From Kulja, across the Tian Shan to Lob-Nor/Introductory Remarks

From Kulja, across the Tian Shan to Lob-Nor  (1879) 
by Nikolay Przhevalsky (as Nicholas Prejevalski)
Introductory Remarks
by Thomas Douglas Forsyth


The ancient history of this region is enveloped in considerable obscurity, but such glimpses as we are able to get at it through the stories of travellers, and the more or less fabulous tales of Mohammedan and other writers, are not without interest. For several centuries anterior to the Christian era it formed part of the empire of Turan, swayed by a long line of Scythian kings, who are referred to a common descent from the great family of Afrasyab.

The power of the Scythians appears to have been first broken by their western neighbours of Iran, and finally extinguished by the Macedonian conquest.

Syawush, about 580 B.C., fleeing from his father Kaikaos, crossed the Jyhoon, and sought refuge with the enemy of his family Afrasyab, who received him with kindness, and granted him an honourable asylum, and gave him his daughter, the beautiful Farangis, in marriage, with the provinces of Khoten and Chin as her dowry. Thither Syawush retired with his bride, and settling at Kung—probably Katak, the ruins of which now exist near Lob, at twelve or sixteen days' journey N.E. of Khoten, made it the capital of his government of Khoten and Chin, or, as it is usually styled, Machin, which together comprised the southern and eastern portion of the great basin known as Eastern Turkestan.

The Bactrian kingdom of Soghdiana, invaded by Alexander the Great about 300 B.C., was in its turn overthrown by the invasion from the north of the great Yuechi, or Tokhar, a branch of the Tungun or Eastern Tartar people, who were driven from their lands westward to the banks of the Hi river just anterior to 200 B.C. by the Hiunguns or Huns, who conquered all the country from the borders of China to the Volga, which they held with varying success till their power over the territory of Kashgar was broken, and they were subjected to the Chinese about 94 A.D., in which year the city of Kashgar was captured and annexed to China. For a long period this region was under the rule of Chinese governors, but gradually passed into the hands of petty independent princes, who were strong enough to throw off their subjection to the empire, but who maintained a kind of allegiance, by sending periodical embassies to China. In fact it is recorded that such embassies from the extreme frontier states were of very frequent occurrence, owing to the facilities they afforded for smuggling merchandise through the frontier custom-houses. Their real object, as a mere cloak for purposes of trade, was soon recognized by the Chinese Government, and since the large number of foreigners entering the country in the train of the envoys gave rise to numerous disputes and much inconvenience, orders were issued for placing them under severe restrictions, and the operation of these regulations soon led to their discontinuance.

The most noted amongst these independent tribes seem to have been the Uighurs, whose chief, Satuk Boghra Khan, was the first Tartar prince who brought the Uighur people together as a nation. His empire extended from the shores of the Caspian to the Desert of Gobi, and the frontiers of China. He, moreover, introduced Islam into Eastern Turkestan towards the end of the tenth century.

The government of the Uighur passed into the hands of the Gurkhan of the Kara Khitai about the beginning of the thirteenth century. These Uighurs were Turks, and were known to the Chinese as Hoei-hoei. In the second half of the eighth century and beginning of the ninth they were all powerful in Eastern Asia, and had their capital in Karakorum.

Nestorian Christianity was widely spread among them, and it was from the Nestorians that they doubtless derived their alphabet, which is founded on the Syriac. They taught letters to the Mongols, and were in early times the most cultivated race of Eastern Asia. From these people Jinghiz Khan borrowed a creed for his nomads, and letters in which to reduce their language to writing. The accountants, secretaries, and civil servants of both Jinghiz and his immediate successor were almost always taken from the same nationality. Their principal seat was Bishbalik (Ourumtsi).

