Tibet and its Chaghatay Neighbours According to the Eyewitness Account of Mirza Haydar Dughlat

Barbara Kellner-Heinkele

Tibet and its Chaghatay Neighbours According to the Eyewitness Account of Mirza Haydar Dughlat

(66th Annual Meeting of the PIAC Göttingen, 2024)

While the Arab and Persian chroniclers and geographers of the Abbasid Empire in its classical age (9th –11th century) were perfectly familiar with the kingdom of Tibet and its political importance, this country slowly faded from the perception of the Islamic world in the following centuries to become a distant fabled region after the period of Mongol conquests and state building (13th – 14th century). With the re-drawing of religious and ethnic borders in the time of Timur and subsequent rivalling dynasties (15th century), the Islamic World came to perceive the lands lying to the East mainly under the concept of Khata (“Cathay”), i.e. the wonderland of Ming China.

There is a single Muslim source from the 16th century that offers us more than legends and imaginings of “Tibet” and its people. In fact, the Tarikh-i Rashidi by Mirza Muhammad Haydar Dughlat (1499/1500 – 1551), presents an eyewitness account of the lands along the northern flank of the Karakoram and Himalayas within the larger framework of a chronicle of the Eastern Chaghatay Realm and comprehensive biographical information on Haydar himself and his Mongol/Timurid/Chaghataid family.

This contribution re-examines the passages of the Tarikh-i Rashidi (1546) concerning Baltistan (“Little Tibet”), Bolor, Ladakh and Tibet proper. It tries to give Haydar’s text a deeper meaning than merely that of Holy War and plunder. Rather, it will try to put forward the intelligent perception of the author when confronted with alien populations and their customs.