Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chigan: Geography

Chigan, which occupies a tropical latitude, is a region of steep mountains and deep valleys connected by narrow, precarious, or seasonally closed passes. The region is about 800 miles east to west and 300 north to south at its widest point. It is surrounded by high-altitude steppes to the north, desert to the east and west, and tropical lowlands to the south.

The region internally can be divided into an endless series of highland peaks and lowland valleys. During the hot lowland summers, rivers flow swiftly with runoff from the mountains above. Winter temperatures are mild (in the lowlands, at least), but frequent storms drop heavy snow on the mountains and rain on the lowlands. However, the mountaintops are high enough to be permanently covered in snow, with the only difference between seasons being the extent of the snowpack and the ferocity of winter snowstorms.

The lowlands are rich with vegetation and fertile soil. Where land has not been cleared for settlements and agriculture, the valley floors are downright jungle-like. Rice, grown in terraced paddies designed to take advantage of periodic flooding, is the primary staple, but the valleys also grow sizable quantities of fruits (with wine-making a significant industry), sugar cane, and spices. Some water buffalo are kept communally for plowing and milk, most families own a few poultry, and aquaculture provides a surprising quantity of fish for an inland region. A transitional zone between the lowlands and mountain tops is windy, with thin, rocky soil and few trees. Most of the land there is used to raise sheep and goats who feed on the scrubby vegetation, but small, sheltered vales provide space for tiny agricultural settlements (rarely more than eight or nine households), small monasteries, and hideouts for bandits. Many small streams provide ample water and short-range transport, but the many rapids, waterfalls, and rocky areas imposed by the terrain make long-distance water transport exceedingly difficult.

The rugged terrain and the difficulty of travel across the region divide Chigan into a large number of small realms, each occupying its own valley. The smallest realms are hardly more than a modest network of farming villages and hill-roving hunters and herdsmen, with a total population of at little as 2,000. Most are somewhat larger, with a population around 8,000-10,000, while the largest top out around 25,000. A small percentage of the population of any given realm includes bandits and high-altitude herdsmen, who may move from one jurisdiction to another depending on circumstances.