so arduous in amny ways, the interactions of the people continued with outside world as can, at least, be witnessed through the rock carvings at different places, especially on the sacred Rocks of Hunza (natively termed as Haldeikis̃h).
To narrow down the side valleys of Hunza, the Shimshal Pamir takes its route from its central settlement and in two to three days the people would reach there. Moreover, the natives of Shimshal have spent their lives with great difficulties and hardship in the harsh geographical environment where the basic amenities were absent. They therefore strategically chose to sustain their lives more and more on pastoral and agricultural activities.
Though, the inhabitants of Shimshal valley brutally experienced the natural, political, social and cultural conditionalities, one thing could be found so marvelous that they apted themselves with the overall environment and coped the multilayer situations courageously and collaboratively. They had their immediate interactions with the Turkic and Tajik/Pamiri stock who lived next to them across the border in China. More specifically, the neighboring ethno-linguistic groups could be found and still are there included the Kirghiz, Sariqoli and Wakhi.

The Yirs̃hodh Pass (as incorrectly written as Irshad) and Chillenji Pass are in Chipursan valley (connecting today’s Afghan Pamir and the Ishkoman valley respectively),
Origin and Traces of the Persian Quatrains (Ruboyot)
The famous Persian quatrains or ruboyot is so famous among the Hunza Wakhi community, particularly among the people of Shimshal valley.These ruboyot are locally termed as either Korwon-e Bayd (the caravan song) or Sũvdogar-e Bayd (the traders song).
The origin of the quatrains of the Persian poetry is not exactly known and need to be traced that where the poetry has actually come from? However, , this is for certain that the poetry has not been composed by the natives of Shimshal. The informants even honestly show their lack of knowledge about its actual origin and never they claim that someone among them have composed it. They inform that the roboyot have been borrowed by their ancestors of Shimshal from the traders on the Silk Road as well as from those who were across the border with them in their neighborhood such as the Pamiri and Kirghiz people who would sung and dramatized the song (poetry) in or beyond the Pamirs. On the other, it is also noteworthy that the Persian ruboyot in one form or the other are found out of Shimshal valley.
Interestingly, some of the ruboyot are reportedly also found among the Wakhi community of Tajik Wakhan who sing them in their wedding ceremony. This also needs to be explored in depth as it coincides with the discussion with the native respondents from Shimshal who inform that the people across their borders had also sang them in their wedding ceremonies.

The Caravan/Traders Song
Whatever the nature, especially the origin of the Persian poetry associated with the ancient Silk Road may be, it is a fact that the artists from Shimshal not only sing the poetry with their melodious voices but rather also nicely perform the attached drama behind the traders.
To illustrate a bit, two artists in performing arts attach their hinds together, their thighs jointly tied and they bend to the opposite directions of each other, a colorful cloth is put upon and they are covered up, the front side artist under cover also raises one of his arms up with a movement of the camel’s neck and head to left and right, fore and back (which seems like the original camel from a distant and his hand shapes and shakes like the face of a real camel, though the relatively low height of the artists under cover compel the viewers whether or not it could be a real camel.The artists come up with an arrangement of an artificial camel because no camle is found in Shimahl as is true for the hourses, too.
Coming to the point, now, a singing artist rides the artificial camel (rather camel-like humans), and sings the traders or camel caravan song. It is so fascinating to evidence the show in the grand festivals such as those of the Wakhi Tajik Cultural Association (WTCA) in close collaboration and support of the Aga Khan Cultural Services, Pakistan (AKCSP) as well as the Lok Virsa (Folk Heritage Center), Islamabad, especially held in the 1990s and 2000. The dramatized item/show continues for half an hour and it’s so interesting to the people who watch it but a high level of pain for both the bent human-camles (which is not lesser than a hard punishment .
This unique gift of Persian Ruboyot, borrowed, preserved and promoted by the Wakhi artists of Shimshal valley, seriously invites and challenges the researchers within social sciences and other related disciplines to go deeper and deeper and trace out the origin and scope of the poetry that has become so famous in the Northern Pakistan. This would pave the way to come up with cross-cultural studies on this very cultural and artistic item.
Keeping in view my academic background, especially having one of my Masters degrees in Persian language and Literature, Sabine Felmmy (author of a famous book: The Voice of Nightingale) and Professor Dr. Hermann Kreutzmann (of Free University, Berlin) requested me to look at this poetry (Silk Road caravan and traders song) and translate it in English, if I could do so.I thus ventured to translate it within my capacity and came across some challenges as I found the quatrains mixed with some vocabularies from either Wakhi or other languages such as Sariqoli and the like in addition to the stanza lines in some irregularities (within grammatical context) nonetheless, I must mention that the English translation I have made could never be said to have some thing highly outstanding. Anyway, the crux of the messags in the quatrains we can get easily that what does the poetry mean or rfer in each stanza.
We can see through the gist of the English translation of the Persian quatrains that they possess mixed flavors. In some stanzas, historically devotional stories are found; and in other stanzas, discussion could be seen to have continued between a lover and the beloved.
Two versions of the Silk Road Caravan Song I’ve brought together in the video. The first version has been sung by Mr. Qurban Karim and supported by Mr. Ghulam Rasul of Shimshal valley. Similarly, the second version is by Mr. Mehman Khan of Shimshal valley again. The orally transmited quatrains have marvelously been learned by rote by the respective people for generations. In the video, as could be observed, slight changes may be found. The first version , which is in video form produced by Inayat Ali of Shimshal, can be found to have some stanzas left by singing it briefly. The second version, which is basically in audio form and I’d recorded it in 2014, could be seen relatively more in stanzas.
Those interested to watch and listen the concerned video could be accessed on the following link of EaglesWorld:

In brief, for the sake of the interest of the readers, researchers and scholars, I’m going to share the Persian transcription and English translation of a version of the Silk Road Caravan Song. It should be noted that it was that time when I had significantly lost my eyesight after qualifying my PhD coursework in summer 2011 and could subsist on the laptop’s screen with a great pain and had not yet switched over to the wonderful screen reading software called JAWS (Job Access With Speech). Some spelling mistakes or otherwise could be there as it can also be anticipated with this write up, though I work with the help of JAWS.My apoloeis for the inconvenience, indeed.


Te lay lel lele ………………………………………
Ye ley lay lel le le…………………………….
Laylay le ………………………………………
Leyley leley ……………………………………..
Lelay lel le ley ……………………………………

Ashtur bo qutori korawonam, ashtur e
Boloyi shatur bor doram, ashtur
Bo mushki amir’m, zafironam, ashtur
Wozi boloyi shatur bor doram, ashtur
Boloyi shatur bor doram ashtur, ay dust eee
Camels are in line, (and) I’m in the caravan, o’ camel,
On the back of the, laden load I’ve, (look at the) camel,
With the rich musk and zafron I’m, (look at the) camel,
And on top of the camel (laden), load I’ve, (look at the ) camel,
On top of the camel, load I’ve, o’ friend!

Shoho! Ki turo toj muborak boshad e
Imrohi tu Yosin taborak bash e
Zi awji falak farishtagon mi xonam
Bele , az taxt nishastanat muborak bosh e
Az taxt nishastanat muborak bosh e, ay dust eee
O’ King! Blessings the crown be blessed to you,
The (holy booklet of) Yasin be your companion (on the way),
From the high heaven, I call the angels,
Well, felicitation to you for ascending on the threone,
Felicitation to you for ascending on the threone.
Simurghi ba kuyi qafi, hayron(a) wu zan e
Hayron shudayam takht-e Sulaymon(a) wu zan
Yusuf ba balo choh[r]o zandon(a) wu zan
Bele Odam ba bahisht yoft nuqson(a) wu zan
Odam ba bahisht yoft nuqson(a) wu zan, ay dust eee!
Simurgh is on the Caucasian mountain, (living) wonderfully,
I was astonished with throne of Solomon (the Prophet),
Joseph [the Prophet] faced trouble in the pond and the prison,
Well, Adam in the heaven faced loss (when he was put out),
Adam in the heaven faced the loss (when he was put out), o’ friend!

Dar boghi rawam, anori bidona manam e
Dar mulki shamol, gharibi bigona manam
Xulqon ba manzil makoni doran(d)
Bele, bimanzili bimakon darin gusha manam
Bimanzili bimakon darin gusha manam, ay dust eee

[When] I happen to be in the garden, I’m like a seedless pomegranade,
In the northern part of the country, I’m a poor stranger,
Peoples (masses) at their side have their houses,
Well, without destination, (and) without house I’m at a corner (in this world),
Without any destination, (and) without any house I’m at a corner, o’ friend!

