Of the Great River of Badashan.
In leaving Badashan you ride twelve days between east and north-east, ascending a river that runs through land belonging to a brother of the Prince of Badashan, and containing a good many towns and villages and scattered habitations. The people are Mahommetans, and valiant in war. At the end of those twelve days you come to a province of no great size, extending indeed no more than three days’ journey in any direction, and this is called VOKHAN. The people worship Mahommet, and they have a peculiar language. They are gallant soldiers, and they have a chief whom they call NONE, which is as much as to say Count, and they are liegemen to the Prince of Badashan.1
There are numbers of wild beasts of all sorts in this region. And when you leave this little country, and ride three days north-east, always among mountains, you get to such a height that ’tis said to be the highest place in the world! And when you have got to this height you find [a great lake between two mountains, and out of it] a fine river running through a plain clothed with the finest pasture in the world; insomuch that a lean beast there will fatten to your heart’s content in ten days. There are great numbers of all kinds of wild beasts; among others, wild sheep of great size, whose horns are good six palms in length. From these horns the shepherds make great bowls to eat from, and they use the horns also to enclose folds for their cattle at night. [Messer Marco was told also that the wolves were numerous, and killed many of those wild sheep. Hence quantities of their horns and bones were found, and these were made into great heaps by the way-side, in order to guide travellers when snow was on the ground.]
The plain is called PAMIER, and you ride across it for twelve days together, finding nothing but a desert without habitations or any green thing, so that travellers are obliged to carry with them whatever they have need of. The region is so lofty and cold that you do not even see any birds flying. And I must notice also that because of this great cold, fire does not burn so brightly, nor give out so much heat as usual, nor does it cook food so effectually.2
Now, if we go on with our journey towards the east-north-east, we travel a good forty days, continually passing over mountains and hills, or through valleys, and crossing many rivers and tracts of wilderness. And in all this way you find neither habitation of man, nor any green thing, but must carry with you whatever you require. The country is called BOLOR. The people dwell high up in the mountains, and are savage Idolaters, living only by the chase, and clothing themselves in the skins of beasts. They are in truth an evil race.3
NOTE 1. —[“The length of Little Pamir, according to Trotter, is 68 miles. . . . To find the twelve days’ ride in the plain of Marco Polo, it must be admitted, says Severtsof (Bul. Soc. Géog. XI. 1890, pp. 588–589), that he went down a considerable distance along the south-north course of the Aksu, in the Aktash Valley, and did not turn towards Tásh Kurgán, by the Neza Tash Pass, crossed by Gordon and Trotter. The descent from this pass to Tásh Kurgán finishes with a difficult and narrow defile, which may well be overflowed at the great melting of snow, from the end of May till the middle of June, even to July.
“Therefore he must have left the Aksu Valley to cross the Pass of Tagharma, about 50 or 60 kilometres to the north of the Neza Tash Pass; thence to Kashgar, the distance, in a straight line, is about 200 kilometres, and less than 300 by the shortest route which runs from the Tagharma Pass to little Kara Kul, and from there down to Yangi Hissar, along the Ghidjik. And Marco Polo assigns forty days for this route, while he allows but thirty for the journey of 500 kilometres (at least) from Jerm to the foot of the Tagharma Pass.”
Professor Paquier (Bul. Soc. Géog. 6’e Sér. XII. pp. 121–125) remarks that the Moonshee, sent by Captain Trotter to survey the Oxus between Ishkashm and Kila Wamár, could not find at the spot marked by Yule on his map, the mouth of the Shakh–Dara, but northward 7 or 8 miles from the junction of the Murghab with the Oxus, he saw the opening of an important water-course, the Suchnan River, formed by the Shakh–Dara and the Ghund–Dara. Marco arrived at a place between Northern Wakhán and Shihgnan; from the Central Pamir, Polo would have taken a route identical with that of the Mirza (1868–1869) by the Chichiklik Pass. Professor Paquier adds: “I have no hesitation in believing that Marco Polo was in the neighbourhood of that great commercial road, which by the Vallis Comedarum reached the foot of the Imaüs. He probably did not venture on a journey of fifty marches in an unknown country. At the top of the Shihgnan Valley, he doubtless found a road marked out to Little Bukharia. This was the road followed in ancient times from Bactrian to Serica; and Ptolemy has, so to speak, given us its landmarks after Marinus of Tyre, by the Vallis Comedarum (Valley of actual Shihgnan); the Turris Lapidea and the Statio Mercatorum, neighbourhood of Tash Kurgan, capital of the present province of Sar-i-kol.”
