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0390 Serindia : vol.1
Serindia : vol.1 / Page 390 (Color Image)

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IN tracing early records of Charkhlik we cannot expect help from the name of the resuscitated oasis, for that is of avowedly modern origin.' But if we keep clearly in view the central fact that this oasis must have been, in old days as now, the chief place where a settled agricultural population could maintain itself near the southern edge of Lop-nor, it is easy enough to recognize that Charkhlik must be meant by Marco Polo's town of Lop. His first reference to it and the ` province called Lop ', which he reached after quitting Charchan, we have already discussed.2 ` Lop is a large town at the edge of the Desert, which is called the Desert of Lop, and is situated between east and north-east. It belongs to the Great Kaan, and the people worship Mahommet. Now, such persons as propose to cross the Desert take a week's rest in this town to refresh themselves and their cattle ; and then they 'make ready for the journey, taking with them a month's supply for man and beast. On quitting this city they enter the Desert.' 3

Marco Polo's subsequent description of the route which took him through this desert to ` the city called Sachiu' or Sha-chou we shall have occasion to trace in detail further on. There is no doubt that he travelled along a line practically the same as that now followed by the caravan track through the desert from Charkhlik to Sha-chou or Tun-huang.4 It is equally certain that by the ` province called Lop ' he must mean the aggregate of inhabited places near the Lop-nor marshes and on the lower Târim, just as the term Lop or Lob is used at the present day throughout Eastern Turkestân.6 Now for the location of Marco's town of Lop, which shared the name of the ` province' and may be assumed to have been its chief place,° three sites come into consideration. These are, proceeding from west to east, Vâsh-shahri, Charkhlik, and Mirân. They are the only places of this region where physical conditions would permit of cultivation having existed within historical times to the extent presupposed by a town, however small.

Charkhlik Marco Polo's Lop.

Marco Polo's province of Lop'.

' Cf. Hedin, Reisen in Z.-A., pp. Io8, 169. The traditional derivation of the name there given, from a charkh or 'spinning-wheel', which the first new settlers are said to have found among some ruins there, is plausible enough. The Persian term charkh is well known in the Turki of the Tarim Basin ; see Shaw, Turki Language, p. 98. I have adopted the traditional spelling of the name, though in actual local pronunciation it sounds usually more like Charklrk or Châklik. The latter form is due to r becoming almost inaudible, in accordance with a phonetic change common in Turki speech from Khotan eastwards, and to complementary lengthening affecting the preceding vowel.

2 See above, p. 308.

s See Yule, Marco Polo, i. p. 196.

4 Cf. below, chap. xxv, sec. iii.

5 Cf. Forsyth, Yarkand Mission Report, p. 5x ; Yule,

Marco Polo, i. p. 195 ; Hedin, Reisen in Z.A., p. 109. It is true that present local usage in this tract restricts the name Lop to a small fishing settlement situated near where the terminal course of the Tarim makes its great bend to the east (Map No. 57. B. 2). But the general use of the term Loplik or ' people of Lop ' for the descendants of the riverine population of fishermen, a use shared by themselves, conclusively proves the age of the wider application of the term. The Mongol name Lop-Ilk,' lake of Lop', adopted by Chinese and European cartographers for the whole complex of the terminal marshes of the Tarim, also presupposes this general application.

4 Cf., e.g., Marco Polo's distinct mention of ' Cotan ' and Cascar ' as the greatest town of the `provinces' of Khotan and Kâshgar; Yule, Marco Polo, i. pp. 181, 188.