The empire of Kara Khitai had been founded by a fugitive from China, a scion of the royal race of the Liau or Khitan dynasty, who escaped when that dynasty was overturned and ejected by the Yueche or Kin. Its sovereigns were styled the Gurkhans. They ruled immediately over the area known to the older geographers as Little Bucharia or Dzungaria, the Arslan Khans of Kashgar and the chiefs of the Uighurs being subject to them. In A.D. 1208 Kushluk, son of the chief of the Naimans, took refuge at their court. The Gurkhan was then a weak prince, the Naiman treacherous and crafty. He asked permission to collect the debris of his father's army, which was then scattered in the countries of Imil Kayahk and Bishbalik. The Gurkhan allowed him to do so, gave him the title of Gushluk Khan, and also gave him his daughter in marriage. He then collected an army, and, treacherously leaguing himself with the Khuarezm Shah, proceeded to overturn the power of his patron, and took Gurkhan prisoner, but left him the title of sovereign, which he only enjoyed for two years, and on his death Gushluk succeeded to the throne. He attacked and killed the Khan of Almalik, and ravaged the country of Kashgar. D'Ohsson says that having been brought up a Christian, he embraced Buddhism on the solicitation of his wife, a daughter of Gurkhan. Another account represents his wife as being Christian, whilst he remained a Buddhist.

Gushluk, though master of a wide empire, was unable to stand against the overwhelming force of Jinghiz Khan, whose general, Chepe Noyan, marched against Kashgar, in A.D. 1219, when Gushluk abandoned the city and fled across the Pamir to Badakshan, where he was captured and taken to Chepe, who had him beheaded. By the overthrow of Gushluk the Mongol dominion was extended over the whole country of Central Asia.

In the partition of the realm of Jinghiz Khan among his sons, the region of Eastern Turkestan, with Almahk as its capital, fell to the share of Jagatai, and his successors held it until Timur came with fire and sword, and made it part of his extensive empire. Then followed a confused period of dissensions between Mongol princes and Mongol tribes, during which we are led to believe that the civilization of Almalik and of the neighbouring cities of the valley of the Ili entirely disappeared. Regarding this city of Almalik, Colonel Yule gives the following information:—

"As early as the time of Jagatai himself, his summer camp was in the vicinity of Almalik, and when Hulagu was on the march from Karakorum to destroy the mulahid or 'assassins' in Persia (A.D. 1254) the princess regent Organah, widow of Kara Hulagu, grandson and successor of Jagatai, came out from Almalik to receive him with due honour." Hence it would appear that Almalik was one at least of the capitals from a very early date. In the following century, about 1330-34, we find Ibn Batuta observing that it was the proper capital of the kings of this dynasty, and that one of the charges brought against the Khan Tamarshin which led to his supersession was that he always remained in Mawar-al-nahr, and for four years running had not visited Almalik and the eastern dominions of his family.

Bishbalik-Ourumtsi was at first the head-quarters of the Khan, but it was afterwards transferred to Almalik.

Marignolli gives the following account of his visit to the great Khan:—

"We went to the first Emperor of the Tartar tribes and laid before him the letters which we bore, with certain pieces of cloth, a great war-horse, some strong liquor, and the Pope's presents. And after the winter was over, having been well fed, well clothed, loaded with handsome presents, and supplied by the king with horses and travelling expenses, we proceeded to Armalu, the capital of the Middle Empire. There we built a church, bought a piece of ground, dug wells, sung masses, and baptized several, preaching freely and openly, notwithstanding the fact that only the year before the Bishop and six other minor friars had there imdergone for Christ's sake a glorious martyrdom."

During the supremacy of the descendants of Jinghiz, Jungaria, or Dzungaria, as all this country has been indifferently called, was the camping-ground of three powerful Mongol tribes—Choros, Hoshot, and Torgut, who subsequently took the name of Oirat, or confederates.

About the middle of the fourteenth century the Chinese threw off the Mongol yoke, and remained independent till the middle of the fifteenth century, when, after frequent wars, the Oirat defeated the Chinese in a very sanguinary battle, took the Emperor prisoner, and marched to the walls of Peking. Chance alone saved China. The Mongols retired to the steppes, the taitsi or Wuzeer Esen, who had killed his brother-in-law, the Khan, was assassinated, and the most brilliant period of the Oirat power was at an end. They were unable to maintain their influence in Mongolia, and for a century and a half almost disappeared from history.

We shall see a little farther on, how, in the present time, China has on another occasion been indebted to the assassin's hand for extrication from troubles on her western frontier, and how the death by violence of the Ameer Yakub Beg has been followed by the dissolution of his kingdom.

We now pass on to the reign of the Emperor Kien Long, who conquered Kashgar and Eastern Turkestan, and having slaughtered or expelled the whole Dzimgarian population, repeopled the country of Dzungaria by sending military colonies from Manchuria, by deporting Chinese criminals, and by bringing agriculturists from Eastern Turkestan. For the purpose of keeping the country in order, the city of Hi, or what is called Manchu Kulja, was bmlt as the seat of government, and was settled by Manchus. Six other forts were built.

