REMAINS OF AN ANCIENT DELTA SECTION I.—THE RUINED FORT OF L.K.
Departure ON the morning of February ist I was at last able to start my large column on its way north-
from Miran. eastward. To my great relief freedom and time to execute my plans now seemed assured. The easy-going indolent Lopliks of Miran were also, no doubt, relieved at our departure. But their broad honest faces reflected only kindness when they wished us farewell with the customary shouts of Yol bolsun (` May there be a way ').
All baggage that could possibly be spared was left behind in charge of two of my men, and with it also Li Ssû-yeh, whose weakly constitution made it impossible for him to face the hardships of desert exploration. While at Miran, I had offered him his discharge with a liberal allowance for his return journey to the flesh-pots of Kashgar ; but he would not accept it, auri sacra fames being, I fear, the prevailing motive. The task of conveying him safely along the desert track to Tun-huang still remained, and subsequently fell to the faithful Ibrahim Beg, much to his chagrin. When sent back for this purpose from the Lou-lan Site, he gravely asked for instructions as to what he should do with Li Ssû-yeh's body if he died, as seemed to him likely, on that troublesome journey.
Tokhta My immediate goal was a large ruined fort which Tokhta Akhûn, my old Loplik follower,
rlkhnn's had first sighted from a distance in the spring of 191o, when he returned to Abdal from the Lou-lan
sance. Site after guiding Mr. Tachibana, the young Japanese explorer, to that place. Pressed for time
as the party were owing to want of water, they had not stopped to examine the remains. So as soon as I heard of it on my arrival at Miran, I sent out Tokhta Akhûn to ascertain the exact position of the ruin and to bring me back information about its character. Tokhta Akhûn returned from his search having with the unfailing local sense of the hunter succeeded in finding the ruin notwithstanding the very deceptive character of the wind-eroded desert around it. His description of the site, supported by miscellaneous small objects, including two Han coins, that he had picked up near the ruin, left no doubt about its antiquity, and the rough sketch with which he accompanied his report showed clearly that it could best be explored from the route I had followed on my first visit to the Lou-lan Site. So by that route our fresh start was now made.
March along Our first march, by the track already twice followed in 1906-7, brought us to Abdal on the
dying Tarim (Map No. 3o. B. I). The change, as already briefly mentioned,' which had since come over
the quondam ` capital of Lop-nor ' was indicated by a row of brick-built houses all now completely deserted but one, where Tokhta Akhûn, the hunter, once again acting as my guide, offered comfortable shelter. Next morning we crossed the terminal bed of the Tarim, measuring 48 yards across and frozen hard at the time. As we followed the well-marked track, leading at first along the left bank in the direction of Kum-chapgan, we came upon a reach where the river, still confined to a single bed, was clear of ice. It was here 45 yards wide and flowed with a current of 5o yards in 14o seconds. Its depth, as at Abdal, was stated to be very great. And yet the river was said to have completely dried up during the preceding summer, with the exception of deep pools such as the bed appears to contain at this and other points. Such an event was not remembered to have happened
1 Cf. above, p. 17o.