I must say that accepting, as I do, for Polo’s Itinerary, the route from Wakhán to Kashgar by the Taghdum–Bash Pamir, and Tásh Kurgán, I do not agree with Professor Paquier’s theory. But though I prefer Sir H. Yule’s route from Badakhshan, by the River Vardoj, the Pass of Ishkashm, the Panja, to Wakhán, I do not accept his views for the Itinerary from Wakhán to Kashgar; see p. 175. — H. C.]
The river along which Marco travels from Badakhshan is no doubt the upper stream of the Oxus, known locally as the Panja, along which Wood also travelled, followed of late by the Mirza and Faiz Bakhsh. It is true that the river is reached from Badaskhshan Proper by ascending another river (the Vardoj) and crossing the Pass of Ishkáshm, but in the brief style of our narrative we must expect such condensation.
WAKHÁN was restored to geography by Macartney, in the able map which he compiled for Elphinstone’s Caubul, and was made known more accurately by Wood’s journey through it. [The district of Wakhán “comprises the valleys containing the two heads of the Panjah branch of the Oxus, and the valley of the Panjah itself, from the junction at Zung down to Ishkashím. The northern branch of the Panjah has its principal source in the Lake Victoria in the Great Pamir, which as well as the Little Pámir, belongs to Wakhán, the Aktash River forming the well recognized boundary between Kashgaria and Wakhán.” (Captain Trotter, Forsyth’s Mission, p. 275.) The southern branch is the Sarhadd Valley. — H. C.] The lowest part is about 8000 feet above the sea, and the highest Kishlak, or village, about 11,500. A few willows and poplars are the only trees that can stand against the bitter blasts that blow down the valley. Wood estimated the total population of the province at only 1000 souls, though it might be capable of supporting 5000.1 He saw it, however, in the depth of winter. As to the peculiar language, see note I, ch. xxix. It is said to be a very old dialect of Persian. A scanty vocabulary was collected by Hayward. (J. R. G. S. XXI. p. 29.) The people, according to Shaw, have Aryan features, resembling those of the Kashmiris, but harsher.
[Cf. Captain Trotter’s The Oxus below Wakhan, Forsyth’s Mission, p. 276.]
1 “Yet this barren and inaccessible upland, with its scanty handful of wild people, finds a place in Eastern history and geography from an early period, and has now become the subject of serious correspondence between two great European Governments, and its name, for a few weeks at least, a household word in London. Indeed, this is a striking accident of the course of modern history. We see the Slav and the Englishman — representatives of two great branches of the Aryan race, but divided by such vast intervals of space and time from the original common starting-point of their migration — thus brought back to the lap of Pamir to which so many quivering lines point as the centre of their earliest seats, there by common consent to lay down limits to mutual encroachment.” (Quarterly Review, April, 1873, p. 548.)
We appear to see in the indications of this paragraph precisely the same system of government that now prevails in the Oxus valleys. The central districts of Faizabad and Jerm are under the immediate administration of the Mír of Badakhshan, whilst fifteen other districts, such as Kishm, Rusták, Zebák, Ishkáshm, Wakhán, are dependencies “held by the relations of the Mír, or by hereditary rulers, on a feudal tenure, conditional on fidelity and military service in time of need, the holders possessing supreme authority in their respective territories, and paying little or no tribute to the paramount power.” (Pandit Manphul.) The first part of the valley of which Marco speaks as belonging to a brother of the Prince, may correspond to Ishkáshm, or perhaps to Vardoj; the second, Wakhán, seems to have had a hereditary ruler; but both were vassals of the Prince of Badakhshan, and therefore are styled Counts, not kings or Seigneurs.
The native title which Marco gives as the equivalent of Count is remarkable. Non or None, as it is variously written in the texts, would in French form represent Nono in Italian. Pauthier refers this title to the “Rao-nana (or nano) Rao” which figures as the style of Kanerkes in the Indo–Scythic coinage. But Wilson (Ariana Antiqua, p. 358) interprets Raonano as most probably a genitive plural of Rao, whilst the whole inscription answers precisely to the Greek one [Greek: BASILEUS BASILEON KANAERKOU] which is found on other coins of the same prince. General Cunningham, a very competent authority, adheres to this view, and writes: “I do not think None or Non can have any connection with the Nana of the coins.”