It is owing to these wars and invasions, with their constant changes of population, and to the measures taken by the Chinese Government that the region of Kulja has its present curious mixture of races and peoples.

The settlers from Eastern Turkestan became known as Taranchis, literally agriculturists, or millet-sowers, from "taran," millet. (Schuyler's "Turkistan," ii. 168 seq.)

The military colonists were brought from Dauria, in North-West Mongolia, and consisted of Solons, who are still famous in all China for their skill in archery, and Sibos, a tribe on whose gratitude the Chinese Government could especially count, because at the accession of the Manchu dynasty they were freed from their slavery to the Mongols.

The country being secured in this way, it was perfectly safe for the Chinese to send there the Dzungars and the Oirat, who had previously sought their protection; and, subsequently, they also allowed many to come back who had fled from the massacres, and had taken refuge among the Kirghiz. These were further reinforced by the arrival of the Kalmuks, from Russia, in A.D. 1771, whose journey has been immortalized by De Quincey, in his "Flight of a Tartar Tribe." These Kalmuks were settled in the excellent pasture-grounds on the Kunges and the Tekes, where they still live under the name of Torguts.

All these different races were kept in order by a military force of Manchus and Chinese, with a Jan-jun, or governor-general, living in Ili Kulja, while the Amban of Eastern Turkestan, residing at Kashgar, and that of Tarbagatai, resident at Chuguchak, were subject to him.

This state of things continued, with occasional disturbances, and especially risings of the Mohammedan khojas, in Kashgar, till the grand Mohammedan upheaval in China, when for a time the Imperial authority was swept away, and a Mohammedan kingdom was established in Turkestan by Yakub Beg.

This is not the place to give a detailed history of the rise and consolidation of Yakub Beg's power, and I would refer any who are interested in the subject to Dr. Bellew's work Kashmir and Kashgar—for a full description of the country under the Ameer's rule. So long as he lived it appeared that the prestige of his successes, and the vigour of his administration would render the task of Tso Tsung Tang, the Chinese general appointed by the Court of Peking to reorganize the country, a very hopeless business. But what was denied to the half-starved, ill-disciplined forces under his command, was accomplished by the hand of an assassin. Those who were in London last year may have observed the fine manly figure of an Oriental prince, whose countenance and demeanour won for its possessor golden opinions in English society. Syud Yakub Khan, nephew and chief adviser of the late Ameer, had come to England not merely to repeat the sentiment of friendship which his uncle felt and heartily expressed towards her Majesty the Queen, but he had another object in view, viz. to bring about, if possible, an amicable understanding between the Chinese Government and his master, by which Yakub Khan might retain possession of the country he had won by his sword, at the same time, yielding allegiance to the Chinese, as sovereigns of the land. But whilst negotiations were progressing between the two parties news came of the assassination of the Ameer, and of consequent disturbances in the State of Kashgar. It followed as a matter of course, that the dissensions and internecine feuds which at once sprang up, afforded a splendid opportunity for the advance of Tso and his Chinese army, and he soon found himself courted and welcomed by the inhabitants of Aksu and other cities who were anxious to throw off the Mohammedan yoke. Even Niaz Beg, the Mohammedan ruler, under the Ameer of Khoten, sent messengers to invite the advent of the Chinese, and went into open rebellion against the Ameer's son Beg Kuli Beg, who was wounded in a fight with his rebellious lieutenant. The Governor of Kashgar, Alish Khan Dadkhan, for a time restored the fortimes of the family, by defeating the force of the late Ameer's murderer, Hakim Khan Tura. But Beg Kuli Beg soon afterwards stained his hands by the murder of his young brother, Hak Kuli Beg, and the drama closed on the 5th December, when Beg Kuli Beg and his followers fled from the city of Kashgar, and took refuge in Russian territory. It is worthy of note, that some English merchants who remained in Yarkand after the Ameer's death, and during the first few months of the subsequent disturbance, were in no way molested, but returned to India in perfect safety at the end of the year.

