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0340 Innermost Asia : vol.2
Innermost Asia : vol.2 / Page 340 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000187
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in the year, the climatic conditions in the lower portion have provided it with a permanent population leading a life half settled, half nomadic. The cultivation found from an elevation of about 9,000 feet downwards is carried on by Kirghiz, who graze their flocks and herds in the higher side valleys during the summer and after descending to the main valley in the autumn keep them during the winter months on fodder cut and stored for this purpose. Even during those months some grazing is made possible by violent winds that blow through the main valley and help to clear the steeper slopes of snow. Up to Yamân-karchin oats will ripen, and from Daraut-kurghân downwards crops of wheat also are reaped, and that for the most-part without irrigation.

The conditions here briefly indicated must obviously have had their bearing upon the use of the Alai valley as a line of traffic. The abundance of grazing was bound to be appreciated by caravans, particularly by those coming from the arid valleys on the Kâshgar side. Quite as important is the fact that places permanently occupied, and hence capable of offering shelter and some local supplies, could be found on either side up to an elevation of about 9,000 feet ; for some cultivation exists not only at Irkesh-tam, but also above it at a point known as Nôraning-sawa on the route to Taun-murun. Thus the distance on the Alai route over which habitations were not to be found is reduced to less than 70 miles or three easy marches.° The route remains open for laden animals, including camels, during eight or nine months of the year. Even in the months of December to February, when it is reported to be closed by deep snow, it would probably be made practicable in the same way as the route from Irkesh-tam across the Terek pass (12,70o feet above sea-level), provided there were sufficient traffic to tread a track through the snow and keep it clear. Such traffic between Kâshgar and the Oxus region as was once served by the route through Karategin and the Alai valley now no longer exists. What trade comes up Kara-tegin at present from the side of the Oxus proceeds towards Margilân or Andijân in Farghâna, while the trade from Kâshgar touches the eastern end of the Alai only during April and May, when the melting snow renders the Terek pass towards Farghâna and its railway impracticable.

But during the centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian era, when Baktra was a chief emporium for the great silk trade passing from China to Persia and the Mediterranean, all geographical factors combined to direct this trade to the route which leads from Kâshgar to the Alai valley and thence down the Kizil-su or Surkh-âb towards the Oxus. Nature has favoured the use of this route, since it crosses the watershed between the Tarim basin and the Oxus where it is lowest. Moreover, it has, in Kara-tegin, a continuation singularly free from those physical difficulties which preclude the valleys draining the Pamirs farther south from serving as arteries of trade. According to the information received at Daraut-kurghan and subsequently on my way through Kara-tegin, the route leading mainly along or near the right bank of the Kizil-su is practicable for laden camels and horses at all seasons right through as far as Ab-i-garm. From there routes equally easy lead through the Hissâr hills to the Oxus north of Balkh.

The topographical facts here noted fully support the conclusion, first indicated by Sir Henry Yule, that the route from Baktra to the capital of the Séres which Marinus had recorded from information secured through the agents of ` Maës, a Macedonian also called Titianus, who was a merchant by hereditary profession ', led up through Kara-tegin and the Alai valley. The passages of Ptolemy' to which we owe the preservation of this very interesting classical record bearing on the silk trade from China during the first century of our era have been the subject of much learned

6 Exactly corresponding conditions among the Kirghiz of Kara-tegin are lucidly described by Rickmers, loc. cit.,

pp. 379 sq.

e I have had occasion to refer to the importance of

a corresponding consideration in the case of the routes leading from the uppermost Oxus valley to Sarikol ; cf. Ancient Khotan, i. pp. 32 sq.

7 Cf. Geographia, I. xi. 7 ; xii. 8 sq.

Semi-nomadic Kirghiz in lower Alai valley.

Facilities of traffic along Alai valley.

Importance of route for trade.

Route of ancient silk trade.