The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxxiii.

Of the Kingdom of Cascar.

Illustration: Head of a Native of Kashgar

Cascar is a region lying between north-east and east, and constituted a kingdom in former days, but now it is subject to the Great Kaan. The people worship Mahommet. There are a good number of towns and villages, but the greatest and finest is Cascar itself. The inhabitants live by trade and handicrafts; they have beautiful gardens and vineyards, and fine estates, and grow a great deal of cotton. From this country many merchants go forth about the world on trading journeys. The natives are a wretched, niggardly set of people; they eat and drink in miserable fashion. There are in the country many Nestorian Christians, who have churches of their own. The people of the country have a peculiar language, and the territory extends for five days’ journey.1

Illustration: View of Kashgar (From Shaw’s “Tartary”)

NOTE 1. —[There is no longer any difficulty in understanding how the travellers, after crossing Pamir, should have arrived at Kashgar if they followed the route from Táshkurgán through the Gez Defile.

The Itinerary of the Mirza from Badakhshan (Fáizabad) is the following: Zebak, Ishkashm, on the Panja, which may be considered the beginning of the Wakhán Valley, Panja Fort, in Wakhán, Raz Khan, Patur, near Lunghar (commencement of Pamir Steppe), Pamir Kul, or Barkút Yassin, 13,300 feet, Aktash, Sirikul Táshkurgán, Shukrab, Chichik Dawan, Akul, Kotul, Chahul Station (road to Yarkand) Kila Karawal, Aghiz Gah, Yangi–Hissar, Opechan, Yanga Shahr, Kashgar, where he arrived on the 3rd February, 1869. (Cf. Report of “The Mirza’s” Exploration from Caubul to Kashgar. By Major T. G. Montgomerie, R.E. . . . (Jour. R. Geog. Soc. XLI. 1871, pp. 132–192.)

Major Montgomerie (l.c. p. 144) says: “The alterations in the positions of Kashgar and Yarkund in a great measure explains why Marco Polo, in crossing from Badakhshan to Eastern Turkestan, went first to Kashgar and then to Yarkund. With the old positions of Yarkund and Kashgar it appeared that the natural route from Badakhshan would have led first to Yarkund; with the new positions, and guided by the light of the Mirza’s route, from which it is seen that the direct route to Yarkund is not a good one, it is easy to understand how a traveller might prefer going to Kashgar first, and then to Yarkund. It is satisfactory to have elicited this further proof of the general accuracy of the great traveller’s account of his journey through Central Asia.”

The Itinerary of Lieutenant–Colonel Gordon (Sirikol, the Pámírs and Wakhán, ch. vi. of Forsyth’s Mission to Yarkund in 1873) runs thus: “Left Káshgar (21st March), Yangi–Hissar, Kaskasú Pass, descent to Chihil Gumbaz (forty Domes), where the road branches off to Yárkand (110 miles), Torut Pass, Tangi-Tár (defile), ‘to the foot of a great elevated slope leading to the Chichiklik Pass, plain, and lake (14,700 feet), below the Yámbulák and Kok–Moinok Passes, which are used later in the season on the road between Yangi–Hissár and Sirikol, to avoid the Tangi-Tár and Shindi defiles. As the season advances, these passes become free from snow, while the defiles are rendered dangerous and difficult by the rush of the melting snow torrents. From the Chichiklik plain we proceeded down the Shindi ravine, over an extremely bad stony road, to the Sirikol River, up the banks of which we travelled to Táshkurgán, reaching it on the tenth day from Yangi–Hissar. The total distance is 125 miles.’ Then Táshkurgán (ancient name Várshídi): ‘the open part of the Sirikol Valley extends from about 8 miles below Táshkurgán to apparently a very considerable distance towards the Kunjút mountain range;’ left Táshkurgán for Wákhan (2nd April, 1873); leave Sirikol Valley, enter the Shindán defile, reach the Áktásh Valley, follow the Áktásh stream (called Áksú by the Kirghiz) through the Little Pamir to the Gházkul (Little Pamir) Lake or Barkat Yássín, from which it takes its rise, four days from Táshkurgán. Little Pamir ‘is bounded on the south by the continuation of the Neza Tásh range, which separates it from the Tághdúngbásh Pámir,’ west of the lake, Langar, Sarhadd, 30 miles from Langar, and seven days from Sirikol, and Kila Panj, twelve days from Sirikól.”— H. C.]

[I cannot admit with Professor Paquier (l.c. pp. 127–128) that Marco Polo did not visit Kashgar. — Grenard (II. p. 17) makes the remark that it took Marco Polo seventy days from Badakhshan to Kashgar, a distance that, in the Plain of Turkestan, he shall cross in sixteen days. — The Chinese traveller, translated by M. Gueluy (Desc. de la Chine occidentale, p. 45), says that the name Kashgar is made of Kash, fine colour, and gar, brick house. — H. C.]

Kashgar was the capital, from 1865 to 1877, of Ya’kúb Kúshbegi, a soldier of fortune, by descent it is said a Tajik of Shighnan, who, when the Chinese yoke was thrown off, made a throne for himself in Eastern Turkestan, and subjected the whole basin to his authority, taking the title of Atalik Gházi.

It is not easy to see how Kashgar should have been subject to the Great Kaan, except in the sense in which all territories under Mongol rule owed him homage. Yarkand, Polo acknowledges to have belonged to Kaidu, and the boundary between Kaidu’s territory and the Kaan’s lay between Karashahr and Komul [Bk. I. ch. xli.], much further east.

[Bretschneider, Med. Res. (II. p. 47), says: “Marco Polo states with respect to the kingdom of Cascar (I. 189) that it was subject to the Great Khan, and says the same regarding Cotan (I. 196), whilst Yarcan (I. 195), according to Marco Polo, belonged to Kaidu. This does not agree with Rashid’s statements about the boundary between Kaidu’s territory and the Khan’s.”— H. C.]

Kashgar was at this time a Metropolitan See of the Nestorian Church. (Cathay, etc. 275, ccxlv.)

Many strange sayings have been unduly ascribed to our traveller, but I remember none stranger than this by Colonel Tod: “Marco Polo calls Cashgar, where he was in the 6th century, the birthplace of the Swedes”! (Rajasthan, I. 60.) Pétis de la Croix and Tod between them are answerable for this nonsense. (See The Hist. of Genghizcan the Great, p. 116.)

On cotton, see ch. xxxvi. — On Nestorians, see Kanchau.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24