It is curious and at the same time interesting to go back just ten years, and read once more by the light of recent events the brilliant article in the Edinburgh Review on Western China. Had the talented writer of that article lived, how vividly would he have depicted the rise and fall of the Mohammedan power in Eastern Turkestan. It would be waste of time and a vain effort on my part to attempt to recapitulate here the tale which has been so admirably told by Mr. Wyllie, of the progress of the Mohammedan insurrection against the yoke of the Chinese, which culminated in the establishment of Yakub Beg's complete ascendancy over the whole of what was called Altyshahr. But I cannot refrain from doing more justice to the memory of the late Ameer Yakub Beg than the able reviewer was disposed to award him. The bare idea of despatching an embassy to Central Asia aroused in the mind of the Reviewer feelings of the bitterest hostility, and called forth what he himself admits was strong language regarding the ignorant temerity of officers who would place their lives in the hands of the bloodthirsty and perfidious barbarians of Central Asia. But very soon afterwards the triumphant return of Messrs. Shaw and Hayward from a lengthened sojourn in Kashgar, when they were the honoured guests of the Kushbegee Yakub Beg, taught us to moderate the fears which had been excited by the Reviewer; and the subsequent intercourse which Europeans, both commercial agents and officials, have maintained with that country, so long as Yakub Beg's rule lasted, has completely falsified Mr. Wyllie's prediction. But on another point Mr. Wyllie's hopes proved to be well founded. The Kush-begee or Ameer, not being a mere soldier of fortune, but something of a statesman also, the first use he made of the consolidation of his conquests was to resuscitate the trade which recent wars and tumults had all but extinguished in Eastern Turkestan. Opinions are very much divided as to the extent of expansion of which this trade is capable; but sufficient improvement has taken place within this decade, to make it desirable to continue our fostering care. In the days of the Chinese supremacy, the commerce with Yarkand was next to nothing, and was looked upon by the Chinese as contraband. Now that they have regained possession of the country, it is to be hoped that they will profit by the lesson which has been taught them in another province of China, where rebellion was put down, but where they have lately been compelled to admit Western civilization through the door which the Mohammedans of Yunnan opened during the short period of their emancipation.

It would be for the interest of the Chinese quite as much as for the benefit of British trade that a British consul should be established at Yarkand or Kashgar, to regulate trade and to maintain friendly relations. In former days the chief business done by our traders with Eastern Turkestan was in opium, which they smuggled across the Karakorum and sold for enormous profit in Yarkand and Khoten. This pernicious trade ceased entirely when the Chinese disappeared, and its place was taken by a much more healthy commerce in tea and English piece-goods.

Are we now to revert to the old state of things, shut up the export of Manchester goods and take to smuggling opium ? I trust not, indeed. The subject is one well worthy the attention of the Indian authorities.

Colonel Prejevalsky complains of the very strict surveillance to which he was subjected during his stay in the dominions of Yakub Beg. Doubtless it was very annoying, and it might be even disappointing to find after all the friendly intercourse with both Russians and English, and the exchange of treaties of friendship, that freedom of action was still denied to European travellers.

But we must not judge Asiatics as we would judge European princes. There was ancient custom to guide him, and if the Ameer knew anything of history, he might fairly plead excuse for his alarm at a too unrestricted influx of foreigners. The ancient custom to which I have referred was to keep all foreign travellers more or less in confinement, and always under the strictest surveillance. Mr. Shaw, in the very interesting account of his adventurous journey to the court of the Atalik Ghazee, tells us how he was treated on the road, with the utmost kindness and hospitality, but always as a kind of state prisoner. During the whole of his stay in Yarkand and Kashgar he was not once allowed to go outside the quarters assigned to him, except on a visit to the authorities. Force was never employed, but, on the contrary, he was continually deceived by an apparent anxiety to meet his wishes for an enlargement of his confinement; but somehow or other, in a most clever manner, without giving him ground for actual quarrel, some untoward circumstance arose to prevent his breaking through his restraint. Hayward, who was more impetuous, broke through the cordon of guardians, and caused considerable trouble and apprehension in the mind of his fellow-traveller, lest by so doing he had jeopardized their lives.

When Lord Mayo despatched the first mission to Yarkand in 1870, I endeavoured to stipulate with Mirza Shadee, the Atalik's envoy, that freedom of movement should be granted to us. This he promised, though he explained that it was the unvarying custom in Central Asia to keep all envoys in confinement at the court to which they were accredited, and even to lead them blindfold through the streets. On arrival in Yarkand territory we found Mirza Shadee somewhat slow to keep his promise, and Dr. Henderson relates the state of excitement into which the envoy was thrown, on discovering that he had fallen behind our party, in order to shoot some specimens of birds. And when we reached Yarkand, Mirza Shadee considered himself altogether absolved from his promise, and an attempt, which was successfully but with great difficulty resisted, was made to subject us to the same confinement as Messrs. Shaw and Hayward had undergone.

