The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxxvi.

Of a Province Called Cotan.

Cotan is a province lying between north-east and east, and is eight days’ journey in length. The people are subject to the Great Kaan,1 and are all worshippers of Mahommet.2 There are numerous towns and villages in the country, but Cotan, the capital, is the most noble of all, and gives its name to the kingdom. Everything is to be had there in plenty, including abundance of cotton, [with flax, hemp, wheat, wine, and the like]. The people have vineyards and gardens and estates. They live by commerce and manufactures, and are no soldiers.3

NOTE 1. —[The Buddhist Government of Khotan was destroyed by Boghra Khân (about 980–990); it was temporarily restored by the Buddhist Kutchluk Khân, chief of the Naïmans, who came from the banks of the Ili, destroyed the Mahomedan dynasty of Boghra Khân (1209), but was in his turn subjugated by Chinghiz Khan.

The only Christian monument discovered in Khotan is a bronze cross brought back by Grenard (III. pp. 134–135); see also Devéria, Notes d’Epigraphie Mongole, p. 80. — H. C.]

NOTE 2. —“Aourent Mahommet”. Though this is Marco’s usual formula to define Mahomedans, we can scarcely suppose that he meant it literally. But in other cases it was very literally interpreted. Thus in Baudouin de Sebourc, the Dame de Pontieu, a passionate lady who renounces her faith before Saladin, says:—

“‘Et je renoië Dieu, et le pooir qu’il a;

Et Marie, sa Mère, qu’on dist qui le porta;

Mahom voel aourer, aportez-le-moi chà!’

    * * * * Li Soudans commanda

Qu’on aportast Mahom; et celle l’aoura.” (I. p. 72.)

The same romance brings in the story of the Stone of Samarkand, adapted from ch. xxxiv., and accounts for its sanctity in Saracen eyes because it had long formed a pedestal for Mahound!

And this notion gave rise to the use of Mawmet for an idol in general; whilst from the Mahommerie or place of Islamite worship the name of mummery came to be applied to idolatrous or unmeaning rituals; both very unjust etymologies. Thus of mosques in Richard Coeur de Lion:

“Kyrkes they made of Crystene Lawe,

And her Mawmettes lete downe drawe.” (Weber, II. 228.)

So Correa calls a golden idol, which was taken by Da Gama in a ship of Calicut, “an image of Mahomed” (372). Don Quixote too, who ought to have known better, cites with admiration the feat of Rinaldo in carrying off, in spite of forty Moors, a golden image of Mahomed.

NOTE 3. — 800 li (160 miles) east of Chokiuka or Yarkand, Hiuen Tsang comes to Kiustanna (Kustána) or KHOTAN. “The country chiefly consists of plains covered with stones and sand. The remainder, however, is favourable to agriculture, and produces everything abundantly. From this country are got woollen carpets, fine felts, well woven taffetas, white and black jade.” Chinese authors of the 10th century speak of the abundant grapes and excellent wine of Khotan.

Chinese annals of the 7th and 8th centuries tell us that the people of Khotan had chronicles of their own, a glimpse of a lost branch of history. Their writing, laws, and literature were modelled upon those of India.

Ilchi, the modern capital, was visited by Mr. Johnson, of the Indian Survey, in 1865. The country, after the revolt against the Chinese in 1863, came first under the rule of Habíb-ullah, an aged chief calling himself Khán Bádshah of Khotan; and since the treacherous seizure and murder of Habíb-ullah by Ya’kub Beg of Kashgar in January 1867, it has formed a part of the kingdom of the latter.

Mr. Johnson says: “The chief grains of the country are Indian corn, wheat, barley of two kinds, bájra, jowár (two kinds of holcus), buckwheat and rice, all of which are superior to the Indian grains, and are of a very fine quality. . . . The country is certainly superior to India, and in every respect equal to Kashmir, over which it has the advantage of being less humid, and consequently better suited to the growth of fruits. Olives (?), pears, apples, peaches, apricots, mulberries, grapes, currants, and melons, all exceedingly large in size and of a delicious flavour, are produced in great variety and abundance. . . . Cotton of valuable quality, and raw silk, are produced in very large quantities.”

[Khotan is the chief place of Turkestan for cotton manufactures; its khàm is to be found everywhere. This name, which means raw in Persian, is given to a stuff made with cotton thread, which has not undergone any preparation; they manufacture also two other cotton stuffs: alatcha with blue and red stripes, and tchekmen, very thick and coarse, used to make dresses and sacks; if khàm is better at Khotan, alatcha and tchekmen are superior at Kashgar. (Grenard, II. pp. 191–192.)