It is remarkable, however, that NONO (said to signify “younger,” or lesser) is in Tibet the title given to a younger brother, deputy, or subordinate prince. In Cunningham’s Ladak (259) we read: “Nono is the usual term of respect which is used in addressing any young man of the higher ranks, and when prefixed to Kahlon it means the younger or deputy minister.” And again (p. 352): “Nono is the title given to a younger brother. Nono Sungnam was the younger brother of Chang Raphtan, the Kahlon of Bazgo.” I have recently encountered the word used independently, and precisely in Marco’s application of it. An old friend, in speaking of a journey that he had made in our Tibetan provinces, said incidentally that he had accompanied the commissioner to the installation of a new NONO (I think in Spiti). The term here corresponds so precisely with the explanation which Marco gives of None as a Count subject to a superior sovereign, that it is difficult to regard the coincidence as accidental. The Yuechi or Indo–Scyths who long ruled the Oxus countries are said to have been of Tibetan origin, and Al–Biruni repeats a report that this was so. (Elliot. II. 9.)2 Can this title have been a trace of their rule? Or is it Indian?
NOTE 2. — This chapter is one of the most interesting in the book, and contains one of its most splendid anticipations of modern exploration, whilst conversely Lieutenant John Wood’s narrative presents the most brilliant confirmation in detail of Marco’s narrative.
We have very old testimony to the recognition of the great altitude of the Plateau of PAMIR (the name which Marco gives it and which it still retains), and to the existence of the lake (or lakes) upon its surface. The Chinese pilgrims Hwui Seng and Sung Yun, who passed this way A.D. 518, inform us that these high lands of the Tsung Ling were commonly said to be midway between heaven and earth. The more celebrated Hiuen Tsang, who came this way nearly 120 years later (about 644) on his return to China, “after crossing the mountains for 700 li, arrived at the valley of Pomilo (Pamir). This valley is 1000 li (about 200 miles) from east to west, and 100 li (20 miles) from north to south, and lies between two snowy ranges in the centre of the Tsung Ling mountains. The traveller is annoyed by sudden gusts of wind, and the snow-drifts never cease, spring or summer. As the soil is almost constantly frozen, you see but a few miserable plants, and no crops can live. The whole tract is but a dreary waste, without a trace of human kind. In the middle of the valley is a great lake 300 li (60 miles) from east to west, and 500 li from north to south. This stands in the centre of Jambudwipa (the Buddhist [Greek: oikouménae]) on a plateau of prodigious elevation. An endless variety of creatures peoples its waters. When you hear the murmur and clash of its waves you think you are listening to the noisy hum of a great market in which vast crowds of people are mingling in excitement. . . . The lake discharges to the west, and a river runs out of it in that direction and joins the Potsu (Oxus). . . . The lake likewise discharges to the east, and a great river runs out, which flows eastward to the western frontier of Kiesha (Káshgar), where it joins the River Sita, and runs eastward with it into the sea.” The story of an eastern outflow from the lake is, no doubt, legend, connected with an ancient Hindu belief (see Cathay, p. 347), but Burnes in modern times heard much the same story. And the Mirza, in 1868, took up the same impression regarding the smaller lake called Pamir Kul, in which the southern branch of the Panja originates.
“After quitting the (frozen) surface of the river,” says Wood, “we . . . ascended a low hill, which apparently bounded the valley to the eastward. On surmounting this, at 3 P.M. of the 19th February, 1838, we stood, to use a native expression, upon the Bám-i-Duniah, or ‘Roof of the World,’ while before us lay stretched a noble but frozen sheet of water, from whose western end issued the infant river of the Oxus. This fine lake (Sirikol) lies in the form of a crescent, about 14 miles long from east to west, by an average breadth of 1 mile. On three sides it is bordered by swelling hills about 500 feet high, while along its southern bank they rise into mountains 3500 feet above the lake, or 19,000 feet above the sea, and covered with perpetual snow, from which never-failing source the lake is supplied. . . . Its elevation, measured by the temperature of boiling water, is 15,600 feet.”