When the second mission was sent in 1873 all doubt on this point was cleared up at the outset, and within certain limits no restraint whatever was put upon our movements. At first spies in the shape of escorts were always attached to us. But even this precaution was in time dropped, and we were allowed to come and go just as we liked. But all this was within certain limits. Distant expeditions to Aksu, Korla, and Lake Lob, though often promised, were finally forbidden; a visit to Khoten, which was at first suggested to me, and subsequently talked of as a matter of course, was at last peremptorily prohibited, and it was only after some diplomatic fencing that I was able to despatch a party across the Pamir. All this conduct was very disappointing, quite as much so to us as it was to Colonel Prejevalsky; but on looking back on the whole circumstances, I cannot altogether blame the Ameer for acting according to his light. In addition to the ancient custom pleaded by Mirza Shader, there was another very potent reason for shyness on the part of our Asiatic chief to receive strangers unrestrained. From the earliest times the gold-fields of Khoten have been known to exist, though as yet they have never been visited by any European. The scientific researches of Dr. Stoliczka revealed to the Ameer of Kashgar the existence of rich mines of copper, lead, coal, and other hidden wealth, all which treasures the Ameer showed his wisdom in wishing to keep for his own use; and he could not be altogether unacquainted with the fact that foreigners who travel in Asia to explore too often stay to annex.

And as regards Colonel Prejevalsky and the advent of Russians in Eastern Turkestan, Yakub Beg was doubtless aware of ancient traditions, as are recorded by Mons. Gregorieff, and more lately by Howorth in his History of the Mongols. Like most other countries, Russia has had its romantic El Dorado, a land outside its borders, where it has fancied wealth and ease might be bought easily by washing gold out of a river, and which led to some adventurous journeys. This El Dorado was the country of little Bukharia, and especially the neighbourhood of Yarkand (and Khoten) reported to be rich in gold deposits.

In 1714, Prince Gagarin, Governor of Siberia, presented a report, in which he suggested that it would be possible to appropriate this country, and he suggested that a series of forts should be pushed along from the Irtish as far as Yarkand, to form a protection through the Kalmuk territory. With the note he sent specimens of the gold dust which had been taken to Tobolsk for sale. In consequence of this, Ivan Bukholz was ordered by the Emperor to repair to Siberia, and having collected a force of 2000 or 3000 men to proceed to build a fort near the Lake Yamish, and then, if possible, to make his way to Yarkand. Bukholz so far carried out his orders that he built a fortress on the Yamish which was viewed by the Kalmuks as an invasion of their territory, which they for the time successfully repelled; but as we know, the power of Russia gradually spread with irresistible force. In 1718 the fort of Semipalatinsk was built, and by A.D. 1720 the Russians had reached Lake Zaisan. This, says Mr. Howorth, was apparently the last attempt made by the Russians to reach the gold country of Yarkand. But this is not so. Gradually but persistently they have advanced towards the golden land. They occupy Kulja, and have brought their boundary line to the Robat Pass and Chadir Kul, within 110 miles of Kashgar, and this journey of Colonel Prejevalsky had for its object the thorough exploration of the route by the gold-fields of Khoten to Tibet, and it is not surprising that the Ameer should watch his proceedings with more than ordinary interest.

During the stay of the English Mission in Kashgar in 1873-74, good opportunity was afforded for obtaining information regarding the very interesting countries under the sway of the late Ameer Yakub Beg. A few extracts from the official report which has not yet been more than sparsely published may be useful in throwing additional light on the particular region traversed by Col. Prejevalsky.

The chief cities on the southern slopes of the Tian Shan range are Aksu, Kucha, Korla, Karashahr, and will be noticed in order. Aksu is a very ancient city, and was formerly called Arpadil or Ardabil. It is situated at the base of the Tian Shan range at the southern entrance to the Muzart or Glacier Pass. It covers two ridges of gravel heights on the left bank of the Aksu river, where it is joined by the TJsh or Kokshal river, and has a citadel on each ridge. This city was destroyed by earthquake in A.D. 1716. The climate is described as very salubrious, though the winters are extremely rigorous. The citizens are peaceable and industrious. They are more purely Turk in their physiognomy than the citizens of Kashgar or Yarkand, and are supposed to be the people of Artush, north of Kashgar, the purest representatives of the ancient Uighur conquerors.

