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308 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.

rivers on the northern and western sides, only two contribute sufficient water to form

lakes.. On the south the mountains are cleft here and there for the passage of some more

ambitious stream to the sea, but for the rest running water is a stranger. With the coming

of the summer heats the limits of the desert are greatly extended; for many districts

which in the brief spring-time put up a sudden verdure, wither to desolation under the

cloudless skies and fierce suns of July. At such seasons of the year the river beds are

dry and the air glows like a furnace.

In the western portions of the great plateau the conditions of nature are modified by the

proximity of the mountains. Here the surface of the country is broken into ridges. Rain is

more abundant, and many small streams trace the valleys with a band of life. In the south

and east also the same changes occur as the limits of the table-land, are approached, and

the plains grow green as the hills rise above the horizon. But within these surrounding

borders of comparative fertility there is little else than a barren waste of blackened

sand.

On the north of the region here described Is another not more attractive. It is the

district occupied by the modern Khiva and Bokhara, bounded on the west by the Caspian, and

running eastward through fourteen degrees of longitude. Its breadth is about the same,

extending from the thirty-sixth to the fiftieth parallel of north latitude, a distance of

more than eight hundred miles. The whole region is one of the most forbidding in the

world. It is the great Sahara of the North, a vast trackless plain of red or black sand,

blown up here and there into dunes by the bleak wind which finds nought else upon which to

waste its vagrant energies. If it were not for the ranges of the Great and Little Balkan

which, near the Caspian, break the surface with moderate elevations and furnish the

conditions of rain, the whole region would be a treeless and almost lifeless desert.

To the modifying influence of these mountains must be added the presence of two large

rivers which traverse the waste

and pour their volumes into the basin of the Aral. These are the Oxus (the modern Amoo)

and the JAXARTES (the modern Sir)-two streams of considerable historical importance.

Others of lesser note are the MURGAH, the ABI MESHED, the HERIRUD, the MAYMENE, the BALKH,

and the AK Su. Most of these take their rise on the slopes of the mountains referred to,

and flow desertward until they are lost in the sands. In some instances small, brackish

lakes are formed as the termini of these streams. It is along the banks of these rivers

that the only fertile soil of the country-except in proximity to the Balkans-is found.

Here, in good seasons, a fair degree of fruitfulness is seen, and a line of orchards and

cornfields and meadows marks the course of the river across the waste. Here, from times

immemorial, the larger part of the population inhabiting this desolate region has been

gathered.

Lying to the east of this desert of Bokhara and Khiva is the VALLEY OF THE INDUS, one of

the most ancient seats of civilization. Its importance has been but feebly apprehended by

the Western nations, to whom the Nile of the East has seemed like a dream on the horizon.

The region drained by the Indus is divided into two distinct regions, a broad, triangular

plain towards the north, and a long, narrow valley towards the south. The broad district

of the north is a territory through which, gathering their waters from the hills, flow

five considerable rivers converging into one-the Indus; and hence to this division of the

country is given the name of Punjab, or Five Rivers. At the lower angle of this district

the five valleys narrow into one, and through this to the sea flows the river of India.

This valley is known in modern geography as SINDE, which is merely a variation of the word

India or Hindu.

The Punjab region has at the north a breadth of about three hundred and fifty miles, but

the country narrows towards the south until, at the confluence of the Five

I In the native language the Indus is called the Sindus.