Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia 1899 – 1902. Vol. 1: The Tarim River

Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia 1899 – 1902. Vol. 1: The Tarim River – Sven Hedin

Hedin’s expedition notes laid the foundations for a precise mapping of Central Asia. He was one of the first European scientific explorers to employ indigenous scientists and research assistants on his expeditions. Although primarily an explorer, he was also the first to unearth the ruins of ancient Buddhist cities in Chinese Central Asia. However, as his main interest in archaeology was finding ancient cities, he had little interest in gathering data thorough scientific excavations. Of small stature, with a bookish, bespectacled appearance, Hedin nevertheless proved himself a determined explorer, surviving several close brushes with death from hostile forces and the elements over his long career. His scientific documentation and popular travelogues, some of them illustrated with his own photographs, watercolor paintings and drawings, his adventure stories for young readers and his lecture tours abroad made him world-famous.

Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia 1899 - 1902. Vol. 1: The Tarim River

Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia 1899 – 1902. Vol. 1: The Tarim River.

Format: eBook

Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia 1899 – 1902. Vol. 1: The Tarim River.

ISBN: 9783849663247  (eBook)


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The road which I traversed on 5 — 10th September 1899 between Kaschgar and Lajlik was already known to me in great part from my journey of 1895. But as it is shown on the atlas which accompanies this work, I may say a few words about it, especially as I have some new observations to add. These may be regarded as a sort of text to the first plate of the atlas.

I began my cartographical work immediately I got outside the Kum-darvase gate of Kaschgar. Thence we proceeded along the well-known road southwards, over the three bridges which cross the Kisil-su to Jangi-schahr. The river however now carried a very small quantity of water. Here about three o’clock a storm burst upon us which in violence exceeded anything I had conceived possible in the basin of the Tarim. For an hour and a half the rain literally came down in torrents, making the clay soil soft and slippery; while the thunder crashed deafeningly after every vivid flash. Shortly after leaving on the right the northern wall of Jangi-schahr, we found the road for several kilometers completely under water; in fact, the only guide we had as to where the track ran was the string of huts and gardens which stood beside it. After a while however the ground became drier, showing that the squall, which came from the north-west, had followed a well-defined course, and had not proceeded very far to the south-east; and the night which ensued was perfectly fine. Passing by the big kischlak or winter settlement of Natschuk, we encamped at the village of Musulman-natschuk, also known as Kaltanatschuk (Short Natschuk), a place of some 250 households.

During the whole of the following day both the Tien-schan and the Pamirs stood out with unusual clearness and precision. Owing to the recent rain, the atmosphere was remarkably pure and free from dust, so that the steel-blue flanks of the mountains, and their snow-white crests, wreathed in light fleecy clouds, came out with telling effect. Upon reaching Tschige-tugh, we struck an old riverbed, the course of which was defined with the utmost distinctness. The water it contained, coming direct from Jangi-schahr, was stationary, and consequently quite clear. This old riverbed was called the Kona-darja or Kona-jaman-jar. The road crossed it at the village of Bogha-achun-lengeri, where it was also spanned by an elevated arik (irrigation canal), likewise fed by the Kisil-su. The road here was splendid, hard and dry, and led through an avenue of willows (suget) and poplars (toghrak), bordered on both sides by canals, which kept the vegetation fresh. The country hereabouts was very well cultivated, though not at all thickly inhabited.

On our left we next had the principal channel of the Kona-darja, and on our right a branch of the same. The latter, which in the district of Jajlak was known as the Kelvetschuk-darja, goes as far as Fajs-abad; and as its water is derived from the Kisil-su, it was extremely muddy, and flowed at the bottom of a trench 3 ½ meters below the level of the adjacent country. Its sharp-cut banks were in places steep, but in others shelved gradually down to the water, and were overgrown with meadow-grasses. The volume in this side-arm amounted to about 12 cubic meters in the second. At the little bazaar of Jajlak our road crossed the stream, there called also the Fajs-abad-darjasi, by a handsome, well-made bridge of a single span. It is constructed of stout beams stretching from bank to bank, with planks laid transversely across them, and is provided with a parapet on each side one of the most serviceable bridges I have seen in East Turkestan. At the bridge the stream measured ii m. in breadth and had a mean depth of 11 m. and a velocity of at least 1 m. in the second.

