The Laccadives and Maldives are groups of small coral islands, situated along the 73rd meridian at no great distance from the Indian peninsula on which they have a political dependency.
The portion of Asia west of British India excluding Arabia and Syria forms another extensive plateau covering an area as large as that of Tibet though at a much lower altitude. Its southern border runs along the Arabian Sea, the Persian The Nearer East. Gulf, the Tigris and thence westward to the north-east angle of the Levant, on the north the high land follows nearly 36° N. to the southern shore of the Caspian and thence to the Black Sea and Sea of Marmora. Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Iran or Persia, Armenia and the provinces of Asia Minor occupy this high region with which they are nearly conterminous. The eastern flank of this tableland follows a line of hills drawn a short distance from the Indus between the mouth of that river and the Himalaya, about on the 72nd meridian; these hills do not generally exceed 4000 or 5000 ft. in elevation but a few of the summits reach 10,000 ft. or more. The southern and south western face follows the coast closely up the Persian Gulf from the mouth of the Indus, and is formed farther west by the mountain scarp, which, rising in many points to 10,000 ft., flanks the Tigris and the Mesopotamian plains, and extends along Kurdistan and Armenia nearly to the 40th meridian; beyond which it turns along the Taurus range, and the north-eastern angle of the Mediterranean. The north-eastern portion of the Afghan tableland abuts on the Himalaya and Tibet, with which it forms a continuous mass of mountain between the 71st and 72nd meridians, and 34° and 36° N. From the point of intersection of the 71st meridian with the 36th parallel of latitude, an unbroken range of mountain stretches on one side towards the north east, up to the crest of the northern slope of the Tibetan plateau, and on the other nearly due west as far as the Caspian. The north-eastern portion of this range is of great altitude, and separates the headwaters of the Oxus, which run off to the Aral Sea, from those of the Indus and its Kabul tributary, which, uniting below Peshawar are thence discharged southward into the Arabian Sea. The western part of the range, which received the name of Paropamisus Mons from the ancients, diminishes in height west of the 65th meridian and constitutes the northern face of the Afghan and Persian plateau, rising abruptly from the plains of the Turkoman desert, which lies between the Oxus and the Caspian. These mountains at some points attain a height of 10,000 or 12,000 ft. Along the south coast of the Caspian this line of elevation is prolonged as the Elburz range (not to be confused with the Elburz of the Caucasus), and has its culminating point in Demavend, which rises to 19,400 ft. above the sea; thence it extends to the north-west to Ararat, which rises to upwards of 17,000 ft., from the vicinity of which the Euphrates flows off to the south-west across the high lands of Armenia. Below the north-east declivity of this range lies Georgia, on the other side of which province rises the Caucasus, the boundary of Asia and Europe between the Caspian and Black Seas, the highest points of which reach an elevation of nearly 19,000 ft. West of Ararat high hills extend along the Black Sea, between which and the Taurus range lies the plateau of Asia Minor, reaching to the Aegean Sea; the mountains along the Black Sea, on which are the Olympus and Ida of the ancients, rise to 6000 or 7000 ft.; the Taurus is more lofty, reaching 8000 and 10,000 ft.; both ranges decline in altitude as they approach the Mediterranean.
This great plateau, extending from the Mediterranean to the Indus, has a length of about 2500 m. from east to west, and a breadth of upwards of 600 m. on the west and nowhere of less than 250 m. It lies generally at altitudes between 2000 ft. and 8000 ft. above the sea-level. Viewed as a whole, the eastern half of this region, comprising Persia, Afghanistan and Baluchistan, is poor and unproductive. The climate is very severe in the winter and extremely hot in summer. The rainfall is very scanty, and running waters are hardly known, excepting among the mountains which form the scarps of the elevated country. The population is sparse, frequently nomadic, and addicted to plunder; progress in the arts and habits of civilization is small. The western part of the area falls within the Turkish empire. Its climate is less hot and arid, its natural productiveness much greater and its population more settled and on the whole more advanced.
The peninsula of Arabia, with Syria, its continuation to the north-west, has some of the characteristics of the hottest and driest parts of Persia and Baluchistan. Excepting the northern part of this tract, which is conterminous with the plain of Arabia. Mesopotamia (which at its highest point reaches an elevation of about 700 ft. above the sea), the country is covered with low mountains, rising to 3000 or 4000 ft. in altitude having among them narrow valleys in which the vegetation is scanty, with exceptional regions of greater fertility in the neighbourhood of the coasts, where the rainfall is greatest. In northern Syria the mountains of Lebanon rise to about 10,000 ft., and with a more copious water supply the country becomes more productive. The whole tract, excepting south-eastern Arabia, is nominally subject to Turkey, but the people are to no small extent practically independent, living a nomadic, pastoral and freebooting life under petty chiefs, in the more arid districts, but settled in towns in the more fertile tracts, where agriculture becomes more profitable and external commerce is established.