The absence of birds on Pamir, reported by Marco, probably shows that he passed very late or early in the season. Hiuen Tsang, we see, gives a different account; Wood was there in the winter, but heard that in summer the lake swarmed with water-fowl. [Cf. Captain Trotter, p. 263, in Forsyth’s Mission.]
The Pamir Steppe was crossed by Benedict Goës late in the autumn of 1603, and the narrative speaks of the great cold and desolation, and the difficulty of breathing. We have also an abstract of the journey of Abdul Mejid, a British Agent, who passed Pamir on his way to Kokan in 1861:—“Fourteen weary days were occupied in crossing the steppe; the marches were long, depending on uncertain supplies of grass and water, which sometimes wholly failed them; food for man and beast had to be carried with the party, for not a trace of human habitation is to be met with in those inhospitable wilds. . . . The steppe is interspersed with tamarisk jungle and the wild willow, and in the summer with tracts of high grass.” (Neumann, Pilgerfahrten Buddh. Priester, p. 50; V. et V. de H. T. 271–272; Wood, 232; Proc. R. G. S. X. 150.)
There is nothing absolutely to decide whether Marco’s route from Wakhán lay by Wood’s Lake “Sirikol,” or Victoria, or by the more southerly source of the Oxus in Pamir Kul. These routes would unite in the valley of Táshkurgán, and his road thence to Kashgar was, I apprehend, nearly the same as the Mirza’s in 1868–1869, by the lofty Chichiklik Pass and Kin Valley. But I cannot account for the forty days of wilderness. The Mirza was but thirty-four days from Faizabad to Kashgar, and Faiz Bakhsh only twenty-five.
[Severtsof (Bul. Soc. Géog. XI. 1890, p. 587), who accepts Trotter’s route, by the Pamir Khurd (Little Pamir), says there are three routes from Wakhán to Little Pamir, going up the Sarhadd: one during the winter, by the frozen river; the two others available during the spring and the summer, up and down the snowy chain along the right bank of the Sarhadd, until the valley widens out into a plain, where a swelling is hardly to be seen, so flat is it; this chain is the dividing ridge between the Sarhadd and the Aksu. From the summit, the traveller, looking towards the west, sees at his feet the mountains he has crossed; to the east, the Pamir Kul and the Aksu, the river flowing from it. The pasture grounds around the Pamir Kul and the sources of the Sarhadd are magnificent; but lower down, the Aksu valley is arid, dotted only with pasture grounds of little extent, and few and far between. It is to this part of Pamir that Marco Polo’s description applies; more than any other part of this ensemble of high valleys, this line of water parting, of the Sarhadd and the Aksu, has the aspect of a Roof of the World (Bam-i-dunya, Persian name of Pamir). — H. C.].
[We can trace Marco Polo’s route from Wakhán, on comparing it with Captain Younghusband’s Itinerary from Kashgar, which he left on the 22nd July, 1891, for Little Pamir: Little Pamir at Bozai–Gumbaz, joins with the Pamir-i-Wakhán at the Wakhijrui Pass, first explored by Colonel Lockhart’s mission. Hence the route lies by the old fort of Kurgan-i-Ujadbai at the junction of the two branches of the Tagh-dum-bash Pamir (Supreme Head of the Mountains), the Tagh-dum-bash Pamir, Tásh Kurgán, Bulun Kul, the Gez Defile and Kashgar. (Proc. R. G. S. XIV. 1892, pp. 205–234.)— H. C.]
We may observe that Severtsof asserts Pamir to be a generic term, applied to all high plateaux in the Thian Shan.3
[“The Pámír plateau may be described as a great, broad, rounded ridge, extending north and south, and crossed by thick mountain chains, between which lie elevated valleys, open and gently sloping towards the east, but narrow and confined, with a rapid fall towards the west. The waters which run in all, with the exception of the eastern flow from the Tághdúngbásh, collect in the Oxus; the Áksú from the Little Pámír lake receiving the eastern drainage, which finds an outlet in the Áktásh Valley, and joining the Múrgháb, which obtains that from the Alichór and Síríz Pámirs. As the eastern Tághdúngbásh stream finds its way into the Yarkand river, the watershed must be held as extending from that Pámír, down the range dividing it from the Little Pámír, and along the Neza Tásh mountains to the Kizil Art Pass, leading to the Alái.” (Colonel Gordon, Forsyth’s Mission, p. 231.)