Oftob shawam, nazar ba ruyat na kunam e
To ob nahi , dasht ba shuyat na kunam
Gul xincha shawam ki dili sadpora kunam
Bele, du Nodi Ali dubora buyat na kunam
Du Nodi Ali dubora buyat na kunam
I’ll become sunlight (and) won’t turn my sight toards you,
Unless you put water in place, the barren-land I won’t water ,
I’ll become a bud so to sacrifice the heart,
Well, I won’t then implore again the Nadi Ali (Call for Ali),
I won’t then implore again Nadi Ali, o’ friend!

Dar kuyi budam, simurghi bipar bashad e
Dar ob rawam, obi ashnowar boshad
Dar xona rawam, xonayi purzar boshad
Bele, zar ro chi kunam, awal birodar boshad
Zar ro chi kunam, awal birodar boshad, ay dust eee
(When) I’m in in the mountain,simurgh bec60es wingless ,
(When) I go in water, it (water) becomes familiar (to me),
(When) I go home, it (home) gets filled with wealth,
Well, what shall I do with such wealth, first there ought to be a brother,
What shal I do with such wealth, first there ought to be a brother, o’ friend!

Sadbarg gulako , bo har gulash paywandam e
Bowar kasi no-kason chiro darbandam
Dar bandam, hech kasi nist xabar
Bele, andisha kunam, jawon-e xũn[-e] dil bandam
Andisha kunam jawon’v-e xũn dil bandam, ay dust eee
The little rose I’ll graft with every flower,
Why should I tie it with all (those) who are alien (stranger) ,
I’ll bind it (when) no one is aware,
Well, I think, I’ll bind/tie it with the blood of heart of a young,
I think, I’ll bind/tie it with the blood of heart of a young, o’ friend!

Khush qadi alif, alifnoma ro sadaqa, (h)e
Dandon-e safid, zi dur namo ro sadaqa
Layli! Labi tu ma’dani koni namak ast
Bele, har jo ki nishast, joyi zamin ro sadaqa
Har jo ki nishast, joyi zamin ro sadaqa
For her beautifully straight figure (of the beloved), I’m sacrificed,
For the pearl-like white teeth, I’m sacrificed,
O’ Layli ! Your lib is (like) the treasure of salt,
Well, whever she sat, for her siting places, I’m sacrificed,
Wherever she sat on ground, for her siting places, I’m sacrificed, o’ friend!

Charir ki nozamini, zangor paraka wey,
Jonyor ki nozamini , kuhiston rawaka
Kuhiston rawam, dil ba man tang shuayam
Bele, barfek shudayam, rohi Waxon band shudayam
Barfek shudayam, rohi Waxon band shudayam
The lovely wild rose is scatted in rusted color,
The lovely and graceful companion (i.e., the beloved) is gone to the mountain-land ,
When I go to the mountain-land, I am unhappy,
Well, I was a thrush, when the road of Wakhan was blocked,
I was a thrush, when the road of Wakhan was blocked, o’ friend!

Shohin shawam, sayl(i) kunam sahro ro, (w)e
Mohi shawam, khush(i) kunam dunyo ro
Birzuz(i) shawam bahor ro xush gira kunam
Bele, diwona shawam, tark(i) kunam dunyo ro
Diwona shawam, tark(i) kunam dunyo ro,ay dust eee
I’d become a falcon and roam around the desert,
I’d become a fish and make the world pleased,
I’d become birzuz and pleasing cry I’ll make to the spring,
Well, I will become mad and give up the world,
I’d become mad and give up the world,

Ay bodi hayo, xabar omad [zi] suyi watan e
Mardum biyonad kusthan ro bigur bikafan
Oxiri piri burdani hawo ki way nist
Bele, in zulmi ajal-e nawjawonon kushtan
In zulmi ajal-e nawjawonon kushtan, ay dust eee
O‘ blowing wind! A news came from the homeland,
People were killed who remained without grave and burial sheet (shroud),
At their old age, it was seen that he is not present,
Well, it is a huge cruelty of killing the youths,
It is a high level cruelty of killing the youths,

