The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxxviii.

Of the Province of Charchan.

Charchan is a Province of Great Turkey, lying between north-east and east. The people worship Mahommet. There are numerous towns and villages, and the chief city of the kingdom bears its name, Charchan. The Province contains rivers which bring down Jasper and Chalcedony, and these are carried for sale into Cathay, where they fetch great prices. The whole of the Province is sandy, and so is the road all the way from Pein, and much of the water that you find is bitter and bad. However, at some places you do find fresh and sweet water. When an army passes through the land, the people escape with their wives, children, and cattle a distance of two or three days’ journey into the sandy waste; and knowing the spots where water is to be had, they are able to live there, and to keep their cattle alive, whilst it is impossible to discover them; for the wind immediately blows the sand over their track.

Quitting Charchan, you ride some five days through the sands, finding none but bad and bitter water, and then you come to a place where the water is sweet. And now I will tell you of a province called Lop, in which there is a city, also called LOP, which you come to at the end of those five days. It is at the entrance of the great Desert, and it is here that travellers repose before entering on the Desert.1

NOTE 1. — Though the Lake of Lob or Lop appears on all our maps, from Chinese authority, the latter does not seem to have supplied information as to a town so called. We have, however, indications of the existence of such a place, both mediaeval and recent. The History of Mirza Haidar, called the Táríkh-i-Rashídí, already referred to, in describing the Great Basin of Eastern Turkestan, says: “Formerly there were several large cities in this plain; the names of two have survived — Lob and Kank, but of the rest there is no trace or tradition; all is buried under the sand.” [Forsyth (J. R. G. S. XLVII. 1877, p. 5) says that he thinks that this Kank is probably the Katak mentioned by Mirza Haidar. — H. C.] In another place the same history says that a boy heir of the house of Chaghatai, to save him from a usurper, was sent away to Sárígh Uighúr and Lob–Kank, far in the East. Again, in the short notices of the cities of Turkestan which Mr. Wathen collected at Bombay from pilgrims of those regions on their way to Mecca, we find the following: “Lopp. — Lopp is situated at a great distance from Yarkand. The inhabitants are principally Chinese; but a few Uzbeks reside there. Lopp is remarkable for a salt-water lake in its vicinity.” Johnson, speaking of a road from Tibet into Khotan, says: “This route . . . leads not only to Ilchi and Yarkand, but also viâ Lob to the large and important city of Karashahr.” And among the routes attached to Mr. Johnson’s original Report, we have:—

“Route No. VII. Kiria (see note 1 to last chapter) to CHACHAN and LOB (from native information).”

This first revealed to me the continued existence of Marco’s Charchan; for it was impossible to doubt that in the CHACHAN and LOB of this Itinerary we had his Charchan and Lop; and his route to the verge of the Great Desert was thus made clear.

Mr. Johnson’s information made the journey from Kiria to Charchan to be 9 marches, estimated by him to amount to 154 miles, and adding 69 miles from Ilchi to Kiria (which he actually traversed) we have 13 marches or 223 miles for the distance from Ilchi to Charchan. Mr. Shaw has since obtained a route between Ilchi and Lob on very good authority. This makes the distance to Charchan, or Charchand, as it is called, 22 marches, which Mr. Shaw estimates at 293 miles. Both give 6 marches from Charchand to Lob, which is in fair accordance with Polo’s 5, and Shaw estimates the whole distance from Ilchi to Lob at 373, or by another calculation at 384 miles, say roundly 380 miles. This higher estimate is to be preferred to Mr. Johnson’s for a reason which will appear under next chapter.

Mr. Shaw’s informant, Rozi of Khotan, who had lived twelve years at Charchand, described the latter as a small town with a district extending on both sides of a stream which flows to Lob, and which affords Jade. The people are Musulmans. They grow wheat, Indian corn, pears, and apples, etc., but no cotton or rice. It stands in a great plain, but the mountains are not far off. The nature of the products leads Mr. Shaw to think it must stand a good deal higher than Ilchi (4000), perhaps at about 6000 feet. I may observe that the Chinese hydrography of the Kashgar Basin, translated by Julien in the N. An. des Voyages for 1846 (vol. iii.), seems to imply that mountains from the south approach within some 20 miles of the Tarim River, between the longitude of Shayar and Lake Lop. The people of Lob are Musulman also, but very uncivilised. The Lake is salt. The hydrography calls it about 200 li (say 66 miles) from E. to W. and half that from N. to S., and expresses the old belief that it forms the subterranean source of the Hwang–Ho. Shaw’s Itinerary shows “salt pools” at six of the stations between Kiria and Charchand, so Marco’s memory in this also was exact.

Nia, a town two marches from Kiria according to Johnson, or four according to Shaw, is probably the ancient city of Ni-jang of the ancient Chinese Itineraries, which lay 30 or 40 miles on the China side of Pima, in the middle of a great marsh, and formed the eastern frontier of Khotan bordering on the Desert. (J. R. G. S. XXXVII. pp. 13 and 44; also Sir H. Rawlinson in XLII. p. 503: Erskine’s Baber and Humayun, I. 42; Proc. R. G. S. vol. xvi. pp. 244–249; J. A. S. B. IV. 656; H. de la V. de Khotan, u.s.)

[The Charchan of Marco Polo seems to have been built to the west of the present oasis, a little south of the road to Kiria, where ruined houses have been found. It must have been destroyed before the 16th century, since Mirza Haidar does not mention it. It was not anterior to the 7th century, as it did not exist at the time of Hiuen Tsang. (Cf. Grenard, III. p. 146.)

Grenard says (pp. 183–184) that he examined the remains of what is called the old town of Charchan, traces of the ancient canal, ruins of dwellings deep into the sand, of which the walls built of large and solid-baked bricks, are pretty well preserved. Save these bricks, “I found hardly anything, the inhabitants have pillaged everything long ago. I attempted some excavating, which turned out to be without result, as far as I was concerned; but the superstitious natives declared that they were the cause of a violent storm which took place soon after. There are similar ruins in the environs, at Yantak Koudouk, at Tatrang, one day’s march to the north, and at Ouadjchahari at five days to the north-east, which corresponds to the position assigned to Lop by Marco Polo.” (See Grenard’s Haute Asie on Nia.)

Palladius is quite mistaken (l.c. p. 3.) in saying that the “Charchan” of Marco Polo is to be found in the present province of Karashar. (Cf. T. W. Kingsmill’s Notes on Marco Polo’s Route from Khoten to China, Chinese Recorder, VII. pp. 338–343; Notes on Doctor Sven Hedin’s Discoveries in the Valley of the Tarim, its Cities and Peoples, China Review, XXIV. No. II. pp. 59–64.)— H. C.]

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