Sec. i] GEOGRAPHICAL POSITION AND ETHNOGRAPHY OF SARÎKOL 23
The river of which they are the main feeders, and which takes its best known name from Tash-kurghan, the chief place it passes, breaks through the great meridional range flanking the Pamirs on the east, and ultimately joins the Yarkand river or Zarafshan. The collection of valleys which the river of Tash-kurghan drains, together with some minor alpine tracts adjoining them towards the Upper Yarkand river, constitutes the well-defined mountain district now known as Sarikol s. Topographical facts and historical evidence alike prove that the position occupied by the present fort of Tash-kurghan and its neighbouring villages has from very early times been the political centre of this whole territory. At Tash-kurghan ends the open valley of the Taghdumbash Pamir, and the importance of the latter as a route is mainly due to the exceptionally easy access it provides to the central tract of Sarikol, over more than a hundred miles' distance. In view of this close connexion, it will be well to begin with a review of the main data which throw light on the ancient topography of Sarikol as a whole.
Small in extent, and devoid of natural resources, the territory of Sarikol derives its importance solely from the advantages of its position with regard to the routes which from early times have connected the Upper Oxus Valley with the oases to the south of the Turkestan Desert, and hence with China. All the routes leading from the Oxus in that direction, whether they ascend through Rôshan, Shighnan, or Wakhan, have to cross the water-parting on the east of the Pamirs, and subsequently to surmount the still more elevated meridional range culminating in the MurtaghAta Peaks, which forms the link between the Tien-shan system in the north, and the extreme points of the Hindukush and Kun-lun in the south 4. The chief valleys of Sarikol extend between this meridional range and the watershed which fences in the true Pamirs on the eastern side. To this position they owe their relatively great width and also their prevailing direction, the valley of the Taghdumbash descending mainly from south to north and that of Tagharma from north to south. Every route that crosses the Pamir watershed to the south of the Murtagh-Ata massif, is compelled to debouch at one point or the other into either of these great valleys ; in the opposite direction the same holds good of all the routes that lead from the drainage area of the Yarkand river westwards into the Oxus Basin. The Taghdumbash and Tagharma Valleys meet at the point where the Tash-kurghan river takes its sudden turn to the east ; and Tash-kurghan, only some eight miles further south, is the place towards which all the above routes, whether from east or west, naturally converge.
It is easy to show that this centre of the Sarikol District must at all times have been
3 The above spelling, Sarikol, reproduces the pronunciation of the name as generally heard by me during my passage through the district, from both its Tajik (Iranian) and its Kirghiz inhabitants. I am unable to decide how far this modern pronunciation conforms to the etymology of the name ; for the derivation is not quite certain. If Mirza Haidar, whose mention is the oldest I can at present trace (Tärikh-i-Rashidi, ed. Elias, pp. 297, 312), is justified in writing Sarigh-kul, the name would be Turki, meaning Yellow-Lake.' As kol is a common variation of kul through all dialects of Eastern Turki, and as i for igh would easily be accounted for by the well-known phonetic processes of assimilation and subsequent supplementary lengthening':, the modern form of the name could be readily explained on the basis of this etymology. But the form Sirikol (Sirikul) is also met with in Oriental records, and has found acceptance among numerous European geographers, perhaps on account of its
supposed semi-Persian etymology (Sir-i-kul, ' head of the lake '). It is curious to note the same uncertainty of spelling in the case of one of the several alternative native names for Wood's Lake on the Great Pamir ; see Curzon, The Pamirs, p. 43.
4 Though accurate surveys of this meridional range have been accomplished in recent years, the admirably lucid account which Baron Richthofen, in his China, vol. i. pp. 195 sqq., has given of its salient features and its importance for the general orography of Central Asia, may still be consulted with advantage. The merit of having first systematically explored those portions of the range which lie between the Tâsh-kurghan river in the north and the junction of Hindukush and Kun-lun in the south, belongs to Captain H. H. P. Deasy, whose book, Three Years in Tibet and Eastern Turkistan (19o1), furnishes also a description of the smaller Sarikol valleys comprised in those portions ; see chapters viii, xiii, xiv.