DARRA-YEṢŪF, name of a valley in northern Afghanistan, drained by a tributary of the right bank of the Balḵāb, and of the adjoining mountain district and its administrative center in Samangān province. The direct caravan route from Bāmīān to Mazār-e Šarīf passed through the valley, which has sometimes been erroneously transcribed (e.g., in most Afghan Boundary Commission reports) as Darra Yūsūf/Yūsof.

The Ṣūf river rises on Kōh-e Bandak in the westernmost Hindu Kush, at 3,600 m above sea level, flows 142 km, and joins the Balḵāb at an altitude of 642 m, thus having an average slope of 2.08 m/100 m (Ministry, 1978, p. 16). It alternately flows through uninhabited narrow gorges and widens in small intramontane basins, where its waters are used intensively for irrigation (56 percent of the total flow, according to Garbovskiĭ, p. 100). The river is known under a variety of names along its course: successively Darra-ye Bēd, Darra-ye Dāy Mīrdād (or Walīšān), Darra-ye Ṣūf (properly only the middle tract, between Tang-e Ḥasanī and the Kešenda basin), and Āb-e Kešenda (Gazetteer of Afghanistan IV, pp. 184-85). It is fed by both rainfall and snowmelt from the mountains. At Kešenda-ye Pāyān, 7 km above the junction with the Balḵāb, the crest occurs in April and May (2.21 and 2.40 m3/sec respectively, with a record of 66.8 m3/sec recorded on 19 April 1976), and low water in July and August (0.15 and 0.40 m3/sec respectively, being entirely dry an average of fifty-three days a year). The mean annual discharge is 1.49 m3/sec (record: 1358-67 Š./1969-78).

The district (woloswālī) of Darra-ye Ṣūf covers 3,432 km2, broadly encompassing the drainage area of the river, except for the lower section, which falls within the Kešenda district of Balḵ province. According to preliminary returns of the census of 1368 Š./1979, the sedentary population of Darra-ye Ṣūf was 82,535. The average density of 24 inhabitants/km2 was the highest in Samangān province. The population is mainly Hazāra (53 percent, concentrated in the southern and central parts of the district), and there are substantial minorities of Uzbeks (9 percent), Aymāq (9 percent), and Persianized Turkmen (25 percent) in the north, as well as smaller communities of Baluch, Arabs, and Pashtun (Gazetteer of Afghanistan IV, pp. 181 ff.). The district, with its numerous caves, some of them still inhabited (Griesbach, pp. 204-05; repr. in Gazetteer of Afghanistan IV, p. 186), and ruins (e.g., the “ruined city” of Šahr-e Čangīz in lower Walīšān; Amîr Khân, pp. 163-64; Gazetteerof Afghanistan IV, p. 552, s.v. Tah-i-Shahr), offers promise of archeological discoveries.

The district center is more precisely known as Qalʿa-ye Sarkārī-e Darra-ye Ṣūf, commonly abridged as Qalʿa on modern topographical maps. In 1886 it consisted of only twenty peasant families clustered around a large mud fort containing the governor’s residence and quarters for 100 Hazāra soldiers (Maitland, p. 470; repr. in Gazetteer of Afghanistan IV, p. 188; Amîr Khan, p. 161; Sahibdâd Khân, p. 142). The population has not increased much since that time; with only 800 inhabitants in 1352 Š./1973, it still can hardly be considered a town (Centlivres, table facing p. 132). Its economic importance was greatly enhanced, however, with the beginning of exploitation of Jurassic coal deposits in the district, the largest reserves in Afghanistan, amounting to 102 million tons (82 percent of national reserves so far recorded; Chmyrov and Muzyka, p. 107). Mining operations began only in 1339 Š./1960 at Dahān-e Tōr, 25 km south of Qalʿa-ye Sarkārī, though coal had been discovered there in 1886 (Griesbach, p. 207; Dupree, p. 26). The mine is, however, still too isolated to contribute more than 10 percent, usually less, of the small national output (Grötzbach, pp. 124, 309). As a result of the opening of the mine, the Ministry of the interior elevated Qalʿa-ye Sarkārī to the status of a municipality. Its bāzār also boomed, expanding to 297 permanent shops in 1352 Š./1973, with at least 40 additional shops on market days, formerly Thursdays but now Mondays and Fridays, the latter having been chosen to coincide with the weekly closing of the mine (Centlivres, pp. 133-37; Gazetteer of Afghanistan IV, p. 180; Dupree, pp. 21-22). In the 1970s a new town (Darra-ye Ṣūf-e Naw) was being built 6 km north of Qalʿa-ye Sarkārī (Grötzbach, p. 309).



Amîr Khân, “Journey from Yakatâl by the Dara Yûsûf to Bâmiân and on to Hâjigak and Irâk Kotals,” in Afghan Boundary Commission, Records of Intelligence Party V. Miscellaneous Reports, Simla, 1888, pp. 157-84.

P. Centlivres, “Structure et évolution des bazars du Nord afghan,” in E. Grötzbach, ed., Aktuelle Probleme der Regional-entwicklung und Stadtgeographie Afghanistans, Afghanische Studien 14, Meisenheim am Glan, Germany, 1976, pp. 119-45.

V. M. Chmyrov and V. N. Muzyka, “Uglenosnost’ Afganistana” (Coalfields of Afghanistan) in S. Abdulla et al., eds., Geologiya i poleznye iskopaemye Afganistana (Geology and mineral resources of Afghanistan) II, Moscow, 1980, pp. 106-17.

L. Dupree, The Green and the Black. Social and Economic Aspects of a Coal Mine in Afghanistan, American Universities Field Staff Reports, South Asia Series 7/5, New York, 1963.

E. A. Garbovskiĭ, Inzhenernaya gidrologiya rek Afgani-stana (Engineering hydrology of the rivers of Afghanistan), Leningrad, 1989.

C. L. Griesbach, “Report on (a) Journey from Chahârshamba through Maimana, Belchiragh and Hill-Country South of Belchiragh-Sar-i-Pul Road (Gurziwân, Faoghân, &c.), to Sar-i-Pul. Thence through the Sangchârak District, and by Ak Kupruk, Dara Yûsûf, Shisha Walang, and the Kara Kotal, to Kâmard and Bâmiân . . .,” in Afghan Boundary Commission, Records of Intelligence Party V. Miscellaneous Reports, Simla, 1888, pp. 185-215.

E. Grötzbach, Afghanistan. Eine geographische Landeskunde, Darmstadt, 1990.

T. Holdich, Notes on the Survey of the Dara Isuf and Contiguous Routes by S. A. Ata Muhammad, 1886, India Office Records, London, L/P & S/7/49/62-63.

P. J. Maitland, Diary of Intelligence Party, with Notes on the Population and Resources of Districts Visited 1884 to 1887, Afghan Boundary Commission, Records of Intelligence Party II, Simla, 1888.

Ministry of Water and Power, Hydrological Yearbook 1964-1975 Part IV/9-13 (Murghab, Shirintagb, Sarepul, Balkh and Khulm River Basins), Kabul, n.d. (1978?).

Idem, Hydrological Yearbook 1976-1978 Part IV. North Flowing Rivers (Murghab, Shirin Tagab, Sarepul, Balkh and Khulm), Kabul, 1980.

Sahibdâd Khân, “Route from Rui to Ak Kupruk, Thence Up the River to Sar-i-Pul (Balkh Ao), and Back to Homakai (or Omakhai), November and December 1885,” in Afghan Boundary Commission, Records of Intelligence Party V. Miscellaneous Reports, Simla, 1888, pp. 139-56.



(Daniel Balland)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 17, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 1, pp. 62-63