Sec. i] THE LOWER ETSIN-GOL AND ITS TERMINAL BASIN 433
a kindly, if somewhat weak-looking person (Fig. 227), and under the influence of the strong recommendation received from the Tao-t`ai of Su-chou seemed willing enough to offer what assistance his resources would permit. That these resources were modest enough I was able to realize, when on May 25th I paid my visit to the ` Beili's ' camp at a place known as Dashoba, not far from the westernmost sub-branch of the Ümne-gol.
The way to it led for the most part through shady groves of old vigorous Toghraks and a luxuriant growth of scrub and reeds. It became clear that as the river near its termination spreads out into several shallow branches the belt affording grazing considerably expands. In this area, which may be described as extending about thirty miles from south to north and over twenty miles across at its widest, subsoil water can apparently be reached almost anywhere, at a depth of fifteen to twenty feet, by digging wells. Wide belts of sandy alluvium accompany the several branches of the river and offer reeds and grass that make suitable grazing for horses, flocks of sheep, and cattle. But a considerable portion of the area, between the two main branches and towards the terminal lakes, probably has a gravelly shôr-covered surface, with plentiful scrub, such as also occurred on our way to the ` Beili's ' encampment.
This presented a very modest appearance in spite of its semi-permanent character, the spot having been occupied as the chief's standing camp for several years past.3 Within a rough wooden stockade there stood half a dozen felt huts, resembling the Kirghiz Ak-ois', and tents, containing the Beili's household and attendants. Outside it a small monastic establishment of Mongol ` Lamas ', maintained from the chief's ` privy purse ', was accommodated in three more felt huts. While everything about his person betokened the softening influence of Chinese civilization, the books, objects of worship, &c., were those of Tibetan Buddhism, which reigns supreme in Mongolia. The herds of horses and cattle that form the chief's main wealth, as well as those of his two personal advisers and factotums, were grazing at distant camps.
As the information gathered on the occasion of my visit to the Beili's camp usefully supplements the topographical data concerning the termination of the Etsin-gol furnished by Lal Singh's subsequent survey, some observations on both may conveniently be recorded here. According to the statement of the Beili's intelligent chief adviser, who knew Chinese, the western main branch of the river, known as Mörün-gol or Ar-gol, had for many years past received the main volume of water ; the LU mne or Ikhe branch far less, and the intermediate Narin-gol but little. During the three summers preceding my visit the Ümne branch had seen no flood water at all, while the Mörüngol had carried far less water than usual from June to August and the Nârin-gol scarcely any.
In consequence of this prolonged failure of the summer flood all the grazing on the east side of the delta had seriously suffered, and the Sokho-n5r,4 the eastern and smaller terminal lake, fed from the Ümne-gol, had greatly shrunk. As a result of this shrinkage the Sokho-nör, which previously held fresh water, was said to have turned salt. This last statement was fully confirmed by Lal Singh's survey, which also furnished the explanation of the change. It shows the actual extent of the water-covered portion of the lake basin as a little under five miles from north to south, whereas M. Kaznakov's survey gives it a dimension of fully eight miles in the same direction. The wide belt of ground covered with soft shôr that Lal Singh's plane-table marks to the south of the sheet of water actually held by the basin in 1914 accounts for the difference. It is owing to this great shrinkage that a channel which on the Russian traveller's visit was conducting water from