Lieutenant–Colonel Gordon (Forsyth’s Mission, p. 231) says also: “Regarding the name ‘Pámír,’ the meaning appears to be wilderness — a place depopulated, abandoned, waste, yet capable of habitation. I obtained this information on the Great Pámír from one of our intelligent guides, who said in explanation —‘In former days, when this part was inhabited by Kirghiz, as is shown by the ruins of their villages and burial-grounds, the valley was not all called Pámír, as it is now. It was known by its village names, as is the country beyond Sirikol, which being now occupied by Kirghiz is not known by one name, but partly as Chárling, Bas Robát, etc. If deserted it would be Pámír.” In a note Sir T. D. Forsyth adds that the same explanation of the word was given to him at Yangi–Hissar, and that it is in fact a Khokandi–Turki word. — H. C.]
It would seem, from such notices as have been received, that there is not, strictly speaking, one steppe called Pamir, but a variety of Pamirs, which are lofty valleys between ranges of hills, presenting luxuriant summer pasture, and with floors more or less flat, but nowhere more than 5 or 6 miles in width and often much less.
[This is quite exact; Mr. E. Delmar Morgan writes in the Scottish Geog. Mag. January, 1892, p. 17: “Following the terminology of Yule adopted by geographers, and now well established, we have (1) Pamir Alichur; (2) Pamir Khurd (or “Little”); (3) Pamir Kalan (or “Great”); (4) Pamir Khargosi (“of the hare”); (5) Pamir Sares; (6) Pamir Rang-kul.”— H. C.]
Illustration: Horns of Ovis Poli.
Wood speaks of the numerous wolves in this region. And the great sheep is that to which Blyth, in honour of our traveller, has given the name of Ovis Poli.4 A pair of horns, sent by Wood to the Royal Asiatic Society, and of which a representation is given above, affords the following dimensions:— Length of one horn on the curve, 4 feet 8 inches; round the base 14–1/4 inches; distance of tips apart 3 feet 9 inches. This sheep appears to be the same as the Rass, of which Burnes heard that the horns were so big that a man could not lift a pair, and that foxes bred in them; also that the carcass formed a load for two horses. Wood says that these horns supply shoes for the Kirghiz horses, and also a good substitute for stirrup-irons. “We saw numbers of horns strewed about in every direction, the spoils of the Kirghiz hunter. Some of these were of an astonishingly large size, and belonged to an animal of a species between a goat and a sheep, inhabiting the steppes of Pamir. The ends of the horns projecting above the snow often indicated the direction of the road; and wherever they were heaped in large quantities and disposed in a semicircle, there our escort recognised the site of a Kirghiz summer encampment. . . . We came in sight of a rough-looking building, decked out with the horns of the wild sheep, and all but buried amongst the snow. It was a Kirghiz burying-ground.” (Pp. 223, 229, 231)
[With reference to Wood’s remark that the horns of the Ovis Poli supply shoes for the Kirghiz horses, Mr. Rockhill writes to me that a Paris newspaper of 24th November, 1894, observes: “Horn shoes made of the horn of sheep are successfully used in Lyons. They are especially adapted to horses employed in towns, where the pavements are often slippery. Horses thus shod can be driven, it is said, at the most rapid pace over the worst pavement without slipping.”
(Cf. Rockhill, Rubruck, p. 69; Chasses et Explorations dans la Région des Pamirs, par le Vte. Ed. de Poncins, Paris, 1897, 8vo. — H. C.).]
Illustration: Ovis Poli, the Great Sheep of Pamir. (After Severtsof.)
“El hi a grant montitude de monton sauvages qe sunt grandisme, car out lee cornes bien six paumes”. . . .
In 1867 this great sheep was shot by M. Severtsof, on the Plateau of Aksai, in the western Thian Shan. He reports these animals to go in great herds, and to be very difficult to kill. However, he brought back two specimens. The Narin River is stated to be the northern limit of the species.5 Severtsof also states that the enemies of the Ovis Poli are the wolves, [and Colonel Gordon says that the leopards and wolves prey almost entirely upon them. (On the Ovis Poli, see Captain Deasy, In Tibet, p. 361.)— H. C.]