Aksu is celebrated for its manufactures of saddlery and harness, its pottery, and rude hide jars. Its tobacco is considered the best that is produced in the country. The mineral resources of the country are considerable, and mines of lead, copper, and sulphur have been systematically worked, whilst coal is used in the city as fuel. The lead-mines are in Tajik Tagh, about twenty-five miles off the city, and those of copper are at On-bash, on the Muzart river. In the vicinity of the city are hot sulphur springs, which are resorted to by the inhabitants for medicinal purposes. There is also an active volcano, from the base of which are collected alum, sal-ammoniac, and blue vitriol or sulphate of copper. The asbestos mentioned by Marco Polo as an utilized product of this region is not even so known in this country.

The Muzart or Mussart Pass connects this division with Ili or Kulja. The road by this pass crosses an enormous glacier, which is interrupted by vast fissures and massive banks, and unless constantly kept open by gangs of labourers, becomes speedUy impassable.

Kucha is a small state situated at the foot of the mountain, in continuation eastward from Aksu. In ancient times it was an important little principality, and a flourishing seat of Buddhism. On a hill to the north of the city are the ruins of an ancient temple and monastery. They are described as of considerable extent, and very substantially built of stone on the ledges and rocks of a precipitous hill.

Fragments of sculptures are found among the débris, and in some galleries sunk in the rock there are paintings of men and animals on the walls as fresh and bright in colour as if they were new. Precious stones, gems, and trinkets are occasionally found in the rubbish of the crumbled walls, and marvellous tales are told of the lustre and size of some that have been picked up here by wandering shepherds. A large figure is said to exist here, carved on the face of a rock overlooking the road to Korla. It is described as having the tongue lolled out, and right shoulder depressed with extended arm, as in the fashion of the Kalmuk salutation. It acknowledges the salutes of passers by a return wag of the tongue and wink of the eye, and has been often seen to smile, by credulous Kalmuks at least.

In the mountains to the north is a volcano, and from its base a river called Zamcha issues. On its banks are dry alum and a salt of zinc called Zamch, which is used as a mordant with alum in dyeing. The rocks at the foot of the hill are hot to the touch, but the water of the river is cold. Loud rumblings and explosions are constantly heard in the interior of the mountain, which is very high, and whose top is always covered with snow. It is called Khan Khura Tagh, and forms the boundary between Yulduz of the Kalmuk and Junghar of the Kirghiz and Kassak, who are also called Juttah (or Jété) Moghols.

Khan Khura Tagh is the western boundary of the Yulduz territory, and has a live volcano. This Yulduz Valley is celebrated throughout the region of Central Asia for its beauty, its springs, meadows, and fine breezes. The farmsteads are described as models of neatness and thrift, and the orchards produce the finest apples and pears, and pomegranates in the country. The pears are of a peculiar excellence, of light colour, soft granular structure, and very juicy. The apples are of a peculiar kind called Muzalma, or Ice apple, their skin being transparent, and the substance the same as if iced.

This valley was the favourite camping-ground of Timour after his campaign of extermination against the Juts.

A native of these parts, speaking in raptures of the delights of this valley, said, "Just as you think Kashmir superior to all the rest of the world, so is Yulduz superior to Kashmir."

Korla is the next division, at the foot of the Khan Khura range, and the town of that name is the one where Colonel Prejevalsky first came in contact with Yakub Beg's officials.

