Sec. v] BY THE KARA-TASH RIVER TO KASHGAR 63
of the ground could possibly have coped with the narrow boulder-strewn tracks, in places veritable ` Rafiks ', leading along the foot of these precipices.
Fig. 54 shows the first of these ` Rafiks ' encountered at Bakuchak, about six miles below Track over
Chimghan-aghzi, and here practicable for men on foot only. The construction of these galleries galleries
with rough tree trunks and brushwood shows a skill worthy of such cragsmen as those of Hunza ledgescky
or Shighnan, and was scarcely to be expected among Kirghiz, averse as they are by the inherited instinct of true nomads to the use of their legs. Yet it was at this point, so unlike the ground familiar to the traveller in the Tarim basin, that I was first greeted by that sure sign of the vicinity of the great desert plains, the dust haze appearing above the narrow gap of the gorge. After repeatedly crossing the river, which the few riding ponies had great difficulty in fording, we came to a place some three miles farther down where projecting rock coulisses seemed completely to close the passage. Here, at Ara-siinde, the camels had to be unloaded before they could be taken across the ` Rafiks ' and past the slippery boulders, which elsewhere made the track along the foot of the cliffs even worse (Fig. S5). The narrow steep-edged terraces of the right bank for a mile or two after this gave hope of less precarious progress. But they brought us to an impassable precipice, and the crossing to the left bank proved too dangerous even for the brave camels. We had accordingly to retrace our steps past the outfall of the Kara-tumshuk-jilga before the racing torrent of the river, here about fifty yards wide and three feet and more in depth, could be forded. After crossing steep talus fans and climbing rocky slopes, we were glad at last to reach by dusk a point where a small patch of level ground, with a grove of wild poplars, allowed us to camp by the river.
Our march on September i9th began with difficulties quite as great. Progress for the camels Defiles
was only possible by constantly crossing and recrossing the river. The ` Rafiks ' and rock ledges Kaying-
by which we descended on the left bank, after a mile or so of painfully slow progress, became jilga. impracticable even for laden ponies, and it became necessary to let them swim across held by ropes attached to the camels. For us men on foot, the short stretch from opposite the mouth of the Pitlik-jilga to Kaying-aghzi, scarcely more than three-quarters of a mile in direct distance, meant a trying detour of over two hours : after scrambling along precipitous cliffs of slaty rock with Rafiks as bad as those of Hunza, we had to climb in zigzags over very steep slopes of treacherous shale to a height of some Boo feet above the river and to descend again to the latter over ground equally steep. Beyond the mouth of the Kaying-jilga, which holds a considerable stream, the river bed somewhat widens, and for about a mile and a half progress by the left bank seemed by comparison easy. Then below the side valley of Terek-kichik, through which large grazing grounds and a pass towards Yangi-hissâr can be reached, bold spurs descend again in succession. Their precipitous faces, rising at one point with almost vertical rock walls to a height probably close on 3,000 feet, leave no track except in the river bed. The latter is, of course, quite impassable during the spring and summer floods, and even at this late season the half a dozen crossings were difficult for ponies. It was thus a real relief when the last rock gate of the river, known as Tüginetar (Fig. 75), was passed, and we emerged from these gloomy defiles into the now rapidly widening valley close to where the Kara-bel jilga joins it.
Here the character of the valley undergoes a complete change, with a corresponding effect Passage
on the traveller's rate of progress. Whereas the seven and a half miles' march from our camp erodedh
at Kara-tumshuk had cost us as many hours of toil, with considerable risk to the baggage, the outer hills. remaining eleven miles to our night's camp at the cultivated area of Sâmân were easily covered in two hours on the ponies brought up from Khan-terek to meet us. The track led throughout over broad riverine plateaux or wide alluvial fans, cultivated in parts by Kirghiz. Instead of