Colonel Gordon, the head of the exploring party detached by Sir Douglas Forsyth, brought away a head of Ovis Poli, which quite bears out the account by its eponymus of horns “good 6 palms in length,” say 60 inches. This head, as I learn from a letter of Colonel Gordon’s to a friend, has one horn perfect which measures 65–1/2 inches on the curves; the other, broken at the tip measures 64 inches; the straight line between the tips is 55 inches.
[Captain Younghusband 1886 “before leaving the Altai Mountains, picked up several heads of the Ovis Poli, called Argali by the Mongols. They were somewhat different from those which I afterwards saw at Yarkand, which had been brought in from the Pamir. Those I found in the Gobi were considerably thicker at the base, there was a less degree of curve, and a shorter length of horn.” A full description of the Ovis Poli, with a large plate drawing of the horns, may be seen in Colonel Gordon’s Roof of the World. (See p. 81.) (Proc. R. G. S. X. 1888, p. 495.) Some years later, Captain Younghusband speaks repeatedly of the great sport of shooting Ovis Poli. (Proc. R. G. S. XIV. 1892, pp. 205, 234.)— H. C.]
As to the pasture, Timkowski heard that “the pasturage of Pamir is so luxuriant and nutritious, that if horses are left on it for more than forty days they die of repletion.” (I. 421.) And Wood: “The grass of Pamir, they tell you, is so rich that a sorry horse is here brought into good condition in less than twenty days; and its nourishing qualities are evidenced in the productiveness of their ewes, which almost invariably bring forth two lambs at a birth.” (P. 365.)
With regard to the effect upon fire ascribed to the “great cold,” Ramusio’s version inserts the expression “gli fu affermato per miracolo,” “it was asserted to him as a wonderful circumstance.” And Humboldt thinks it so strange that Marco should not have observed this personally that he doubts whether Polo himself passed the Pamir. “How is it that he does not say that he himself had seen how the flames disperse and leap about, as I myself have so often experienced at similar altitudes in the Cordilleras of the Andes, especially when investigating the boiling-point of water?” (Cent. Asia, Germ. Transl. I. 588.) But the words quoted from Ramusio do not exist in the old texts, and they are probably an editorial interpolation indicating disbelief in the statement.
MM. Huc and Gabet made a like observation on the high passes of north-eastern Tibet: “The argols gave out much smoke, but would not burn with any flame”; only they adopted the native idea that this as well as their own sufferings in respiration was caused by some pernicious exhalation.
Major Montgomerie, R.E., of the Indian Survey, who has probably passed more time nearer the heavens than any man living, sends me the following note on this passage: “What Marco Polo says as to fire at great altitudes not cooking so effectually as usual is perfectly correct as far as anything boiled is concerned, but I doubt if it is as to anything roasted. The want of brightness in a fire at great altitudes is, I think, altogether attributable to the poorness of the fuel, which consists of either small sticks or bits of roots, or of argols of dung, all of which give out a good deal of smoke, more especially the latter if not quite dry; but I have often seen a capital blaze made with the argols when perfectly dry. As to cooking, we found that rice, dál, and potatoes would never soften properly, no matter how long they were boiled. This, of course, was due to the boiling-point being only from 170° to 180°. Our tea, moreover, suffered from the same cause, and was never good when we were over 15,000 feet. This was very marked. Some of my natives made dreadful complaints about the rice and dál that they got from the village-heads in the valleys, and vowed that they only gave them what was very old and hard, as they could not soften it!”
NOTE 3. — Bolor is a subject which it would take several pages to discuss with fulness, and I must refer for such fuller discussion to a paper in the J. R. G. S. vol. xlii. p. 473.
