32 SARÏKOL AND THE ROUTE TO KASHGAR [Chap. II
obstruction and, as noted by a good authority, ` must on the whole be classed as exceptionally easy 23 '
The distance of 500 li, or approximately five marches, which the Hsi yü-chi records for the journey from the midst of the Pa-mi-lo Valley to the kingdom of Chieh-p`an-t`o, agrees well with the route sketched above. According to the latest map of this part of the Pamir region prepared by the Survey of India, the journey from the eastern end of the Great Pämir by the Kizil-Rabat and Payik Passes to where the Payik Valley debouches into the Taghdumbash Pamir would cover about eighty-four miles, while a march of only some sixteen miles further down would bring the traveller to the village of Dafdär and the commencement of the cultivated part of the main Sarikol Valley.
Route over Past Dafdär and the approach to the Payik Pass there leads also the third alternative route
the Wakhjir connecting Sarikol and Wakhan, to which we had occasion to refer in the opening of this chapter. Pass.
It ascends the vyhole length of the Taghdumbash Valley, and then crosses the Wakhjir Pass at
its head to the source of the Ab-i-Panja branch of the Oxus (Fig. 7). That part of the valley which properly bears the designation of Taghdumbash Pamir may be said to extend from the Wakhjir Pass to a short distance above Dafdär, where the river makes its sharp bend to the north. Forming an unbroken continuation of the central valley of Sarikol, the Taghdumbash Pämir, with the broad grassy flat along its bottom for a distance of upwards of fifty miles, looks as if created by nature for a convenient thoroughfare from Sarikol to Wakhän.
The Wakhjir Pass, close on 16,2oo ft. above the sea, is, it is true, higher than either the Naiza-tash or the Payik Pass, and is certainly deep in snow in mid-winter. Its approaches, both from the east and the west, are, however, remarkably easy. Similarly, the descent in the Ab-i-Panja Valley to Bôzai--Gumbaz, where the Little Pamir route joins in, and further down to Langar offers no difficulty of any kind. In accord with these observations we find it attested by Col. H. Trotter's inquiries, made in 1874, that the Wakhjir Pass was in former times ` much used by the Bajaori merchants who used to go from Badakhshan to Yarkand by the Taghdumbash and Tung Valley roads '. Considering that for centuries past the commerce of the mountain region north and south of the Hindukush has to a very large extent been in the hands of these enterprising traders from Bajaor, the evidence recorded by Col. Trotter as to their usual route over the Taghdumbash Pämir possesses some historical interest 24.
Supply diffi- At any period of regular trade intercourse between Sarikol and Wakhän, the Taghdumbash
cultiesonthe Valley route was bound to receive attention on account of a topographical fact which deserves Pâmïrs.
brief notice. There is one feature of the Pamirs which seems to have impressed travellers of
all ages with equal thoroughness : it is the total absence of permanent habitations and the want of all local resources. We can trace this feeling of utter desolation and sterility through the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims no less than in the records of European travellers since the days of Marco Polo and Goëz. From the elaborate arrangements for supplies and shelter which were deemed necessary on every occasion when large parties of western visitors such as Col. Gordon's expedition or the Pamir Boundary Commission had to cross, or to camp on, the Pamirs 28, we may judge of the difficulties which must always have attended the movements of trading caravans or military bodies across that region.
In view of this serious obstacle in the matter of supplies, it must always have been an important consideration to travel, if other physical conditions permitted, by a route on which