We now had on our left the Fajs-abad-darjasi and on our right the Kisil-bojedarja, which also derives its water from the large deltaic arm on which Jangi-schahr stands. In this way the country is traversed and watered by a system of radiating deltaic arms or canals, all pointing, like fingers or tentacles, towards the east. For a correct understanding of this complicated irrigation system, it is not sufficient to cross over the several arms, but one must follow them first up and then down, until one sees distinctly where they begin and where they terminate. The large canal of Kan-arik, which draws its water from the Ges-darja, lay to the south of our route.

After passing a tract characterized by a few scattered orchards and cultivated fields, we came to more open country, where good pasturage abounded on both sides of the road. As the only bridge across the Kisil-boje consisted of two tree-trunks, we preferred a ford, where the river was 26 m. broad, and had a mean depth of 0.60 m. and a mean velocity of 0.80 m. in the second, and consequently a volume of about 12.5 cub. m. in the second. The bottom consisted of soft, fine mud, into which the camels sank deeply, so that we were obliged to lead them across one by one and use the utmost care in doing so. On the other side of the stream the track continued to be uniformly good, except that it was crossed at intervals by ariks with a soft muddy bottom. The avenues of trees had now for the most part ceased. The horizon all round was generally dotted with groups of trees, though they were at a considerable distance from our line of march. Here are the villages of Il-kitschi-ojle and Dangaltschi. Between the latter and the village of Jangi-arik stands the masar or saints’ tomb of Kara-kan-patschim, crowned with the usual cupola. After that we crossed the Kan-arik canal, which near the village of Madscha is called Tukku-su. From it is derived the water which irrigates Jangi-arik. Thus we were now in contact with the system of the Ges-darja. The canal continues to Terem and Moghal and sends off an arm which supplies Jupoga. Higher up this big irrigation artery lie the villages of Bore-kitaj, Urum-basti, Okesch, Janje, and several others. The village af Kan-arik possesses a large and lively bazaar, in which the products of the district, such as cereals (especially maize and wheat), fruits, cotton, and so forth, are bought and sold. The estimates of the population of the place differ widely, and consequently cannot be relied upon. In 1895 I was told that it embraced 1000 households; in 1899 the beks, or begs, of the town asserted that it exceeded double that number. Any way Kaschgar, which is situated in a relatively sterile and badly watered region, derives a large portion of its natural supplies from this fertile district.

At Kan-arik I turned off from my route of 1895, leaving it to the south, and proceeded direct to Jupoga, which I had not visited on the former occasion. The road now traversed a magnificent avenue of willows, mulberry-trees, and poplars, standing so close together as to plunge the track into deep shade. The poplars, which were of the ordinary kind, were here topped, or pollarded, to prevent them from getting too tall; and their branches, all growing straight up, formed a sort of inverted tassel or sheaf. For long stretches the foliage was so dense that the road resembled a tunnel of greenery, through which not a single ray of sunshine was able to pierce — most cool and refreshing on that hot autumn day. From the kischlak of Kan-arik the road runs direct to Fajs-abad.