The name Bolor is very old, occurring in Hiuen Tsang’s Travels (7th century), and in still older Chinese works of like character. General Cunningham has told us that Balti is still termed Balor by the Dards of Gilghit; and Mr. Shaw, that Palor is an old name still sometimes used by the Kirghiz for the upper part of Chitrál. The indications of Hiuen Tsang are in accordance with General Cunningham’s information; and the fact that Chitrál is described under the name of Bolor in Chinese works of the last century entirely justifies that of Mr. Shaw. A Pushtu poem of the 17th century, translated by Major Raverty, assigns the mountains of Bilaur-istán, as the northern boundary of Swát. The collation of these indications shows that the term Bolor must have been applied somewhat extensively to the high regions adjoining the southern margin of Pamir. And a passage in the Táríkh Rashídí, written at Kashgar in the 16th century by a cousin of the great Baber, affords us a definition of the tract to which, in its larger sense, the name was thus applied: “Malaur (i.e. Balaur or Bolor) . . . is a country with few level spots. It has a circuit of four months’ march. The eastern frontier borders on Kashgar and Yarkand; it has Badakhshan to the north, Kabul to the west, and Kashmír to the south.” The writer was thoroughly acquainted with his subject, and the region which he so defines must have embraced Sirikol and all the wild country south of Yarkand, Balti, Gilghit, Yasin, Chitrál, and perhaps Kafiristán. This enables us to understand Polo’s use of the term.
The name of Bolor in later days has been in a manner a symbol of controversy. It is prominent in the apocryphal travels of George Ludwig von — — preserved in the Military Archives at St. Petersburg. That work represents a town of Bolor as existing to the north of Badakhshan, with Wakhán still further to the north. This geography we now know to be entirely erroneous, but it is in full accordance with the maps and tables of the Jesuit missionaries and their pupils, who accompanied the Chinese troops to Kashgar in 1758–1759. The paper in the Geographical Society’s Journal, which has been referred to, demonstrates how these erroneous data must have originated. It shows that the Jesuit geography was founded on downright accidental error, and, as a consequence, that the narratives which profess de visu to corroborate that geography must be downright forgeries. When the first edition was printed, I retained the belief in a Bolor where the Jesuits placed it.
[The Chinese traveller, translated by M. Gueluy (Desc. de la Chine occid. p. 53), speaks of Bolor, to the west of Yarkand, inhabited by Mahomedans who live in huts; the country is sandy and rather poor. Severtsof says, (Bul. Soc. Géog. XI. 1890, p. 591) that he believes that the name of Bolor should be expunged from geographical nomenclature as a source of confusion and error. Humboldt, with his great authority, has too definitely attached this name to an erroneous orographical system. Lieutenant–Colonel Gordon says that he “made repeated enquiries from Kirghiz and Wakhis, and from the Mír [of Wakhán], Fatteh Ali Shah, regarding ‘Bólór,’ as a name for any mountain, country, or place, but all professed perfect ignorance of it.” (Forsyth’s Mission.)— H. C.]
The J. A. S. Bengal for 1853 (vol. xxii.) contains extracts from the diary of a Mr. Gardiner in those central regions of Asia. These read more like the memoranda of a dyspeptic dream than anything else, and the only passage I can find illustrative of our traveller is the following; the region is described as lying twenty days south-west of Kashgar: “The Keiaz tribe live in caves on the highest peaks, subsist by hunting, keep no flocks, said to be anthropophagous, but have handsome women; eat their flesh raw.” (P. 295; Pèlerins Boud. III. 316, 421, etc.; Ladak, 34, 45, 47; Mag. Asiatique, I. 92, 96–97; Not. et Ext. II. 475, XIV. 492; J. A. S. B. XXXI. 279; Mr. R. Shaw in Geog. Proceedings, XVI. 246, 400; Notes regarding Bolor, etc., J. R. G. S. XLII. 473.)
As this sheet goes finally to press we hear of the exploration of Pamir by officers of Mr. Forsyth’s Mission. [I have made use of the information collected by them. — H. C.]
2 Ibn Haukal reckons Wakhán as an Indian country. It is a curious coincidence (it can scarcely be more) that Nono in the Garo tongue of Eastern Bengal signifies “a younger brother.” (J. A. S. B. XXII. 153, XVIII. 208.)
3 According to Colonel Tod, the Hindu bard Chand speaks of “Pamer, chief of mountains.” (I. p. 24.) But one may like and respect Colonel Tod without feeling able to rely on such quotations of his unconfirmed.
4 Usually written Polii, which is nonsense.
5 [“The Tian Shan wild sheep has since been described as the Ovis Karelini, a species somewhat smaller than the true Ovis Poli which frequents the Pamirs.” (Colonel Gordon, Roof of the World, p. 83, note.)— H. C.]
Last updated Thursday, December 25, 2014 at 10:52