This article has been extracted from
THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA , 1908.
OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.
A separate province of Afghanistan, which may be defined as the country drained by the Kokcha and its tributaries. It is bounded by the Oxus on the north, and to the east as far as Ishkashim ; thence by Wakhan and a great spur of the Hindu Kush ; on the south by the Hindu Kush, which separates it from Chitral and Kafiristan ; and on the west by the district of Kataghan. Except near the Oxus, the country is distinctly alpine in character, and contains some lofty peaks, notably Tirgaran, which is probably over 20,000 feet. The rivers are for the most part rapid, and difficult to cross. They abound in fish.
The inhabitants of the country are Tajiks and Turks, of whom the former are the more numerous, and probably represent the original Iranian inhabitants of the Oxus valley. They have a distinctly Aryan type ; their features are good, their complexions fair but weather- beaten, and their physique is respectable. The Turks, who are more industrious and enterprising, are distinguished by the square and high cheek-bone which marks the infusion of Mongol blood. The total population of Badakhshan proper may be estimated at about 100,000. The inhabitants of the country were originally Shiah ; but on the irruption of the Uzbeg Sunnis, all who could not escape to the hills were forcibly converted to that form of the Moslem faith. The people are, as a rule, hospitable, peaceful, and well conducted. Heinous crimes are seldom heard of in Badakhshan or Wakhan ; adultery is rare ; and only disputes regarding land and water have to be decided by the village communities, or by higher authority. The Badakhshis are on the whole well fed and warmly clad, while their habits and domestic arrangements are simple. The only places which have any pretence to be designated as towns are Faizabad, Rustak, Khanabad, and Chayab.
Of the early history of Badakhshan there are no reliable records. Tradition states that the early rulers were descendants of Alexander the Great, and it is possible that one of his adherents secured the country for himself, and transmitted it to his descendants. One Muhammad Shah was the last of these so-called Badakhshi ' Sultans of Alexander.' None of the three great Tartar conquerors — Chingiz, Timur Lang, and Shaybani Khan — appears to have penetrated so high up the valley of the Oxus. Native tradition states that the emperor Babar bestowed Badakhshan upon a son, Mirza Hindal, who after a short reign went to India and was succeeded by one of the emperor's generals, Mirza Sulaiman. On his death the country devolved upon his son ; but later it seems to have been ruled over by its own Mirs. About 1840 it was subjugated by Mir Murad Beg of Kataghan. In 1859, on the conquest of Kataghan by the Afghans, Badakhshan became tributary to Kabul. In 1 881 the Amir Abdur Rahman abolished the last remnant of local autonomy, and set up an Afghan governor. Wakhan and Shighnan, the latter being now Russian territory, were also ruled for centuries by their own Mirs ; but the ruler of Badakhshan was invariably recognized as the suzerain. Since the advent of Afghan troops to Badakhshan, Wakhan has also been ruled by an Afghan Hakim.
The winter in Badakhshan is severe, the mountains being impassable from snow early in December, and the rivers generally frozen. Rain is said to be abundant and chiefly falls during the spring. In the mountainous region snow commences to fall in November. On the other hand, in the low-lying districts of Rustak, Chayab, and Daung, bordering the Oxus, the heat in summer is very great ; and even Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan proper, is unpleasantly warm.
The mineral wealth of Badakhshan is probably considerable. Salt and sulphur are found in the valley of the Kokcha, and iron is known to exist near Faizabad. Near the sources of the Kokcha are famous lapis lazuli mines, while within 20 miles of Ishkashim, and on the right bank of the Oxus, are ruby mines, for which Badakhshan has long been famous. There are no important manufactures. Badakhshi horse- trappings and furniture, however, find a ready sale in the surrounding countries.