The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 1/Chapter 30

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Of the Province of Pashai[edit]

You must know that ten days' journey to the south of Badashan there is a Province called PASHAI, the people of which have a peculiar language, and are Idolaters, of a brown complexion. They are great adepts in sorceries and the diabolic arts. The men wear earrings and brooches of gold and silver set with stones and pearls. They are a pestilent people and a crafty; and they live upon flesh and rice. Their country is very hot.[1]

Now let us proceed and speak of another country which is seven days' journey from this one towards the south-east, and the name of which is KESHIMUR.




  1. 1.0 1.1 The name of PASHAI has already occurred (see ch. xviii.) linked with DIR, as indicating a tract, apparently of very rugged and difficult character, through which the partizan leader Nigudar passed in making an incursion from Badakhshan towards Kashmir. The difficulty here lies in the name Pashai, which points to the south-west, whilst Dir and all other indications point to the south-east. But Pashai seems to me the reading to which all texts tend, whilst it is clearly expressed in the G. T. (Pasciai), and it is contrary to all my experience of the interpretation of Marco Polo to attempt to torture the name in the way which has been common with commentators professed and occasional. But dropping this name for a moment, let us see to what the other indications do point.

    In the meagre statements of this and the next chapter, interposed as they are among chapters of detail unusually ample for Polo, there is nothing to lead us to suppose that the Traveller ever personally visited the countries of which these two chapters treat. I believe we have here merely an amplification of the information already sketched of the country penetrated by the Nigudarian bands whose escapade is related in chapter xviii., information which was probably derived from a Mongol source. And these countries are in my belief both regions famous in the legends of the Northern Buddhists, viz. UDYANA and KASHMIR.

    Udyana lay to the north of Peshawar on the Swat River, but from the extent assigned to it by Hiuen Tsang, the name probably covered a large part of the whole hill-region south of the Hindu-Kush from Chitral to the Indus, as indeed it is represented in the Map of Vivien de St. Martin (Pelerins Bouddhistes, II.). It is regarded by Fahian as the most northerly Province of India, and in his time the food and clothing of the people were similar to those of Gangetic India. It was the native country of Padma Sambhava, one of the chief apostles of Lamaism, i.e. of Tibetan Buddhism, and a great master of enchantments. The doctrines of Sakya, as they prevailed in Udyana in old times, were probably strongly tinged with Sivaitic magic, and the Tibetans still regard that locality as the classic ground of sorcery and witchcraft.

    Hiuen Tsang says of the inhabitants: "The men are of a soft and pusillanimous character, naturally inclined to craft and trickery. They are fond of study, but pursue it with no ardour. The science of magical formulae is become a regular professional business with them. They generally wear clothes of white cotton, and rarely use any other stuff. Their spoken language, in spite of some differences, has a strong resemblance to that of India."

    These particulars suit well with the slight description in our text, and the Indian atmosphere that it suggests; and the direction and distance ascribed to Pashai suit well with Chitral, which may be taken as representing Udyana when approached from Badakhshan. For it would be quite practicable for a party to reach the town of Chitral in ten days from the position assigned to the old capital of Badakhshan. And from Chitral the road towards Kashmir would lie over the high Lahori pass to DIR, which from its mention in chapter xviii. we must consider an obligatory point. (Fah-hian, p. 26; Koeppen, I. 70; Pelerins Boud. II. 131-132.)

    ["Tao-lin (a Buddhist monk like Hiuen Tsang) afterwards left the western regions and changed his road to go to Northern India; he made a pilgrimage to Kia-che-mi-louo (Kashmir), and then entered the country of U-ch'ang-na (Udyana)...." (Ed. Chavannes, I-tsing, p. 105.)--H. C.]

    We must now turn to the name Pashai. The Pashai Tribe are now Mahomedan, but are reckoned among the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, which the Afghans are not. Baber mentions them several times, and counts their language as one of the dozen that were spoken at Kabul in his time. Burnes says it resembles that of the Kafirs. A small vocabulary of it was published by Leech, in the seventh volume of the J. A. S. B., which I have compared with vocabularies of Siah-posh Kafir, published by Raverty in vol. xxxiii. of the same journal, and by Lumsden in his Report of the Mission to Kandahar, in 1837. Both are Aryan, and seemingly of Professor Max Mueller's class Indic, but not very close to one another.

    Ibn Batuta, after crossing the Hindu-Kush by one of the passes at the head of the Panjshir Valley, reaches the Mountain BASHAI (Pashai). In the same vicinity the Pashais are mentioned by Sidi 'Ali, in 1554. And it is still in the neighbourhood of Panjshir that the tribe is most numerous, though they have other settlements in the hill-country about Nijrao, and on the left bank of the Kabul River between Kabul and Jalalabad. Pasha and Pasha-gar is also named as one of the chief divisions of the Kafirs, and it seems a fair conjecture that it represents those of the Pashais who resisted or escaped conversion to Islam. (See Leech's Reports in Collection pub. at Calcutta in 1839; Baber, 140; Elphinstone, I. 411; J. A. S. B. VII. 329, 731, XXVIII. 317 seqq., XXXIII. 271-272; I. B. III. 86; J. As. IX. 203, and J. R. A. S. N.S. V. 103, 278.)

    The route of which Marco had heard must almost certainly have been one of those leading by the high Valley of Zebak, and by the Dorah or the Nuksan Pass, over the watershed of Hindu-Kush into Chitral, and so to Dir, as already noticed. The difficulty remains as to how he came to apply the name Pashai to the country south-east of Badakhshan. I cannot tell. But it is at least possible that the name of the Pashai tribe (of which the branches even now are spread over a considerable extent of country) may have once had a wide application over the southern spurs of the Hindu- Kush. Our Author, moreover, is speaking here from hearsay, and hearsay geography without maps is much given to generalising. I apprehend that, along with characteristics specially referable to the Tibetan and Mongol traditions of Udyana, the term Pashai, as Polo uses it, vaguely covers the whole tract from the southern boundary of Badakhshan to the Indus and the Kabul River.

    But even by extending its limits to Attok, we shall not get within seven marches of Kashmir. It is 234 miles by road from Attok to Srinagar; more than twice seven marches. And, according to Polo's usual system, the marches should be counted from Chitral, or some point thereabouts.

    Sir H. Rawlinson, in his Monograph on the Oxus, has indicated the probability that the name Pashai may have been originally connected with Aprasin or Paresin, the Zendavestian name for the Indian Caucasus, and which occurs in the Babylonian version of the Behistun Inscription as the equivalent of Gaddra in the Persian, i.e. Gandhara, there applied to the whole country between Bactria and the Indus. (See J. R. G. S. XLII. 502.) Some such traditional application of the term Pashai might have survived.