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0640 Innermost Asia : vol.1
Innermost Asia : vol.1 / Page 640 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000187
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Old-world Nan-kouch`êng.

Sculptures of Ta-ss,intiao.

to site of


snow-fall alone sufficed to give fertility to this rich loess soil. To eyes like ours which for a year past had but rarely seen cultivation and none without irrigation, the change in climatic conditions here revealed was most marked. To me it seemed appropriately to foreshadow our approach to the Pacific watershed which lay beyond the eastern head-waters of the Kan-chou river. Yet there was evidence that this submontane belt is but the outermost fringe of the region receiving the beneficent moisture from the ocean and that its rainfall is apt to prove precarious at times. For in all the villages farther down we found tanks where water from the stream beds could be stored for the use of men and beasts during seasonal periods when these beds run dry.

As we approached Nan-kou-ch`êng the view towards the mountains grew more and more beautiful. In front of the bold heights of the Richthofen range, snow-covered for a great part, there could be seen tiers of verdant foot-hills apparently terraced to their very crests, and below them villages nestling in dark groves (Fig. 262). With the bronze-green background of conifer forest on the higher slopes the whole landscape recalled scenes such as meet the eye along the foot of the Italian Alps. Nan-kou-ch`êng itself proved a very picturesque little town, fully in keeping with its delightful rural setting. Within its crumbling walls it seemed to have completely escaped the ravages of the Tungan rebellion. On the town gates and on the fronts of houses and temples lining the sleepy streets (Fig. 265) many examples were to be seen of old wood-carving of a fine type. The grass-covered roofs of temples, the rank vegetation in the courts of tumble-down petty Ya-mêns, the moss and creeper-clad town walls, all bore testimony to a genial climate and abundant moisture. Altogether the little town, with more than one pretty temple around it (Fig. 27o), was a perfect picture of old-world China, far from these barbarian marches of the north-west.

During my short halt at Nan-kou-ch`êng I did not fail to visit its oldest temple, known as Lung-chiao-miao or Ta-ssû-miao, to which Professor de L6czy had specially called my attention on account of its large images cast in bronze. The roof of the main structure, to the west of an outer court (Fig. 274), is decorated with very fine pottery relievos. The hall within contains a colossal seated Buddha image in clay (Fig. 275), flanked on its right by a standing Bodhisattva, also in stucco. This, with its excellent modelling and the richly painted ornamentation of the dress, &c., reminded me distinctly of old sculptural work that I had seen at the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas of Tun-huang. On either side of the alcove within which the Buddha statue is placed are seated five Arhats cast in bronze, over life-size. The original heads are unfortunately missing and replaced by very poor modern work in clay. Layers of gaudy paint cover the bodies, and the hands, too, are either overlaid with, or replaced by, modern stucco. Yet in spite of these disfiguring accretions enough of the original bronze is visible to attest its superior workmanship. Three more statues of seated Arhats in bronze, of similar size and modelling, are ranged on either side of an ante-chapel of the same shrine (Fig. 276). Local tradition ascribes great antiquity to these images, which certainly would deserve expert examination, if possible, after removal of their disfiguring additions. On a slab set up in an outer hall is a Chinese inscription, with lines in Tibetan and Mongolian script on its narrow sides ; I regret not to have been able to secure impressions of it.

From Nan-kou-ch`êng I paid a day's visit to the sacred site of Ma-ti-ssti, which lies about six miles to the south-west, where a large valley descending from a big spur of the main range opens out towards the cultivated plateaus northward. The day was exceptionally clear, and this and the cool mountain air allowed me to enjoy to the full the remarkably fine scenery for which Professor de Ldczy's description of the site had prepared me. The route led past picturesque villages and large carefully terraced fields up towards swelling loess-clad ridges, outliers of the big spur above mentioned. Whatever ground on their slopes was not taken up by fields actually under cultivation bore a profusion of luxuriant vegetation and perfect carpets of flowers, including many alpine