Section 20 – The Kingdom of Suoche 莎車 (Yarkand).
1. There has never been any question that the Suoche 莎車 [So-ch’e, sometimes written: So-chü] of the Han period is to be identified with modern Yarkand or Suoche (also written Shache). See, for example, Stein (1907), p. 88; CICA, p. 139, n. 361; Bailey (1985), p. 73.
“For this city Ptolemaios’s text has four variants σοÃτα, σοÃγα, σότα, σάγα. Here the fourth is nearest to the Saka word. The modern, half-Turk name is Yār-kand. The Turkish yăr is ‘cleft’ and ‘rock’ as in yar tuzï ‘rock salt’. The Turkish has kept the meaning of the original name and added the word kand ‘city’. Here yar is from yarmaq ‘to split’.” Bailey (1958), p. 73.
Tashkurghan. The identification of Puli with Tashkurghan is, I maintain,
certain. The directions in the Hanshu provide accurate directions and
distances from both Suoche or Yarkand –
li or 225 km to the east –
and Shule or Kashgar –
li or 229 km north. These distances prove to be very accurate when
checked on modern maps. Also, there is no other settlement on these routes and
in this generally barren region that it could possibly be.
The dependence on food supplies from Yarkand (referred to in the Hanshu) and the size of the population (about 5,000) haven’t changed since the time of the Former Han, thus providing additional confirmation of its identification. See CICA, pp. 101-102. There is only one piece of evidence that does not fit. In the Hanshu’s description of Suoche [Yarkand], it is said that Puli is 740 li (308 km) to the southwest (ibid. p. 142). This must surely be a copyist’s error for the 540 li listed above.
Heading south from Tashkurgan the traveller in ancient times had two main choices. The first route (and the only one practicable for laden pack animals such as mules and horses – being not too difficult and providing plenty of fodder). It led over the Neza Tash Pass and along the Ak Tash (‘White Stone’) Valley west along the Ak-su (‘White Water’) River which flows to the northeast until one entered the Wakhan Valley proper.
day’s journey [from Tashkurgan] was to the foot of the Neza Tash pass, sixteen
miles [26 km] in a south-westerly direction up the Shindan stream, which flows
through the defile of the same name and falls into the Sirikol river. The defile
at several places is extremely narrow, and shut in by precipitous rocks and bold
steep hills which rise high above it. The fallen stones and stream boulders make
the road particularly bad for many miles. Willows and thorn bushes grow
plentifully at the head of the defile, and the hills there lose their bold
character, and become rounded and sloping. Our camp was in snow, but large
patches of grass free from it were found in the vicinity sufficient for our
horses, which ate it greedily, preferring it greatly to the chopped straw we
carried for mixing with their grain. This grass was similar to what we found in
many parts of the Pamirs, and in the Aktash valley, rich and sweet to the smell,
resembling English meadow hay, and relished immensely by our animals. Judging
from what we saw of it in the end of winter, it is easy to believe in its
fattening properties in summer, as related by Marco Polo and other travellers,
and also told us by the Wakhis. Neza Tash, meaning spear-stone, is named from a
spear-like pointed rock near the place.
On the second day we crossed the Neza Tash pass (14,920 feet)[4548 metres], leading over a high range running about north-west, and encamped at the mouth of the ravine leading down from it to the Aktash valley, travelling a distance of seventeen miles [27 km] in a general westerly direction. Snow fell in the night time, and our journey for this and the following three days, covering a total distance of seventy-eight miles [126 km], was made mainly through snow. We found plenty of grass in scattered patches and brushwood fuel at this day’s camping place. We were here joined by a party of Sirikolis with yaks and ponies carrying supplies sent by Hussan Shah to accompany us to Wakhan.” Gordon (1876), pp. 123-124.
Notes on the Neza Tash Pass adapted from: Merzalikova (2003):
“Height: 4328 m [14,199 ft], “The Pass leads down Karasu stream to valley Aksu in “Sarez Pamir.” “On the west side it is very easy to ascent. Descent more difficult steep and stony.”
From there one travelled past the Little Pamir Lake roughly 80 km to Langar:
miles [40 km] from the lake. A deserted village and traces of cultivation were
observed here, and numerous yaks and cattle were seen grazing on the opposite
side of the valley. A stream of considerable size also joins at Langar, flowing
from the south-east, and a road goes by it to Kunjut, over the Kura pass.”
Gordon (1876), p. 129.
When one reached Sarhad (approximately another 40 km west from Langar), one could cross south over the relatively easy Baroghil Pass (3,798 metres; 12,460 feet) towards Mastuj which leads on either to the Chitral Valley, providing relatively easy access to both the region around modern Jalalabad in Afghanistan, or through Swat to the region of ancient Gandhara near Peshawar.
If, on the other hand, a caravan headed due west from Sarhad through the Wakhan Valley, it travelled through Badakshān to Bactra (Balkh) and beyond.
The other alternative was the quickest way into northern India and usually open all year but was extremely dangerous and only suited for travellers on foot. From Tashkurgan one travelled just over 70 km south to the junction of the Minteke River. Heading west up this valley one reached the Kilik and Minteke Passes which both led into upper Hunza from which one could travel over the infamous “hanging passages” to Gilgit and on, either to Kashmir, or to the Gandharan plains.
[Wu-lei] = Sarhad.
This Wulei must not be confused with the Wulei 烏壘
= Yengisar – see note 20.7 below. The
ancient times was pronounced with an initial m sound and was used to
represent Sanskrit mo or ma, as in the mantric term,
humbly trust (or adore)’. The EMC
forms given in Karlgren, Pulleyblank and GR all also indicate this
initial m sound.
The section on Puli in the Hanshu specifies that Wulei is 540 li (225 km) west of Puli (CICA, pp. 101-102). If this route is measured out carefully it brings one precisely to the strategically placed settlement of Sarhad, where the route again forks. One branch heads south over the Baroghil Pass, the other heads west along the Wakhan Valley to Badakshān and the heartland of the Kushan empire in what is now northern Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, we again have a case of an error in the Hanshu, for in its entry on Wulei it says, “to the south it is a distance of 540 li to P’u-li.” Ibid. p. 103. This contradicts the statement a couple of pages previous that, “to the west [from Puli] it is a distance of 540 li to Wu-lei.” Fortunately though, the text of the Hou Hanshu confirms that Wulei must be to the west of Puli, as it states: “Going west from the kingdom of Suoju (Yarkand), and passing through the countries of Puli (Tashkurghan) and Wulei, you arrive among the Da Yuezhi (Kushans).”
Yu (1998), p. 60, follows Matsuda’s hypothesis that: “Wulei was situated in the present Little Pamir, which was between the valley of the River Aksu which flows northeast to the upper reaches of the River Murg-āb, and the valley of the River Aksu which flows west to the upper reaches of the Āb-i Panja.” However, as he confuses Shuangmi with Nandou, which he assumes refers to the lower reaches of the Gilgit River, he doesn’t realise Wulei was actually situated somewhat further west, near modern Sarhad, at the head of the Baroghil Pass leading into the upper Yarkhun Valley and on to Mastuj and Chitral – or ancient Nandou. (See the note 13.6 on Shuangmi above).
4. Li Chong – Protector General 16-23 CE. See CICA, p. 64, n. 196, where the dates were taken from Huang Wen-pi (1948), p. 179 f. After an abortive attack on Yanqi or Karashahr in 16