Page images

most difficult, of the various lines connecting Peshawer with Tartary; and he observes that it was actually followed by the envoy who came from Kokand in 1854. May it not then be fairly surmised that the compiler of the Russo-German MS., inquiring at Kashgar or Kokand for the nearest route from India, may have been informed of this line leading direct from the Indus to Pamír, a line which would have really led for a great part of its course through outlying tribes of the Siyah-Push Kaffirs, and would, moreover, have been practicable for camels; and that in adopting at some later period the description he had received, he may have given rise to our present mystification, partly by his ingeniously attempted restoration of names which he had forgotten, and partly by his having erroneously taken Cashmere instead of Peshawer for the starting-point?

[ocr errors]

And now having alluded to Major James's Kokand Report, which was first, we think, brought to the notice of the public in the article of last year in this Review, on The Russians in Central Asia,' we must congratulate the native agent, Moola Abdul Mejid, whose march from Cabul to Kokand is there reported, on his having been presented at the last Anniversary Meeting of the Royal Geographical Society of London with a gold watch, in recognition of the great service he had rendered to geography by his adventurous journey across the Pamír Steppes. A not less distinguished service, and one which we venture to think is also entitled to honorary reward, has been since rendered by the native assistant of Captain Montgomerie, who, by his reconnaissance of Yarkend, has brought that city into immediate connexion with the great trigonometrical survey of India, and has thus for the first time in the present century determined a fixed geographical position on the southern border of the great plain of Tartary.*

The preliminary branch of the subject being now exhausted, we may pass on to a brief general description of Central Asia and its inhabitants. The whole country between India and Tartary may be considered, then, as one broad mountain range, the Himalayas forming the southern crest, and the Kuen-luen the northern; while the interior is sometimes cheered with lovely valleys like Cashmere, but is more usually broken into rocky

Captain Montgomerie communicated this interesting journey of his assistant, Mahomed-el-Hamid, from the Kara-koram to Yarkend to the Royal Geographical Society of London at the meeting of May 14th of the present year, and showed from the road-book, which seemed to have been very accurately kept, that the true position of that city was in lat. 38° 19' 46", and long. 77° 30'. In the Jesuit Register the numbers are, lat. 38° 19′, long. 76° 3′, while the Schlagentweits give lat. 38° 10', long. 74° 10'.


ravines, through which the affluents of the Indus force their way towards the plains; or else stretches away in those vast treeless uplands which are one of the chief characteristics of the range through its whole extent. The direction of this range is from east to west, trending to the northward; while the parallel chain which bounds Siberia to the south, and the outer crest of which is the Thian-Sha, trends somewhat to the south; so that at a short distance to the west of Yarkend and Kashgar, the great interior depression of Chinese Tartary terminates, and the bounding ranges coalesce in the elevated table-land of Pamír. According to Humboldt's system, which is still adopted generally as the ground-work of our maps of Asia, the northern and southern ranges were united to the west of Kashgar by a transverse ridge, which he names the Belút-Tágh, or "Cloud Mountains ;" but recent observation assures us that there is no such separate connecting chain. The ascent from Yarkend and Kashgar westward to the table-land of Pamír is gradual and almost imperceptible; and when that lofty position is gained, where the average elevation is probably as much as 15,000 feet above the level of the sea, a vast open plain is seen, which stretches from the valley of the Jaxartes in one direction, across the headstreams of the Oxus to the top of the Cashcár or Chitral valley in another.

