1902 Encyclopedia > Badakhshan


BADAKHSHAN, a country of Central Asia, situated in the upper valley of the Kokcha river, one of the principal head streams of the Oxus. The name has been variously spelt Badascian, Balacian, Balakhshan, Balashan, Balaxien and Balaxia. Including Wakhan, it lies between 35° 50' and 38° N. lat., and between 69° 30' and 74° 20' E. long. The chief ascertained positions are as follows : Faizabad, 37° 2' N., 70° 36' E.; Ishkashm, 36° 45' N, 71° 38' E.; Punja, 37° 5' N., 72° 39' E.; and Karkat Yassin lake, 37° 14' N., 74° 18' E. Its extent from east to west is about 200 miles, and from north to south about 150 miles. On the north it is bounded by Kulab and Darwaz; on the east by the lofty table-land of Pamir; on the south by the Hindu Kush range; and on the west by Kunduz. The Pamir land is the principal watershed of Asia, and Badakhshan forms part of the western water slope consti-tuting the basin of the Oxus. The country is for the most part mountainous, but there are numerous plains and fertile valleys. The general slope of the country is great, since Kunduz is probably not more than 500 feet above the level of the sea, while Lake Victoria, close to the principal watershed, is estimated at 15,600 feet.

Badakhshan comprises 16 districts. The principal district called Faizabad is under the rule of the Mir Mahmud Shah; the others are dependencies ruled by relatives of the Mir, or by hereditary feudatories. Each ruler is inde-pendent, but is bound to aid the Mfr of Faizabad in time of need. The Mfr himself pays tribute to the Amir of Cabul. The other districts besides Faizabad are Daraim, Shahr-i-buzurq, Gumbuz,Farakhar, Kishm, Kustak, Bushan, Shighnan, Ishkashm, Wakhan, Zebak, Minjan,Bagh, Daung, and Asiaba. Each district has its sub-divisions. In Faiza-bad there are several fertile tracts; amongst them are the hilly regions of Yaftal and Shewa, which are thickly popu-lated, the former by Tajiks, and the latter by Turks of the Jakha Moghal tribe ; and the plateaus of Argii and Shewa, of which the former is somewhat higher than the plain of Faizabad, about 15 miles in length by about 8 in breadth, and well cultivated, while the latter is still higher, and forms the best and largest pasture ground in Badakhshan. A lake named Sir-i-kol, about 20 miles in circumference, is situated on the Shewa plateau. In and around Faizabad there are numerous excellent fruit and flower gardens; the principal manufactures are cast-iron pots, boots and shoes, and a material woven from silk and cotton, called ilacha. The district of Jirm, also subject to Mahmud Shah, com-prises numerous rich valleys, as well as the famous mineral region called Yamgan, or "all mines." The mines yield rubies, lapis lazuli, lead, alum, sal-ammoniac, sulphur, copper, &c. The annual yield of lapis lazuli averages about £1500, which is sold at the rate of seven shil-lings per pound; it is exported to Russia, Kashmir, and China. The Dasht-Baha-rak is an extensive plain in this district, on which was formerly situated a large city, once the capital of Badakhshan. There are several villages on it, as also the summer residence of the Mfr. The caravan route from India to Faizabad passes over this plain. The districts of Rustak, Ragh, Kishm, Daraim, and Shahr-f-buzurg are next in importance as regards fertility and population. They abound in fertile hills and plains. The principal cultivated products are wheat, rice, Cicerarielinum, Pkaseolut Mungo, cotton, linseed, poppy, sesame, apples, grapes, mul-berries (which form the principal article of food in these regions), pears, apricots, walnuts, melons, gourds, turnips, radishes, carrots, spinach, leeks, as also numerous garden flowers and timber trees. The districts of Minjan and Rushan are more mountainous, have a cooler climate, and are more sparsely populated than the foregoing. Their inhabitants are also distinct, differing in physical features, creed, language, and habits. The celebrated ruby mines are in Ishkashm; they have not been worked for more than 30 years, except temporarily in 1866. It is, however, suspected that they are worked surreptitiously by the people. They yield the well-known Balas (i.e., Badakhshan) ruby.

The principal domesticated animal is the yak. There are also large flocks of sheep, cows, goats, ponies, numerous fine dogs, and Bactrian camels. The more important wild animals are a large wild sheep (Ovis poli), foxes, wolves, jackals, bears, boars, deer, and lions; amongst birds, there are partridges, pheasants, ravens, jays, sparrows, larks, a famous breed of hawks, (fee.

Badakhshan proper is peopled by Tajiks, Turks, and Arabs, who speak the Persian and Turki languages, and profess the orthodox doctrines of the Mahometan law adopted by the Sunnite sect; while the mountainous districts are inhabited by Tajiks, professing the Shia creed, and speaking distinct dialects in different districts.

Badakhshan was visited by Hwen Thsang in 630 and 644. The Arabian geographers of the 10th century speak of its mines of ruby and azure, and give notices of the flourishing commerce and large towns of Waksh and Khotl, regions which appear either to have in part corresponded with or to have lain close to Badakhshan. In 1272-73 Marco Polo and his companions stayed for a time in Badakh-shan During this and the following centuries the country was governed by kings who claimed to be descendants of Alexander the Great. The last of these kings was Shah Mahomet, who died in the middle of the 15th century, leaving only his married daughters to represent the royal line. Early in the middle of the 16th century the Uzbeks obtained possession of Badakhshan, but were soon expelled, and then the country was generally governed by descend-ants of the old royal dynasty by the female line. About the middle of the 18th century the present dynasty of Mirs established its footing in place of the old one which had become extinct. In 1765 the country was invaded and ravaged by the ruler of Cabul. During the first three decades of the present century it was overrun and depopu-lated by Kokan Beg and his son Murad Beg, chiefs of the Kataghan Uzbeks of Kundus. The country was still suffering from these disasters when Wood visited it in 1837. When Murad Beg died, the power passed into the hands of another Uzbek, Mahomet Amir Khan. In 1859 the Kataghan Uzbeks were expelled; and Mfr Jahander Shah, the representative of the modern royal line, was reinstated at Faizabad under the supremacy of the Afghans. In 1867 he was expelled by the Afghans and replaced by the present ruler, Mfr Mahomet Shah, and other representatives of the same family. According to the latest accounts the country was reviving from its past misfortunes, and the towns were again rising. Badakh-shan owes part of its prosperity to the baneful traffic in slaves. A strong man is considered a fair exchange for a large dog or horse, and a fine girl for about four horses. The district is of some political interest in connection with the frontier line of Afghanistan, which has recently been the subject of discussion between the Bussian and British Governments.

In 1867 a report on Badakhshan was drawn up by the Pundit Mun-phool after a sojourn of two or three years in the country. For further information, see the Booh of Ser Marco Polo, vol. i. 1871, edited by Col. Yule ; A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus, by Capt. J. Wood, edition of 1872 ;" Report on the Mirza's Exploration from Cabul to Kashgar," by Major Montgomerie, in the Journal of Roy. Geo. Soc," vol. xli. p. 132 ; " A Havildar's journey through Chitral to Faizabad in 1870," by Major Montgomerie, in journal last mentioned, vol. xlii. p. 180 ; " Papers connected with the Upper Oxus Regions," by Col. Yule, in the same volume, p. 438; "Monograph on the Oxus," by Maj.-Gen. Sir H. C. Rawlinson, in the same volume, p. 482 ; and a paper by the writer last mentioned, " On Badakhshan and Wakhan," in the Proceedings of the Roy. Geog. Soc, vol. xvii. p. 108.

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