ČAḠČARĀN, principal town and administrative capital of the province of Ḡōr, in the mountains of central Afghanistan. Until the mid-14th/20th century the spellings Čaqčarān and Čaḵčarān were also current, but Čaḡčarān is the prevailing usage today. The name has been attested since the 10th/16th century (Beveridge, p. 308). It originally designated an entire section of the upper Harīrūd basin. At the end of the 13th/19th century the district (ḥokūmat) of Čaḡčarān extended from Dawlatyār, about 60 km upstream from the present town, to Āhangarān, about 20 km downstream.
The town of Čaḡčarān itself has existed only since the provincial reorganization of 1343 Š./1964, in which the province of Ḡōr was carved out of that of Herat. It is a typical administrative creation, an entirely new town constructed to replace Taywarā, which is too difficult to reach and too remote to serve as capital of the new province.
The site chosen is an alluvial terrace located on the left bank of the Harīrūd at an elevation of 2,250 m, 6-8 m above the confluence of the Harīrūd and the Rūd-e Kānsī. Originally there was nothing there but a caravansary (rebāṭ-e serājīya) built at the beginning of the 14th/20th century to serve as a staging point on the direct road from Kabul to Herat (see, e.g., Trinkler, pp. 74ff.). After the reorganization of the provinces an administrative complex was constructed on the site, along with a large bāzār (ca. 200 shops in 1971). As the center of provincial administration Čaḡčarān attracted other institutions designed to serve the entire province: a small hotel, a boarding school, and a hospital the capacity of which was raised from ten to twenty beds in 1356 Š./1977.
Opposite the new town, on the right bank of the Harīrūd, stands the old Fīrūzkūhī village of Kāsī, which consisted of no more than eighty families in 1885 (Maitland, 1891, p. 122) and 120 in 1904 (Gazetteer, p. 257, s.v. Kausi). Until 1343 Š./1964 it was the residence of the deputy governor of the district of Čaḡčarān, though accessible from the left bank only by a ford; today there is a bridge, and Kāsī has become largely a residential quarter, though retaining a small agricultural activity.
The functioning of Čaḡčarān as center is somewhat hampered by its location in the middle of high mountains that can he crossed only with difficulty. The main access road is the direct route between Kabul and Herat, known in Afghanistan as the “central route.” Čaḡčarān is located almost exactly at the halfway point on this road (492 km from Herat via Šīndand and 477 km from Kabul via Behsūd, but 575 km via Bāmīān). It is a difficult and dangerous track, however, impassable for months each year and at all times negotiable only by trucks and small field vehicles with four-wheel drive. For that reason there is no long-distance bus or taxi service to Čaḡčarān. Even aerial communications are not reliable. The small airport, which was opened in 1346 Š./1967 on the right bank of the Harīrūd, is in operation only eight months of the year, and even then there are flights to Kabul or Herat only twice a week. Traffic is very light: Between 1357 Š./1978-79 and 1362 Š./1983-84 the number of air travelers dropped from 6,192 to 2,142, though cargo shipments increased from 7.2 to 28.4 tons.
These travel difficulties explain why activity in Čaḡčarān has a marked seasonal character. The city comes alive only in summer, from May to September. At that time it is frequented simultaneously by the local Aymāq population and by a sizable number of nomads, mainly Pashtun, who summer in the region (more than 4,500 families within the district limits of Čaḡčarān in 1357 Š./1978). A number of shops in the bāzār are operated by outside businessmen, especially from Kabul and Herat, who come only in the summer. In addition, because of the influx of nomadic herders in this season Čaḡčarān is one of the country’s largest livestock markets: In the 1350s Š./1970s it attracted buyers from as far as Kabul. This summer commercial activity has in general greatly benefited from the recent disappearance of nomad bāzārs from the region (see bāzār).
In the census of 1358 Š./1979, which was carried out in the summer, the population of the town was only 2,974; it is thus one of the smallest provincial capitals in Afghanistan. The district (woloswālī) includes 89,303 people (exclusive of nomads) in an area of 11,803 km2, for a density of 8/km2. In 1885, within boundaries that were narrower than the present ones, there are supposed to have been 2,650 families (Maitland, 1888, p. 604).
A. S. Beveridge, tr., Bābur-nāma (Memoirs of Bābur), London, 1922; repr. London, 1969.
Gazetteer of Afghanistan III, s.v. Chahcharan and Kausi. E. Grötzbach, Städte und Basare in Afghanistan, Beiheft zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients B 16, Wiesbaden, 1979.
P. J. Maitland, Diary, Afghan Boundary Commission, Records of Intelligence Party 2, Simla, 1888.
Idem, Reports on Tribes, Namely, Sārik Turkomans, Chahār Aimāk Tribes, and Hazāras, Afghan Boundary Commission, Records of Intelligence Party 4, Simla, 1891.
S. A. Masood, N. S. Skans, and S. Radojicic, Report on Chakhcharan Water Supply System Inspection, Kabul, 1978.
M.-Ḥ. Nāheż, ed., Qāmūs-e joḡrāfīāʾī-e Afḡānestān II, Kabul, 1336 Š./1957.
S. Radojicic, Report on Hydrogeological Survey in Ghor Province, Kabul, 1974.
E. Trinkler, Through the Heart of Afghanistan, Boston and New York, 1928.
Originally Published: December 15, 1990
Last Updated: December 15, 1990
This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 6, p. 616