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814 KUCHA AND SOME OF ITS ANCIENT SITES [Chap. XXIII
debris on the slope below this cave. It shows Kuchean writing divided into three sections, both on the obverse and reverse (see App. G). String holes prove that it must have been intended to form part of a packet of similar records. Taj. 11. ii, another small cave-shrine, had lost almost the whole of its vaulting and front ; it contained no passage at the back, only an arched niche. Taj. 11. v proved to be a shallow rock recess, artificially enlarged, apparently to form a modest dwelling. The completely ruined shrine, T. 11. iii, of which the walls could not be exactly determined, had apparently enclosed a small Stûpa, of which the square base, though broken, still rose to about 2 feet. In this, as well as in the badly decayed cella 11. iv, measuring 13 feet by 91, tiny flakes of leaf gold and minute fragments of painted stucco were all that remained of the internal decorations.
In view of the scanty nature of our finds, the main interest of the Tajik site lies in the evidence it supplies of the physical conditions that probably prevailed in this region during the period when Buddhist cult was maintained here, probably down to Tang times. This evidence, however, may more conveniently be considered in connexion with the results of my examination of the neighbouring and closely similar site of Toghrak-akin. Its ruins were found to be situated in a narrow winding gorge, which, as the sketch-plan in PI. 42 shows, cuts far back into the same barren hill range. The mouth of this gorge, appropriately called Toghrak-akin from a number of large wild poplars which flourish on subterranean drainage at its bottom, is a little under two miles from Tajik. Before reaching it we passed a rather brackish well in a tract where reeds and scrub were growing in abundance ; and near the entrance of the gorge we came upon a small canal carrying a tiny flow of fresh water. It marked a recent attempt to tap the subterranean drainage of the gorge by means of a Kâréz, and to cultivate the potentially fertile soil on the alluvial fan farther down. The inadequacy of the water-supply had frustrated this attempt of an enterprising Kuchâ landowner, who knew the Kâxéz cultivation of Turfân, but not the wholly different geological conditions which there permit of it. Nevertheless this little canal proved that, even now, wells sunk in the dry bed at the bottom of the Toghrak-akin gorge would suffice to meet the needs of such a monastic community as it must have held in Buddhist times, judging from the numerous ruins traced on both sides of it.
Owing partly to lack of time and partly to the state of advanced decay to which climatic conditions, destruction by man, and the extremely friable nature of the rocky slopes had reduced all remains, I was unable to explore thoroughly all the shrines and caves. But the work carried out with the help of a comparatively large number of labourers sufficed to secure clear evidence of the character and date of the site. Ascending the gorge, which for a distance of about 400 yards winds in a generally northward direction, I noted on all sides striking indications of the scouring and eroding effect which rain, rare as it may be, has had on the crumbling slopes of rock, cut up by numerous steep narrow ravines. Owing to the decomposition of the intervening layers of soft clay, the thin, almost vertically dipping strata of sandstone have become exposed, both on slopes and ridges, and this has accelerated the complete decay of any structures once built upon them.
A quantity of debris of ancient timber, reduced to a shapeless condition, was found washed down into the miniature canons striating the slopes. But of the structures to which those materials had originally belonged only the scantiest traces could be found on the crests above. Similarly, the small caves, whether used as shrines or monks' quarters, had in most cases suffered badly through the partial collapse of the crumbling rock walls, or from the mud which rain had carried into them. The extreme softness of the clay surface caused it to give way under our feet whenever an ascent had to be made to the ruins. It is indeed difficult to believe that when this sacred site was in use, and the paths to its sanctuaries and habitations much trodden, the surface could have been quite