From this great plateau, which may be 700 or 800 miles in extent, and which is throughout studded with lakes, descend four great river systems. Firstly, through a long valley between the culminating ridge and outer range of the Thian-Shan comes down the Narym, which is the main stream of the Jaxartes. This outer range being the connecting link between the ThianShan and Pamír, the river which flows in a luxuriant valley at its foot drains all the northern edge of the plateau. The Oxus again taking its rise in a Pamír lake, which is at least 300 miles to the south of the Jaxartes, and of which the true name is the Sari-kul, or "Yellow Lake," is fed on its right bank by a multitude of smaller streams, which run due south from the Pamír uplands, breaking up the south-western face of that region into a series of rugged valleys, such as Hissar, Ramíd, Derwaz, Kolab, and many others, which, although amply described in the Arab geographies and in the Memoirs of Baber,' are hardly known in modern times, except from the confused accounts of Mr. Gardiner and the occasional notices of native agents. The western face of the Pamír, as it may be called, between the Jaxartes and the Oxus, is far more precipitous than the eastern. Numerous ridges run out in this direction as far as Samarcand and Karshi, and the streams which drain off from the uplands between

between these ridges, and which form the Zar-afshan and Karshi rivers, belong of course to the water-system of the Oxus, though the streams are at preseut entirely consumed in irrigation before they reach the great river, and, in fact, constitute that perennial supply of water which has given its world-wide reputation for fertility to the plains about Bokhara and Samarcand. The third water-system is that of the Indus. From the south-eastern extremity of Pamír, where the table-land is lost in the rocky summits of the Muz-tagh, a number of streams drain off to the southward, forming two subsidiary Indus systems. A culminating ridge which runs out from the south-east corners of Pamír, and which the geographers usually call Pusht-i-khar (or the Assesback), is the true watershed between Thibet and Cabul, the streams flowing to the south-west being separated by the shoulder which joins the Hindú-kush, from the streams descending through Vakhan and Badakhshan to the Oxus, and forming the Cabul river, which falls into the Indus at Attock; while those which flow to the south-east, and which are divided by the Muz-tagh range from Tartary, descend through a series of rocky valleys and precipitous gorges into the Upper Indus in Little Thibet. The eastern face of Pamír, again, which, as we have before observed, slopes off very gradually into the plains of Tartary, supplies a fourth water-system, being drained by a series of small streams, which, passing by Yarkend and Kashgar, are ultimately lost in the sandy desert, or in some cases reach the central lake of Lob-núr. If there is any geographical foundation, then, for the fanciful scheme of Buddhist cosmogony which describes the four great rivers of the world-the Ganges, the Indus, the Oxus, and the Jaxartes-as issuing from a single, central lake, the allusion must necessarily be to this lake country of Pamír; but in that case Lob-núr must have been supposed to communicate with Gangotri, or the Pamír must have been considered to include within its limits all the Thibetan uplands.* Although


*See Remusat's Foě-kouč-ki,' p. 36. In the Brahminical Cosmogony, which is given in the 6th canto of the Mahabharata,' Mount Meru-explained by Wilson as the Highland of Tartary'-takes the place of the Central Lake of the Buddhists; and the Bhadrasoma, which Humboldt, strangely enough, identifies with the Irtish, is substituted for the Sintou or Indus. See Humboldt's 'Asie Centrale,' tom. i. p. 4. The name of Meru, however, is connected by Bournouf with Mir, 'a lake,' so as to signify the lake country;' and the same scholar suggests that Pamír may be a contraction of Upa-Meru, above Meru,' or in fact 'the Lake Uplands.' It is impossible to avoid comparing the myth above noticed with the Mosaical account of the rivers of Paradise; and it is further curious to observe how the same tradition repeated itself in modern geography, the maps of Jeyhani, for instance, representing the four rivers of Afghanistan, the Murghab,