Annex: Nad- Ali (The Prayer) (

Nade Ali Kabeer

Call Ali, who is Manifestor of wonders, Thou shall surely find him helper in your difficulties, all grief and sorrow shall be removed. I submit my temporal wishes to Thee on whom I trust and always referred Thee to bestow fulfillment of temporal wishes. O! Having Thee bestowed support, O! Thee Appointed Wali, All grief and Sorrows will disappear, By Thee by Thy tremendousness O! Lord, By Thee by Thy Apostleship O! Muhammad, – Blessings of Thee on Thy Apostle & descendants, By Thee by Thy granted Power & Authority of Wail, O! Ali, O Ali, O! Ali Help! O! Ali for Thee granted eternal hidden grants to you, Help! Allah the Almighty is Supreme, Allah the Almighty is supreme, Allah the Almighty is supreme, I am relieved from the enmity of (your) enemies. Thee is Eternal, Absolute; I have trust in Thee, By that truth, Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech help. O! Helper of the Seekers of help!, O! Ali help!, O! Mighty all winner over enemies, O! Eternal Leaders of the Leaders, O! Manifestor of Wonders, O! The Chosen one, O! Mighty and Powerful, O! Mighty, Valiant, Chivalrous Able oppressor of antagonists Might & Valour is yours, O! Powerful combater, You are mighty and Irresistible, Such a Powerful & Strong avenger that none is capable to resist nor keeps power to revenge I submit my temporal wishes to Thee, The supreme, No doubt Thy is All Knowing O! People, There is no God except ALLAH The Supreme, The Merciful, The Beneficent O! Allah, Thy is sufficient, The best Governor, The best Master, The best Helper. O! Helper of seekers of help and bereft, O! The Merciful helper of poor, Come for Help! O! Ali Help! O! Ali Help! , O! Thee by Thy Mercy, by Thy Favour, by Thy Goodness of rewarding, (Help) O! Thee The Merciful and The Most Gracious.

O! Allah Bless Mohammed and his progeny.
Nade ali-yan mazharal ajaa’ib, tajid-ho avnal-laka fin navaa’ib koollo hammin wa ghammin ilal-lahe hajati wa alai-he mo’ av-vali kool-le-ma ra-maito mota-qazi fil-lahe ya-dool-lahe vali-yool-lahe lee ad’ooka koolle ham’min wa gham’min sa-yan-jali be azmateka ya allah-ho be naboo-vateka ya mohammad sal-lal-laho alai-he wa aalehi wa’sallam be vila-ya-teka ya ali-yo, ya-ali-yo, ya ali-yo adrikni
Be haqqe lootfekal-kha’fiay allah’ho akbar, allah ‘ho akbar allah’ho akbar ana min sharre a’daa’eka bariyoon , allaho samadi wa aley-ka motamadi be haqqe iyyaka na’bodo wa iyyaka nasta’een
Ya abal ghaise aghasini ya ali yo adrikni ya qaheral aduv-vey ya waliyal waliye ya mazahral ajaa’ebe ya murtaza aliyo ya qah-haro ta-qah-harta bil qahro val qahro fee qahre qah-reka ya qah-haro ya zal batsish shadeedey antal kaherul jabbrul mohlekul munta’qeymul qvee-ul lazi la yutaaqoo inteq’amohu
Wa uf-faw-we-zoo amri illalahe inal-laha baseerum bil ibade wa illahokum illahu’wn wahe’dun la-ilaha illa ho-wer rahmanur rahemo has-be-yal-laa- ho wa- naimal-wakeelo naimal maula wa naimal naseero ya-ghe-ya-sal moos-tageeseena aghis’ni ya arhamal-masakeena irhamani ya ali-yo adrikni, ya ali-yo adrikniu be rehmateka wa man-neka wa joodeka ya arhamar rahemeen alla-homma so’alle ala mohammadin wa aale mohammad.

Note: Those who cannot understand the typrical Persian poetry, they can get the crux or gist of the messages in the beautiful song out of the English translation of the quatrains (Ruboyot( on the Silk Road Carvan and Traders by clicking on the following link of FAZALAMIN.COM:

Production, presentation and copyright@EaglesWorld2022
Vocalists in version 1: Mr. Qurban Karim and Mr. Ghulam Rasul of Shimshal Valley, Hunza
Videography: Inayat Ali son of Qurban Karim
Vocalist in version 2: Mr. Mehman Khan son of Qurban Khan
Audio recording: Fazal Amin Beg in 2014
Editing: Surush Ayman Beg
Pictures and facilitation: Ghulam Amin Beg and Ghulshan Khan
Source of 3 pictures:
Special acknowledgement: Aga Khan Cultural Services, Pakistan (AKCSP) and Wakhi Tajik Cultural Association (WTCA)

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