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0294 Innermost Asia : vol.2
Innermost Asia : vol.2 / Page 294 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000187
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Strategic importance of Kucha.

Hsüan- tsang's monasteries of Chao- hu-li.

Position of ancient capital.

Remains of old circumvallation.


skirting the foot of the Tien-shan and linking China with the Oxus region and Western Asia in general. The importance of the main oasis in this respect, apart from its local resources, is sufficiently indicated by the fact that it lies about half-way between Kashgar in the west and Turfan in the east ; or, if we consider the times when the ancient Chinese ` route of the centre ' was in use, between Kashgar and Lou-lan.

The strategic importance resulting from these considerations dictated the choice of Kucha as the military and political centre of the ` Four Garrisons ' during Tang rule over the Tarim basin.6 Similarly, in Han times, the Protector General of the Western countries was stationed at Wu-lei, corresponding in all probability to Bugur, an outlier of the Kucha oasis.' During this period, when the region north of the Tien-shan was still independent of Chinese control, there was an additional advantage in placing the administrative centre near Kucha : it was easy to watch from this point the several routes leading down from the north, by which barbarian inroads might threaten the main line of communication of Chinese trade and military operations. Finally it should be remembered that the riverine belts of the Tarim and Khotan-darya provide the shortest practicable line of access from the great northern high road to Khotan and the other oases south of the Taklamakan, as well as to those of Yarkand and Lop in the south-west and south-east.

Although the Chinese notices bearing upon Kucha during the thousand years of its history before the advent of Islam are comparatively numerous, they do not furnish us with any direct indication as to the position of the capital of the territory. A clue, perhaps, is afforded by the two

Buddhist monasteries, both known by the name Chao-hu-li   i j    , which Hsüan-tsang
specially singles out for mention and describes as situated on the flanks of ` two neighbouring hills separated by a river ', one to the east and one to the west.8 If we are right in identifying them with the two conspicuous sites of ruined Buddhist shrines facing each other on the hill spurs of Su-bashi, between which the Kucha river debouches on to its alluvial fan, we may look for the position of the Kucha city of the pilgrim's time in the vicinity of the present town. This lies, as Map No. 17. B. I shows, about eight miles to the south-south-west of the southernmost of the temple ruins of Su-bashi. This position agrees closely enough with the distance and bearing recorded by Hsüan-tsang, who placed the Chao-hu-li monasteries, with their famous Buddha statues, forty li to the north of the city.

The present town, situated close to the western river bank and surrounded for the most part by weak walls of stamped clay, manifestly of modern construction, shows no old remains above ground as far as I could ascertain. But on the opposite side of the river, where lively suburban Bazars, stretching along the main roads towards the town, mingle with orchards, fields, and clusters of cultivators' farms, I was able to trace the ruins of a larger and certainly much older circumvallation. Their position, almost due south of the Sû-bashi shrines and somewhat nearer to them than that of the present town, suggests that they may well mark the site of the walls that enclosed the Kuchâ, city of Tang times. As I know of no published account of them, I append a brief record of the rapid survey that I made during my first halt.

Our camp was pitched in Qazi Muhammad `Ali's garden, near the eastern bank of the river,

and about a mile above the high road where it enters the town. Proceeding thence eastward for half a mile, I came upon the first extant section of the old circumvallation, of which Mahsûd, my

intelligent old ` Darôgha' and guide of 1908, had told me. It consisted of a rampart solidly built of stamped clay, some 6o feet wide at the base and in its ruined condition still rising to a height of about 18 feet. It maintained approximately these dimensions about 300 yards. Farther on

6 See Chavannes, Turcs occid., pp. 113, n. z, and 118 sq.   8 Cf. Julien, Mémoires, i. pp. 5 sq. ; Watters, Yuan

7 See above, ii. pp. 795 sq.   Chwang, i. p. 62 ; S. Lévi, J. As., 1913, Sept.-Oct., pp. 356 sq.