The area between the northern border of the Persian high lands and the Caspian and Aral Seas is a nearly desert low-lying plain, extending to the foot of the north-western extremity of the great Tibeto-Himalayan mountains, and prolonged eastward Trans-Caspian region and central Asia. up the valleys of the Oxus (Amu-Darya) and Jaxartes (Syr-Darya), and northward across the country of the Kirghiz to the south-western border of Siberia. It includes Bokhara, Khiva and Turkestan proper, in which the Uzbeg Turks are dominant, and for the most part is inhabited by nomadic tribes, who are marauders, enjoying the reputation of being the worst among a race of professed robbers. The tribes to the north, subject to Russia, are naturally more peaceable, and have been brought into some degree of discipline. In this tract the rainfall is nowhere sufficient for the purposes of agriculture, which is only possible by help of irrigation; and the fixed population (which contains a non-Turkish element) is comparatively small, and restricted to the towns and the districts near the rivers.
The north-western extremity of the elevated Tibeto-Himalayan mountain plateau is situated about on 73° E. and 39° N. This region is known as Pamir; it has all the characteristics of the highest regions of Tibet, and so far fitly receives the Russian designation of steppe; but it seems to have no special peculiarities, and the reason of its having been so long regarded as a geographical enigma is not obvious. From it the Oxus, or Amu, flows off to the west, and the Jaxartes, or Syr, to the north, through the Turki state of Khokand, while to the east the waters run down past Kashgar to the central desert of the Gobi, uniting with the streams from the northern slope of the Tibetan plateau that traverse the principalities of Yarkand and Khotan, which are also Turki. Here the Tibetan mountains unite with the line of elevation which stretches across the continent from the Pacific, and which separates Siberia from the region commonly spoken of under the name of central Asia.
A range of mountains, called Stanovoi, rising to heights of 4000 or 5000 ft., follows the southern coast of the eastern extremity of Asia from Kamchatka to the borders of Manchuria, as far as the 135th meridian, in lat. 55° N. Thence the Yablonoi Manchuria. range, continuing in the same direction, divides the waters of the river Lena, which flows through Siberia into the Arctic Sea, from those of the river Amur, which falls into the North Pacific; the basin of this river, with its affluents, constitutes Manchuria. From the north of Manchuria the Khingan range stretches southward to the Chinese frontier near Peking, east of which the drainage falls into the Amur and the Yellow Sea, while to the west is an almost rainless region, the inclination of which is towards the central area of the continent, Mongolia.
From the western end of the Yablonoi range, on the 115th meridian, a mountainous belt extends along a somewhat irregular line to the extremity of Pamir, known under various names in its different parts, and broken up into several branches, Mongolia. enclosing among them many isolated drainage areas, from which there is no outflow, and within which numerous lakes are formed. The most important of these ranges is the Tian-shan or Celestial Mountains, which form the northern boundary of the Gobi desert; they lie between 40° and 43° N., and between 75° and 95° E., and some of the summits are said to exceed 20,000 ft. in altitude, along the foot of this range are the principal cultivated districts of central Asia, and here too are situated the few towns which have sprung up in this barren and thinly peopled region. Next may be named the Ala-tau, on the prolongation of the Tian-shan, flanking the Syr on the north, and rising to 14,000 or 15,000 ft. It forms the barrier between the Issyk-kul and Balkash lakes, the elevation of which is about 5000 ft. Last is the Altai, near the 50th parallel, rising to 10,000 or 12,000 ft., which separates the waters of the great rivers of western Siberia from those that collect into the lakes of north-west Mongolia, Dzungaria and Kalka. A line of elevation is continued west of the Altai to the Ural Mountains, not rising to considerable altitudes; this divides the drainage of south-west Siberia from the great plains lying north-east of the Aral Sea.
The central area bounded on the north and north-west by the Yablonoi Mountains and their western extension in the Tian-shan, on the south by the northern face of the Tibetan plateau and on the east by the Khingan range before alluded to, forms the great desert of central Asia, known as the Gobi. Its eastern part is nearly conterminous with south Mongolia, its western forms Chinese or eastern Turkestan. It appears likely that no part of this great central Asiatic desert is less than 2000 ft. above the sea-level. The elevation of the plain about Kashgar and Yarkand is from 4000 to 6000 ft. The more northern parts of Mongolia are between 4000 and 6000 ft., and no portion of the route across the desert between the Chinese frontier and Kiakhta is below 3000 ft. The precise positions of the mountain ridges that traverse this central area are not properly known; their elevation is everywhere considerable, and many points are known to exceed 10,000 or 12,000 ft.
In Mongolia the population is essentially nomadic, its wealth consisting in herds of horned cattle, sheep, horses and camels. The Turki tribes, occupying western Mongolia, are among the least civilized of human beings, and it is chiefly to their extreme barbarity and cruelty that our ignorance of central Asia is due. The climate is very severe, with great extremes of heat and cold. The drought is very great; rain falls rarely and in small quantities. The surface is for the most part a hard stony desert, areas of blown sand occurring but exceptionally. There are few towns or settled villages, except