For a couple of hours after leaving Kan-arik the country is desert, partly flat sand dotted with tussock-grass, partly schor, or moist saliferous ground destitute of vegetation. Then we came to the villages of Jangi-arik och Jek-schambabasar, and beyond them again was the desert. The sand-dunes we here encountered, sporadic outliers of the sandy desert to the south and south-east, were not more than 3 meters high and presented their steep faces towards the east, indicating that at that season of the year the prevailing winds came from the west. Next we passed through the villages of Toktaka and Kalta-jajlak. Between the latter and Kajgulla, a village belonging to the district of Jupoga, were extensive fields of maize. Here we had on our right an arik which shed off from the Kan-arik; it was some 3 meters wide and carried a considerable volume of water. We crossed it just before entering the village of Jupoga, with its houses of adobe or sun-dried bricks, its gardens and orchards, its fields of maize, and reservoirs for holding the overflow-waters of the Kan-arik. The year of our visit the canal was said to carry a less quantity of water than usual; in fact, there was barely sufficient for the needs of the place. Jupoga, with its associated villages, was reputed to embrace 2000 families, each of 4 to 10 members, an estimate which is undoubtedly too high. At any rate Jupoga is not bigger than Kan-arik. Here the usual cereals are grown, except rice, for which there is not sufficient water.

Irrigation is supplied by the Ges-darja, coming via Tasghun and Kan-arik. For twenty days every summer it is continued on from Jupoga to Terem and Moghal, and the time of our visit fell about a month after the supply to these places had been cut off. Whenever there is sufficient water to admit of it, more than a twenty days’ supply is allowed. In the autumn however, when Jupoga has fully satisfied all its requirements, the current is allowed to flow on to Terem and Moghal; but it is then of course practically useless for the crops. In years of great scarcity the people are compelled to have recourse to wells.

From Jupoga one road goes due north to Fajs-abad, and another south-southwest to Atschik. According to the native mode of reckoning, it is 50 jol to the former place and 40 jol to the latter, or in our reckoning 32 and 21 kilometers respectively. [1]A third road runs from Jupoga to Moghal, and on through Avat to Mejnet. It was however reported to be difficult for camels by reason of the salt and marshy ground it traverses and the ariks being destitute of bridges; besides, it is longer than the route via Terem. Beyond it on the north stretches a barren and uninhabited desert of flat sand.

On the 9th September we travelled from Jupoga to Terem. Leaving behind us the fields of the first-named, we entered upon the steppe, dotted over with scrubby vegetation. Here we met numbers of countrymen or peasants on their way to the market at Jupoga, transporting their produce on the backs of horses, mules, and oxen. Next came a very thinly inhabited tract called Jildislik, where the clay huts are surrounded by poplars and willows. Across it run several more or less barren sand-dunes, with their steep sides towards the east-south-east. Here and there were patches of maize and cotton, amongst which wound a few wretched ariks, then mostly dry, though one or two were still moist from the last overflow from the Kanarik. Occasionally we saw a flock of sheep. Thereafter we had for some time sand on our left and a tamarisk steppe on our right. Close beside the track, also on the right, stands the masar of Habdan Busrugvar, with its fluttering streamers; and not very far from it was a little köl or pool, surrounded by poplars. Although the region was on the whole barren, nevertheless we came every now and again upon an isolated homestead. When the last narrow belt of sand-dunes was passed, we once more entered the steppe. The road was still good and easy, though painfully dusty. At length it began to narrow, as we came to a part where the regular traffic diminished.

At Sangelik on the outskirts of Terem we again struck the Kan-arik; it was perfectly dry, about 4 m. wide, and had a sandy bottom. The little bridges which spanned it proved however that it did carry water sometimes. The avenue which lines it consists of young trees and is thin and full of gaps; in some places the trees are only planted on one side. The wretched little bazar of Terem was empty and deserted, all the traders and peasants having gone to the market at Jupoga. On the eastern outskirts of the village, which are known as Koselek, we found a köl or reservoir, artificially made and surrounded by a rampart of earth, and not more than 0.6 m. deep. It had been filled thirty days previously, and the water still remaining in it was estimated to last ten days longer. When it gets empty, the people dig a well in its deepest part, and reach fresh water at a depth of 1.7 m.; though a short distance from the reservoir it is necessary to go down 5 m. before water is reached, and even then it is not perfectly fresh. The twenty days’ supply from the Kan-arik was nothing like enough for the needs of the village; while of the violent downpour which we had encountered on the 5th September, nothing more than a fine drizzle had reached the vicinity of Terem.

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