The next division eastward, is Karashahr, which occupies a valley between the Uighur Bulak to the north (a continuation eastward of the Alatagh or Tengri Ula range), and the Kurugh Tagh range of sandhills to the south. These coalesce towards the east and close the valley in that direction at Gumish Akma, about ninety miles from the city, but towards the west the valley is open, and gives passage to the Kaidu river, which, on crossing from the Yulduz valley, spreads over the southern portion of this basin, and forms the Baghrash Kol or lake, which is described as a long sheet of water, five days' journey in length, and covered with floating islands of tall reeds, amidst which the river flows in the western end of the lake only. It is separated from the Lob district to the south by the Kurugh Tagh, a wide range of sandy and gravelly ridges, amongst the hollows of which the wild horse and wild camel breed. There is a road between the lake and this range, seven days' journey from Korla to Ush Aktal, and there is another along its southern side, between it and Lob, seven days' journey from Kara Koshun to Turfan. The city of Karashahr stands near the left bank of the river, to the north of the lake. Fifty miles north-east of this city is Ush Aktal, and twenty miles beyond it, and about the same distance from Gumish Akma, where the road enters the hills, there are the ruins of an ancient city, called Kara Kizil, which are supposed to be the remains of the ancient Jalish or Chalish.

Colonel Prejevalsky's actual observations at Lake Lob are exceedingly interesting, as they corroborate much that appeared doubtful in the accounts received from former travellers. As Marco Polo in former times, and Colonel Yule at the present day, are the great authorities on all matters connected with the geography, and to a great extent of the history of Central Asia, I will take these authorities first.

Marco Polo mentions a city called Lob or Lop, five days' journey from Charchan, at the entrance of the Great Desert, the inhabitants of the city being Mohammedans. Such persons as purpose to cross the Desert, take a week's rest in the town to refresh themselves and their cattle, and then they make ready for the journey, taking with them a month's supply for man and beast. On quitting the city they enter the desert.

Colonel Yule, in his copious notes, endeavoured to fix the longitude of Lop, placing it three degrees more to the westward than it is put in our maps, putting it, in fact, in 88° E. of Greenwich. Colonel Prejevalsky has now scientifically fixed its position. Regarding the ancient cities buried in the sand, which have been said to exist in these regions, we now have Colonel Prejevalsky's testimony, but it is unfortunate that he was unable to make excavations or any extended explorations, or he might have enabled us to award the exact value to a curious description of the ruins of one city given by a Kirghiz traveller, and contained in the report of the Yarkand Mission. He says (see page 46):—

"They are on the desert to the east of the Katak ruins, and three days' journey from Lob, in a south-west direction along the course of the Khoten river. The walls are seen rising above the reeds in which the city is concealed. I have not been inside the city, but I have seen its walls distinctly from the sandy ridge in the vicinity. I was afraid to go amongst the ruins because of the bogs around and the venomous insects and snakes in the reeds. I was camped about them for several days with a party of Lob shepherds who were here pasturing their cattle. Besides it is a notorious fact that people who do go amongst the ruins almost always die, because they cannot resist the temptation to steal the gold and precious things stored there."

Another statement of his is as follows (page 30):—

"Nobody can go more than three or four days' journey to the east of the lake, owing to the depth of the soft powdery saline soil, on which neither man nor beast can find footing. From the lake a river goes out to the south-east, across an immense desert of this salt and sand. At fifteen days' or twenty days' journey it passes under a mountain, and reappears on the other side, in China. In olden times a young man of Lob went in his boat to explore the river beyond the lake. After going down the stream for seven days he saw a mountain ahead, and on going closer he found the river entered a frightful black and deep chasm in the rocks. He tried to stop his boat, but the swiftness of the current carried it into the chasm. At its farther end he saw a small black hole inside the mountain, and had only time to lie down in the bottom of the boat, when it was drawn into the dark passage. The top of the boat scraped the roof of the channel, and bits of stone continually fell upon him. After a long time he emerged from the darkness into light, and found the bottom of his boat strewed with nuggets of gold. He went down the river for some days, and finally found himself in Peking."

In the mythical geography of the Chinese, less exaggerated than that of the Hindoos nevertheless, the Hoang Ho is made to rise in the eastern slopes of the Bolor. By the river Tarim, and by a subterranean passage, they placed it in communication with Lake Lob, which they thought was a part of a vast dried-up sea, and which, according to M. Lassen, has given the Hindoos the first notion of a northern sea.

This story would appear to be the popular mode of accounting for the belief that the river Tarim, flowing through Lake Lob, and being apparently lost in the Great Desert, in reality reappears in China as the great Hoang Ho, or Yellow River.