Grenard (II. pp. 175–177), among the fruits, mentions apricots (ourouk), ripe in June, and so plentiful that to keep them they are dried up to be used like garlic against mountain sickness; melons (koghoun) water-melons (tarbouz, the best are from Hami); vine (tâl)— the best grapes (uzum) come from Boghâz langar, near Keria; the best dried grapes are those from Turfan; peaches (shaptâlou); pomegranates (anár, best from Kerghalyk), etc.; the best apples are those of Nia and Sadju; pears are very bad; cherries and strawberries are unknown. Grenard (II. p. 106) also says that grapes are very good, but that Khotan wine is detestable, and tastes like vinegar.

The Chinese traveller, translated by M. Gueluy (Desc. de la Chine occidentale, p. 45), says that all the inhabitants of Khotan are seeking for precious stones, and that melons and fruits are more plentiful than at Yarkand. — H. C.]

Mr. Johnson reports the whole country to be rich in soil and very much under-peopled. Ilchi, the capital, has a population of about 40,000, and is a great place for manufactures. The chief articles produced are silks, felts, carpets (both silk and woollen), coarse cotton cloths, and paper from the mulberry fibre. The people are strict Mahomedans, and speak a Turki dialect. Both sexes are good-looking, with a slightly Tartar cast of countenance. (V. et V. de H. T. 278; Rémusat, H. de la V. de Khotan, 37, 73–84; Chin. Repos. IX. 128; J. R. G. S. XXXVII. 6 seqq.)

[In 1891, Dutreuil de Rhins and Grenard at the small village of Yotkán, about 8 miles to the west of the present Khotan, came across what they considered the most important and probably the most ancient city of southern Chinese Turkestan. The natives say that Yotkàn is the site of the old Capital. (Cf. Grenard, III. p. 127 et seq. for a description and drawings of coins and objects found at this place.)

The remains of the ancient capital of Khotan were accidentally discovered, some thirty-five years ago, at Yotkàn, a village of the Borazân Tract. A great mass of highly interesting finds of ancient art pottery, engraved stones, and early Khotan coins with Kharosthi–Chinese legends, coming from this site, have recently been thoroughly examined in Dr. Hoernle’s Report on the “British Collection of Central Asian Antiquities.” Stein. —(See Three further Collections of Ancient Manuscripts from Central Asia, by Dr. A. F. R. Hoernle . . . Calcutta, 1897, 8vo.)

“The sacred sites of Buddhist Khotan which Hiuen Tsang and Fa-hian describe, can be shown to be occupied now, almost without exception, by Mohamedan shrines forming the object of popular pilgrimages.” (M. A. Stein, Archaeological Work about Khotan, Jour. R. As. Soc., April, 1901, p. 296.)

It may be justly said that during the last few years numerous traces of Hindu civilisation have been found in Central Asia, extending from Khotan, through the Takla–Makan, as far as Turfan, and perhaps further up.

Dr. Sven Hedin, in the year 1896, during his second journey through Takla–Makan from Khotan to Shah Yar, visited the ruins between the Khotan Daria and the Kiria Daria, where he found the remains of the city of Takla–Makan now buried in the sands. He discovered figures of Buddha, a piece of papyrus with unknown characters, vestiges of habitations. This Asiatic Pompei, says the traveller, at least ten centuries old, is anterior to the Mahomedan invasion led by Kuteïbe Ibn–Muslim, which happened at the beginning of the 8th century. Its inhabitants were Buddhist, and of Aryan race, probably originating from Hindustan. — Dutreuil de Rhins and Grenard discovered in the Kumâri grottoes, in a small hill on the right bank of the Karakash Daria, a manuscript written on birch bark in Kharoshthi characters; these grottoes of Kumâri are mentioned in Hiuen Tsang. (II. p. 229.)

Dr. Sven Hedin followed the route Kashgar, Yangi–Hissar, Yarkand to Khotan, in 1895. He made a stay of nine days at Ilchi, the population of which he estimated at 5500 inhabitants (5000 Musulmans, 500 Chinese).

(See also Sven Hedin, Die Geog. wissenschaft. Ergebnisse meiner Reisen in Zentralasien, 1894–1897. Petermann’s Mitt., Ergänz. XXVIII. (Hft. 131), Gotha, 1900. — H. C.]

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