river into the Taklamakan in the same SE.—NW. direction that those detached Maral-bashi hill chains uniformly present.
This fact in itself helped, in an important degree, to confirm the theory that the Khotan Mazar-
tagh in its genetic character formed part of a geologically very ancient range that started at approximately right angles from the outermost Tien-shan between Maral-bàshi and Kelpin
and once stretched diagonally across the Taklamakan .4 The observations at the Bel-tagh and
Lal-tagh that are set forth above furnished a striking demonstration of the way in which those bold island-like hills east of Maral-bashi have been carved out and isolated by the corrosive action
of wind-driven sand prolonged through ages. The vastly greater accumulations of drift-sand in the desert south-eastwards would adequately explain the breaking up of the continuity of that assumed ancient range across the Taklamakan.2 But actual survey of the ground was needed to supply definite proof.
I was under no illusions as to the serious difficulties that a march across absolutely waterless ground covered with high dunes, to a point more than 13o miles distant, would certainly present.
Its risks were sufficiently illustrated by Dr. Hedin's experiences during the bold journey that he
undertook, starting towards the end of April, 1895, from the same ground and making his way through the sandy wastes eastward. I t had ended in the destruction of his caravan and his own
narrow escape from death by thirst and exhaustion.3 In order to guard against the dangers to which this final disaster had apparently been largely due, I had taken care to choose a season cooler and hence far less trying to men and camels ; to assure the provision of an adequate supply of water and to lighten the loads of each animal as much as possible.
For the latter purpose I brought from Maral-bàshi six hired camels, all that I had been able to secure, to act as a ` supporting party ' to our own twelve fine animals on the initial stages of the
desert crossing. Nor had I overlooked the advantage of strengthening the human element in my
party. None of my men had previous experience of serious desert travel except Hassan Akhûn, the trusted camel-man of all my Turkestan travels, and he, I knew, would be too fully taken up
with looking after his animals to do my reconnoitring, &c. So I had been particularly pleased
when, in compliance with the summons I had previously dispatched, Kasim Akhan, the hunter from Islamabad on the Khotan river, arrived at Kashgar with my Keriya camels. Ever since my
expedition to Dandan-oilik in 1900 I had learned to value and trust the pluck, sense of locality, and true desert instinct that a lifetime spent in hunting trips and other lonely wanderings in the Taklamakan had bred in this wiry and ever resolute man (Fig. 86).'
The three marches that brought us from Maràl-bàshi to the edge of the great drift-sand desert do not call for a lengthy account. The first lay across the wide, level plain, covered with reeds and
scrub, that divides Maral-bashi cultivation from the left bank of the Yarkand river. Near Kara-ken we passed a well-marked depression through which flood water reaches the extensive marsh NW.
1 Cf. Hedin, Reisen in Z.-A., p. 242. This connexion appears to have been already assumed by Prejevalsky, who first saw the Khotan Mazar-tagh in 1877. (The doubt expressed, ibid., p. 387, note 3, as to the designation Mazâritigh for this hill chain is not justified.)
2 Cf. the explanation given below, p. 88.
3 Cf. Hedin, Reisen in Z.-A., pp. 241 sqq. ; Through Asia, i. pp. 531 sqq.
4 Regarding Kasim Akhûn and his father Ahmad Merghen (` the hunter ', f circ. 1907), see Ruins of Khotan, pp. 272, 275, &c. They had both shared Dr. Hedin's memorable march from the Keriya river end to Shahyar ; cf.
Through Asia, ii. pp. 788 sqq., 847.
As an instance of Kasim Akhûn's remarkable instinct of locality, a true sense of the compass, I may mention that without any knowledge of the map and without ever having previously been west of Khotan, he was able on our start from the desert hills south of the Yarkand-darya to point out to me with a very close approach to accuracy.the bearing in which he thought his familiar landmark, the Mazar-tàgh on the Khotan-darya, was to be looked for. Yet since leaving his home he had done a roundabout journey via Yarkand and Kashgar amounting to a total marching distance of well over soo miles.