is the principal pass through the Hindu Kush
mountains, linking Kabul
. The pass
(which sources variably list as either 28 or 33 miles long) has seen caravan traffic
since time immemorial
--even today, a caravan trail runs alongside the single paved road running through the pass--and has thus served as a major conduit for cultural, linguistic
, and economic exchanges between the peoples of Central Asia
This is all very interesting, but the thing that really sets the Khyber apart is the amount of blood that has been shed there. The place is a soldier's nightmare or dream, depending entirely on whether you are fighting your way through it or defending it from assault. The pass has a very variable width, ranging from about a mile and a half to a mere 42 feet at its narrowest. Moreover, the pass is flanked by sheer rock walls, ranging in height from about 600 feet to nearly 1,000 feet. Nevertheless, as it is one of the most convenient ways into India from the rest of Asia, soldiers have come in droves. To name but a very few: Alexander the Great led his army through into India in 326 BC; in 1000 AD, Mahmud of Ghazni used it in the first of his 17 invasions of India; and from 1839-1919, the British defended the pass from the Indian side during three Afghan Wars, once losing 16,000 men in a single day.
Today, things are much more sedate, though some of the route is still under de facto tribal control. Air power may have reduced the strategic importance of the pass, but it certainly will not serve to erase the memory of centuries of bloodshed and banditry associated with the Khyber.