24 SARÎKOL AND THE ROUTE TO KASHGAR [Chap. II
an important goal for travellers. From whichever side we may approach Sarikol, there is an
inhospitable belt of high mountain land to be crossed first, practically devoid of permanent habitations, and throughout incapable of furnishing supplies and places of shelter to caravans.
The elevated Pâmir region stretching westwards can never, during historical times, have permitted
of cultivation. The routes which, starting from Tagharma, connect Sarikol with Kashgar to the north-east and Yarkand to the east, lead by a succession of high passes over barren spurs of
the great meridional range with narrow uninhabited gorges between them. It is true that the
difficult and rarely frequented tracts which cross the mountains between the Tâsh-kurghân and Yarkand rivers in the direction of Karghalik and Kök-y-dr, pass through some of the minor
Sarikoli settlements. But the produce raised on their isolated plots of cultivable land does not suffice even for the maintenance of the small pastoral population scattered over this region. Finally, if the route be followed which leads northward past Murtagh-Ata and then descends along the Yamân-yâr river into the Kâshgar plain, as described in my Personal Narrative 6, an even greater distance has to be traversed before permanent habitations are reached.
This situation of Sarikol, in the midst of desolate mountain tracts and yet at the junction of important routes, necessarily invests with exceptional value whatever natural resources the
district possesses. Given an adequate population, and an administration capable of protecting
it, these resources would, undoubtedly, be far larger than they are at present. The lower part of the Tâghdumbâsh Valley, for a distance of forty miles from below Tâsh-kurghân to the hamlet
of Dafdâr, shows a remarkably broad and uniform expanse of fertile ground at its bottom. Cultivation is now restricted to a small continuous stretch of the valley above and below Tâsh-kurghân, and to certain isolated settlements, such as Dafdâr and Pisling, recently started at points higher up the valley where it is easy to obtain water for irrigation from side streams.
But the uniform tradition of the inhabitants, as reported to me during my stay at Tâshkurghân, asserts that the compact cultivated area once extended much higher up the valley.
In support of this belief, reference was made to the remains of extensive irrigation canals
traceable along the foot of the mountains, especially on the east side of the valley, as well as to deserted village sites, such as Bâzâr-dasht, found at a considerable distance beyond the limits
of the present belt of village land. I believe that these statements may be accepted as based
on substantial facts. On the one hand, the almost unbroken stretch of alluvial land which I passed on my route from Dafdâr to Tughlân-shahr, seemed only to wait for systematic
irrigation in order to yield the crops for which the climate is adapted. On the other hand, it is impossible to doubt that the periodical raids from slave-hunting Kanjûtis and Shighnis, to which we know Sarikol to have been subjected before and after Yaqûb Beg's rebellion, and which did not cease completely until the British occupation of Hunza, must have resulted in a partial depopulation of the country 6.
From the devastating effects of these raids, the upper portions of the Tâghdumbash Valley, lying nearest, necessarily suffered most. But they extended also to the Tagharma Valley, which, in its well-watered central flat, about twelve miles long by seven broad, offers ample ground for agricultural settlements'.