Although the water systems of Central Asia may be thus satisfactorily traced, it is hardly possible to lay down a corresponding scheme of orography, since the concentration of the two great parallel chains in the Plateau of Pamír renders it most difficult to discriminate their respective prolongations. Perhaps, however, the most natural system is that which regards the chains to the north of the Jaxartes, the Ala-Táú, the Boruldäí, and the Kara-táú, not as mere spurs of the Western Altai, but as the prolongation of the culminating ridge of the ThianShan itself. The outer range, again, of this great chain, which forms the southern boundary of the upper Narym valley, and which is broken by the Terek pass, through which lies the high road from Kashgar to Kokand, may be recognised, it is thought, in the outer crest of the Pamír (or Aläí Plateau, as it is locally called), along its northern border, and may thus be traced as the left-hand barrier of the Jaxartes valley as far westward as Khojend, where it begins to lessen in height until it is lost in the desert north of Bokhara. Further south, Afghanistan must be looked upon as a continuation of Thibet, the southern or Himalayan crest running between Cashmere and the head waters of the Swat, Penjkorah, Bajour, and Chitral valleys, till it just touches the Pamír nucleus at Pusht-i-khar, at its extreme southern corner, and then turning south-west by the Sufid-Koh of Jellalabad to the great Soleiman range; and so on by the Bolan and Gandáva passes to the chain which borders the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf; while the northern crest, which under the names of Kuen-luen, Kara-koram, and Muz-tagh, runs into Pamír, is prolonged to the west above Badakhshan, and forms the watershed between the Oxus and the Cabul river, continues under the names of Koh-i-Baba, Hindú-kush, &c., to the north of Cabul, and finally traversing Khorassan at a much diminished altitude, re-appears in the Elburz, to the south of the Caspian.

The elevated space between these ranges, which gradually opens out from the apex at Pusht-i-khar till it meets and dies away in the Persian desert, exhibits many of the characteristics of Thibet. The great Hazareh plateau between Bamian and Herat is thus very like the uplands around the Pangong lake, and the Cabul valley may be compared, not unworthily, with that of Cashmere. As the ground, however, gradually sinks to the level of the Seistan lake and the sandy waste of Beluchistan, the resemblance is no longer perceptible.

ghab, the Heri-rúd, the Helmend, and the river of Balkh, as issuing from a Central Lake in the Hazareh mountains, though in reality the sources of these rivers are many hundreds of miles asunder.

If we look at the character of the physical geography of Central Asia, we observe everywhere a conflict, as it were, of the forces of nature, which may well remind us of the struggle between the principles of good and evil that was the dominant creed of the old inhabitants of the country. The desolation of the desert is brought face to face with the beneficent influence of the mountain ranges. Where the streams bring down the mountain detritus and deposit a thin coating of soil, the sandy waste withdraws for a space before advancing cultivation; but it reasserts its supremacy immediately the influence of irrigation is no longer felt. This contrast is especially remarkable in Chinese Turkestan, where the general character of the country is one of complete sterility, the river courses in the interior being merely fringed with a narrow strip of verdure, and the agricultural population being thus almost confined to the slopes of the mountain sides, where alone is water to be found for the purposes of husbandry. The upper valleys, it is true, of the Oxus and Jaxartes are so enclosed on both sides by mountains, and so entirely filled up with a rich alluvium, that in these favoured localities the usual characteristics of the country disappear; but no sooner have the rivers fairly debouched from the spurs of the Pamír plateau than they enter upon arid and saline steppes, and thus continue for hundreds of miles, unblessing and unblest, until on approaching the Aral the sluggish streams scatter themselves over the Delta in a network of canals, both natural and artificial, and again furnish the means of subsistence to a teeming population.

On the western face of the Afghan uplands there are precisely the same physical features. The Mur-ghab, the Tejen, and the Heri-rúd are all lost in sandy deserts. The Farreh-rúd, the Kháshrúd and the Helmend passing from the mountains through a sterile waste to the lake of Seistan, are the counterpart of the river system of Chinese Tartary struggling on from the surrounding ranges to the central reservoir of the Lob-núr. The Arghendab and the Ternek are consumed in irrigation before they reach the Helmend, precisely as are the rivers of Balkh and Sir-púl on the left bank of the Oxus, and the Karshi and Zer-afshan on its right or northern bank Throughout the whole region, indeed, of Central Asia there is a triple division of territory, which naturally produces a triple division of population. Firstly, there is the mountain region with its invigorating climate, its vast upland downs well suited for summer pasturage, and its rocky ravines carrying foaming torrents to the plains. Here dwell a hardy peasantry, descendants in some cases of the primitive inhabitants, but more often intermingled with offshoots


« PreviousContinue »