The idea that the waters of the Tarim, flowing through Lake Lob, communicate with a large Chinese river, which empties itself into the sea, seems to have prevailed from early times until now. In the Tarikhi Rashidi, of Mirza Haidar, Lake Lob is mentioned as covering an area four months' journey in circuit, and as giving exit to the great Kara Moran river of China. Since that time there has been a gradual desiccation, and a recent traveller, a native of those regions, thus describes the tract:—"Lob is a succession of lakes along the Tarim river. Each lake gives off five or six streams, which spread over the plain and reunite lower down to form the next lake, and so on for a journey of thirty days by the road. Beyond this is the great desert, of which nobody knows anything."

Humboldt in his "Asie Centrale" makes the following remarks:—

"It is one of the chief geographical features of the country that to the east of the great river of Khoten (Khoten-daria or Youroung-Kach-gol), which, after a course of three hundred miles from south to north, flows into the water system of the Tarim and of Lake Lob, all the streams of the two slopes of the Kuen-lun are lost in the small lakes of the steppes.

"In this central region, between the 80° and 90° longitude, the upheaval of the Gobi makes itself felt in the course of the streams, an upheaval which causes an entirely independent direction of profile (accident du relief) to that of the sand-ripples which cover it, far more ancient than these, and probably connected with the first appearance of the continent above the waters.

"The intersection offered by the Gobi, the Kuen-lun, and the Tian-Shan, must not therefore be confounded with the interlacement of two ranges; as for instance, of the Bolor or of the meridian chains to the east of the river Tzang-bo-schou with the Hindoo Khoosh and the Himalayas. The phenomenon which we describe is of quite a different nature. The upheaval of the Plateau of Gobi, stretching from S.W. to N.B., and, according to the most exact barometrical measurements taken in the 43° and 48° of latitude, about four thousand feet mean height, is perhaps of the same age as the great Aralo-Caspian depression."

The account of the Lob district, given in the Report of the Yarkand Mission, may be advantageously compared with Colonel Prejevalsky's personal observations.

Lob is the name of a district on the banks of the Tarim river, which is formed by the union of all the rivers from Yulduz, of Ili, round by the western circuit of Kashgar to Khoten and Charchan.

Lob was only peopled 160 years ago by emigrant families of the Kara Kalmuk, Koshot, Torgute, &c., to the number of 1000 houses. They are now all professedly Mussulmans, and have Mulla and Imam priests amongst them, but they do not know much about Islam. There were people in Lob before these Kalmuk emigrants came, but nothing is known regarding them. They are called "wild" people, because they delight to live with the wild beasts and their cattle in the thickets and brakes about the marshes. They are small, black men, with long matted hair, and shun the society of other men. Whenever they see any strangers, they run away and hide in the thickets and reeds. Nobody knows whence they came, or where they live, and nobody understands their language. They are very timid, but, though only armed with bow and arrow, and long pike, are brave hunters. They keep cattle, and have no cultivation. They wear clothes of a coarse strong material called luf, the fibre of a plant which has a flower and a pod like the wild liquorice. It protects the wearer from the attacks of gnats and mosquitoes, which never alight on this cloth.

The population of the Lob settlement is reckoned at 1000 houses. There are no permanent houses, but the inhabitants live in reed huts, or else in boats. There is no cultivation, and the people live on fish, and the produce of their flocks and of the chase. They govern themselves according to their own customs, and are little interfered with by the authorities. At all events, during the Ameer's rule it would appear that there was little hope of getting any revenue out of them. Some of their customs, as told to Dr. Bellew, are peculiar. They always swear upon the gun, and if any one wishes to free himself from an accusation, he appeals to the accuser to produce his gun, and kissing the muzzle, places it against his breast, and bids him fire. This throws the responsibility on the accuser, who on this proof of innocence retracts his calumny.

Another somewhat peculiar custom is thus related by Dr. Bellew. During the spring and summer seasons the young people are in the habit of racing along the river. A party of six or eight maids form up on the river, each in her own skiff, and a party of as many youths form up on the bank, each on his own horse. At an agreed signal they all start off to an appointed goal, the maids paddling down the stream, and the youths galloping along the bank. If the maids win, they select a partner for the night from amongst the youths, each in the order of her arrival at the winning-post. Similarly if the youths win, they choose their companion from the maids in turn. The contract only lasts for that night, and the couplings vary with the chances of each successive race, though often the same partners meet. If a girl becomes pregnant she points out the author, and he marries her.

T. Douglas Forsyth.

Note.—Many of these remarks have heen taken from the official narrative of the Mission to Kashgar in 1873, which has not been published to the world.—T. D. F.