The river originates in the Karakoram range in the south of the Kashgar Prefecture. A notable tributary of the upper Yarkand River is the Shaksgam River, which is also known in its lower course (before falling into the Yarkand) as the Keleqing River (Chinese: 克勒青河; pinyin: Kèlèqīng Hé).
A part of the river valley is known to the Kyrgyz people as Raskam, and the river itself is also called the Raskam River. The river is also known as the Zarafshan River. The area was once claimed by the ruler of Hunza.