(Map No. 35. B, C. 4), and which on a still vaster scale extend along the Besh-toghrak valley, that eastern arm of the ancient Lop sea (Map Nos. 32. D. 4 ; 35. A, B. 4).
I have already indicated above the striking similarity between the route passing up the Etsingol from the heart of Mongolia and that ancient Chinese highway which once led through the Lop desert past Lou-lan and the Kuruk-darya into the Tarim basin. Once the traveller had left the terminal river-courses facilitating the use of both routes, the ground to be crossed by him was, indeed, very different in essential physical features. On the ancient Lou-lan route the terrible waterless waste of the salt-encrusted Lop sea-bed lay beyond, and with that the difficulties presented by the route which leads north of the Gashun-nôr across the gravel plateaus and southernmost hill ranges of the Altai, barren as these are, can bear no comparison. But apart from this difference in the conditions prevailing farther on, everything that met my eyes in this Etsin-gol delta after a succession of low-water seasons seemed as if meant to bring before me the appearance that the delta of the dying Kuruk-daryâ. around ancient Lou-lan may have presented to those who made their way through it before its final abandonment.
There were the river branches still ' in being ', left dry for almost all the year but yet carrying enough water below the surface to maintain fine groves of Toghraks and luxuriant scrub along their banks. But where beds had received no water for a series of years, as had happened with the Ovang-gol (Map No. 44. c. 4), tamarisks were growing only on cones, and many of the wild poplars were dying. Wide stretches of ground separating the several beds retained only thin scrub, no longer fit for grazing by sheep or herds of cattle. Much of the ground near the terminal lakes was still covered with reeds ; but sad complaints were heard in the scattered camps of the reduction of the pasture here owing to the inadequate floods of the last few years, and of the danger of the same fate overtaking the grazing in the riverine jungle belts.
It seemed as if ' desiccation ' were casting its shadow ahead upon this ground, and as if the Mongols occupying it were beginning to be conscious of it. Yet the present population of about two hundred Torgut families who permanently use the grazing grounds on the Etsin-gol is thin enough, considering the total extent of the area. The restriction of the available grazing ; the civilizing influence exercised by Chinese traffic passing along the route to carry food-stuffs to the. Mongol tribes northward ; the necessity of resorting to wells and in the matter of worship to permanent timber-built shrines,—all these influences had manifestly affected their ways of life. We were therefore in presence of conditions here such as probably prevailed among the indigenous population of Lou-lan, originally all hunters and herdsmen, during the centuries which elapsed between the first opening of the trade route through that region and its final abandonment. It seemed an impressive illustration of the fact that similar geographical conditions may bring about similar changes in physical and human surroundings in periods of history widely separated.