Section 24 – The Kingdom of Yizhi 移支 (Barkol)
1. The kingdom of Yizhi 移支 [I-chih], literally: ‘Transplanted Branch’. The name undoubtedly refers to the fact that the population was transplanted here after the Xiongnu moved the original inhabitants far away north of the Tianshan range. See note 23.1 above.
2. Pulei 蒲類 [P’u-lei] = Lake Barkol and district. See Stein (1928), pp. 536-547; Pulleyblank (1963), p. 219.
valley stretches for fully one hundred miles from east to west and is about
thirty miles wide. The southern hills rise well above the permanent snow-line,
some of the peaks reaching an altitude of over 14,000 feet [4,267 m], and the
whole area, including mountains, basin and town, takes its name from the lake.
When we approached its shores we found them to be white with the alkaline
deposit of salt marches, and the lake itself difficult to reach because of the
soggy land, but the water, though slightly brackish, was palatable, as it
contains only three per cent. of salt. On the farther bank we sighted a herd of
wild asses which are a feature of the valley. The King of the Gobi had rights
over these pastures and kept great herds of cattle on the grass-lands, which are
renowned for a breed of horses famous for both dash and spirit. Though splendid
for riding purposes, a carter will not readily use these Barkul horses, as they
are too difficult to break in to team-work.
During the dry seasons the Barkul Lake attracts all the wild animal life of the steppe-land to its banks, and troops of gazelles feed in its neighbourhood. There are innumerable wild-fowl on its waters, and during the days we spent there the sky was always criss-crossed by echelons of flying herons. I can never think of Barkul without the grating sound of herons’ wings in my ears.
The town lies in surroundings admirably adapted to the exclusive policy so loved by the Chinese. Protected on the south by the mountain range, it is still better guarded from intrusion by an extensive desert on its northern side. The basin itself is a hollow into which the melting snows of the mountains flow, forming vast underground reservoirs of water on which the agriculturalist and the cattle-grazer can always rely.
The city wall is ancient but kept in excellent repair. Its outline is intended to represent a dragon, and when seen from a height, with the help of a little imagination this form can be recognised, and is a great source of pride to the inhabitants. In a temple just outside the town there is a tablet which was moved there from another temple which is nearer the lake. This inscribed slab is of great historic interest, for it bears the record of a victory gained in Barkul by Pei Tsen, prefect of Tunhwang, over Hu Yen, king of the Northern Hsiung-nu in A.D. 137. This victory records one stage in the long campaign carried on by the armies of the Han dynasty against the Hsiung-nu, or Huns, of Central Asia.” Cable and French (1943), pp. 154-155.