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Āmū Daryā

Amu darya delta.jpg
Amudarya Delta from space, November 1994
Origin Pamir Mountains
Mouth None, formerly Aral Sea
Basin countries Flag of Afghanistan.svg Afghanistan,

Flag of Tajikistan.svg Tajikistan, Flag of Turkmenistan.svg Turkmenistan,

Flag of Uzbekistan.svg Uzbekistan
Length 2,400 km (1,500 mi)
Source elevation ~6,000 m (20,000 ft)
Avg. discharge 2,525 m3/s (89,200 cu ft/s)[1]
Basin area 534,739 km2 (206,464 sq mi)

The Amu Darya (Persian: آمودریا, Āmūdaryā; Pashto: د آمو سين, də Āmu Sin), also called Oxus and Amu River, is a major river in Central Asia. It is formed by the junction of the Vakhsh and Panj rivers. In ancient times, the river was regarded as the boundary between Irān and Tūrān.[2]



Pontoon Bridge on the Amu River near Urgench

The name Amu is said to have come from the city of Āmul, now known as Türkmenabat, in modern Turkmenistan.

In antiquity, the river was known as Vaksu to Indo-Aryans. In classical antiquity, the river was known as the Ōxus in Latin and Ὦξος Oxos in Greek — a clear derivative of Vakhsh — the name of the largest tributary of the river. In Middle Persian sources of the Sassanid period the river is known as Wehrōd[2] (lit. "good river").

Medieval Arabic and Muslim sources call the river Jayhoun (جيحون) which is derived from Gihon, the biblical name for one of the four rivers of the Garden of Eden.[3][4]

In Vayu Purana and Matsya Purana, the river is mentioned as Chakshu, flowing through the countries of Tusharas (Rishikas?), Lampakas, Pahlavas, Paradas and Shakas etc.[citation needed] Amu Darya is a river almost in reverse, for long reputed to be sourced by a powerful glacier fed stream high in the Pamir Knot at the eastern end of Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor, and ending not at the sea but speading out into the sands of Turkmenistan's Kyzyl Kum desert, well short of its historic terminus of the inland Aral Sea.


Map of the Amu Darya drainage basin
Map of area around the Aral Sea. Aral Sea boundaries are circa 1960. Countries at least partially in the Aral Sea watershed are in yellow.

The river's total length is 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi) and its drainage basin totals 534,739 square kilometres (206,464 sq mi) in area, providing a mean discharge of around 97.4 cubic kilometres (23.4 cu mi)[1] of water per year. The river is navigable for over 1,450 kilometres (900 mi). All of the water comes from the high mountains in the south where annual precipitation can be over 1,000 mm (39 in). Even before large-scale irrigation began, high summer evaporation meant that not all of this discharge reached the Aral Sea - though there is some evidence the large Pamir glaciers provided enough melt water for the Aral to overflow during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries A.D.

One source of the Amu Darya is the Pamir River, which emerges from Lake Zorkul (once also known as Lake Victoria) in the Pamir Mountains (ancient Mount Imeon), and flows west to Qila-e Panja, where it joins the Wakhan River to form the Panj River.

Another claimed source of the Amu Darya is an ice cave at the end of the Wakhjir valley, in the Wakhan Corridor, in the Pamir Mountains, near the border with Pakistan. A glacier turns into the Wakhan River and joins the Pamir River about 50 kilometres (31 mi) downstream[5]).

The Panj River forms the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It flows west to Ishkashim where it turns north and then east north-west through the Pamirs passing the Tajik-Afghan Friendship Bridge. It subsequently forms the border of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan for about 200 kilometres (120 mi), passing Termez and the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge. It delineates the border of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan for another 100 kilometres (62 mi) before it flows into Turkmenistan at Atamyrat. As the Amudarya, it flows across Turkmenistan south to north, passing Türkmenabat, and forms the border of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan from Halkabat. It is then split into many waterways that are used to form the river delta joining the Aral Sea, passing Urgench, Daşoguz and other cities, but it does not reach what is left of the sea anymore and is lost in the desert.

Use of water from the Amu Darya for irrigation has been a major contributing factor to the shrinking of the Aral Sea since the late 1950s.

Historical records state that in different periods, the river flowed into the Aral Sea (from the south), the Caspian Sea (from the east) or both, similar to the Syr Darya (Jaxartes, in Ancient Greek).


But the majestic River floated on,
Out of the mist and hum of that low land,
Into the frosty starlight, and there moved,
Rejoicing, through the hushed Chorasmian waste,
Under the solitary moon: — he flowed
Right for the polar star, past Orgunjè,
Brimming, and bright, and large: then sands begin
To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,
And split his currents; that for many a league
The shorn and parcelled Oxus strains along
Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles —
Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had
In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere,
A foiled circuitous wanderer: — till at last
The longed-for dash of waves is heard, and wide
His luminous home of waters opens, bright
And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bathed stars
Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.

Matthew Arnold, Sohrab and Rustum

See also


  • Curzon, George Nathaniel. 1896. The Pamirs and the Source of the Oxus. Royal Geographical Society, London. Reprint: Elibron Classics Series, Adamant Media Corporation. 2005. ISBN 1-4021-5983-8 (pbk; ISBN 1-4021-3090-2 (hbk).
  • Gordon, T. E. 1876. The Roof of the World: Being the Narrative of a Journey over the high plateau of Tibet to the Russian Frontier and the Oxus sources on Pamir. Edinburgh. Edmonston and Douglas. Reprint by Ch'eng Wen Publishing Company. Taipei. 1971.
  • Toynbee, Arnold J. 1961. Between Oxus and Jumna. London. Oxford University Press.
  • Wood, John, 1872. A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus. With an essay on the Geography of the Valley of the Oxus by Colonel Henry Yule. London: John Murray.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b B. Spuler, ĀMŪ DARYĀ, in Encyclopædia Iranica, online ed., 2009
  3. ^ William C. Brice. 1981. Historical Atlas of Islam (Hardcover). Leiden with support and patronage from Encyclopaedia of Islam. ISBN 90-04-06116-9.
  4. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online: Amu Darya
  5. ^ J. Mock and K. O'Neil (2004): Expedition Report

Coordinates: 37°06′21″N 68°18′23″E / 37.10583°N 68.30639°E / 37.10583; 68.30639



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun




  1. Alternative spelling of Amu Darya.


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