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0096 Innermost Asia : vol.1
Innermost Asia : vol.1 / Page 96 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000187
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Modern local history.

Advantages of geographical position.

Fertility of soil,


From the time when the Hindukush region passed out of China's sphere of interest in the eighth century reliable historical records concerning Yasin and the adjoining valleys fail us for nearly a thousand years. The account of local history which Colonel Biddulph and others have gathered from oral tradition assumes a definite shape only with the advent to power, towards the end of the seventeenth or early in the eighteenth century, of the family, apparently of Badakhshan origin, from which are descended both the Katar rulers of Chitral and the Khushwaqts originally established in Mastaj.10 The Khushwaqt branch appears very soon to have asserted its power over Yasin also ; and owing to the superior capacity for war or for intrigue possessed by many of its members, the whole of the Gilgit valley likewise passed at different times under its temporary domination. There is no need to examine here the tangled web of a story in which struggles, marked uniformly by treachery and murder and waged between close relations or with members of the rival house of Chitral, prevailed right down to the close of the nineteenth century.1' A few points, however, deserve mention. It is interesting to note that, as I have had occasion to point out elsewhere, we owe the earliest exact record connected with Khushwaqt rule in Mastaj and Yasin to Chinese intervention in 1749.12 Traditions of Chinese or ` Kalmak ' invasion still survive in Yasin, but are too vague to be fixed chronologically.

Significance attaches to the fact that though the Yârkhun valley below and above Mastaj is the original seat of the Khushwaqt branch, yet Yasin was always preferred by them as a residence.'3 This preference is fully accounted for by the advantages which Yàsin offers by its geographical position and natural features. The fact that in its main valley open ground of comparatively great width extends for a distance of about forty miles would alone suffice to give it importance. There are here none of those narrow defiles, formed by precipitous spurs of rocky or vast debris shoots, which in other great valleys to the south of the main Hindukush greatly reduce the area of arable ground and render communication between them difficult. The glacier-fed waters of the Yasin river and its side streams make irrigation easy, and if considerable portions of the available ground are now left uncultivated, the cause is certainly not want of water but an inadequate population. The same high flanking ranges, showing peaks over 20,000 feet in height, which assure this abundant supply of water, also protect Yasin against attack on all sides except the south. There, too, as the account of Kao Hsien-chih's expedition shows, the Gilgit river, unfordable for the greater part of the year, serves as a very effective obstacle to invasion, especially as the extremely precipitous spurs on either side of the outlet of the Yasin river form flanking defences of exceptional strength.

That Yasin could, and once did, support far more than the present population, estimated at about five hundred families or about 4,700 souls, is proved by the extent of the ground capable

of irrigation and by the fertility of the soil. The fact that the whole of the main valley from Darkôt village down to the point where it debouches opposite G apis lies at the moderate elevation of between 7,000 and a little over 9,000 feet would alone account for this fertility. But the north

to Regarding this ruling family and its branches, cf. Biddulph, Hindoo Kush, pp. r5o sqq. ; for the historical relations between Mastaj and Chitral, see also Serindia,

i. pp. 41 sq.

11 The succinct account contained in Biddulph, Hindoo Koosh, pp. 151 sqq., is usefully supplemented by the details relating to the period following the Sikh occupation of Gilgit given in the chapter on ` Gilgit History ', in Drew, Jummoo and Kashmir ; see particularly pp. 436 sq., 444 sqq•, 45o sq.

Much exact information about the events of the latter half of the nineteenth century concerning Chitral and Gilgit is recorded in official Gazetteers, Mission Reports, &c. which are not yet accessible to the public.

12 See Serindia, i. p. 33, relating to the notice in Klaproth, Magasin asiatique, i. p. 96.

13 Cf. Biddulph, Hindoo Koosh, p. 59. The permanent establishment of the Khushwaqts in Yasin dates from Feramorz, the son of the founder of the branch ; cf. ibid., p. 151,