834 FROM KUCHA TO KASHGAR [Chap. XXIV
Caves in It is probable that the layer of detritus washed down by rain hides more small caves in the
side ravines. ravines opening to the south-east of this spur. Their half-buried entrances are difficult to distinguish from natural cavities cut out by the action of water. But only one such cave was known to my guides. It was reached by ascending a narrow ravine, only a few feet wide at the bottom, for about a quarter of a mile, and then clambering up a steep slope of detritus. Here we found a small cella measuring 6 feet by 8, and provided at the back with a circumambulatory passage 4 feet wide. The walls still retained their white plastering, but neither there nor in the niches on each side of the square central block was any painting traceable. The floor both in cella and passage had been previously dug up. Finally I may mention a cella that I visited, about a quarter of a mile below the springs on the lower slope of the western spur. Its front was completely broken away, and the interior was filled with hard stratified mud to a height of about 6 feet. But above the back wall remains of a frieze still showed traces of fresco decoration. Its mouldings receded towards the ceiling in a manner suggesting imitation of a timber-built roof.
The general impression I gained at this ` Ming-oi ' of Jigdalik was that the presence of springs in these desolate barren hills accounted for its occupation in Buddhist times as a sacred site of the ` Svayari-►bhù-tirtha' type. The physical conditions of the locality do not appear to have undergone any essential change since that period. This observation has some geographical interest as it suggests that ` desiccation ' has not greatly affected this outlying hill chain of the Tien-shan since Buddhist times.
Journey along high road to Ak-sue
Passage from Bai basin to Ak-su.
SECTION II.—PAST AK-SU AND MARAL-BASHI TO KASHGAR
The visit to the ` Ming-oi ' of Jigdalik marked the close of my archaeological field-work in the Tarim basin on this journey. The necessity for an early return to Ka.shgar, where much work awaited me, and the short time available, obliged me to keep to the high road leading past Ak-su and Marâl-bashi. It was a route not otherwise unwelcome ; for I had not hitherto had occasion to follow and survey it, except for short stretches near those two towns ; and it is certain on broad topographical grounds that since medieval times the main line of communication with Kashgar cannot have lain far away, however different may have been the route in use at an earlier period.' By following the regular trade route I was able to cover the 370 miles still separating me from Kâshgar in seventeen days. The speed with which I travelled, and the fact that this portion of the great northern high road has frequently been followed by European travellers since the days of Benedict Goes, will account for my now confining myself to a few general observations regarding it.
Communication between the basin of Bai, with its abundant resources of irrigation, and the stretch of more or less continuous cultivated ground to the east of the main oasis of Ak-su, is greatly facilitated by the ease with which the barren hill range that encircles the basin on the south is crossed between Yaka-arik and Kara-yulghun. This range, an outlier of the central Tien-shan, rises farther to the east, towards Kuchâ., by very steep and deeply eroded slopes to heights between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above the Muz-art river. Westwards it falls off, near Yaka-arik (Map No. 12. C. 1), into a low plateau covered with small broken hillocks, before it rises again and takes a turn to the north-west. Thus the watershed can easily be crossed by cart traffic between the village of Yaka-arik and the small roadside station of Jorga at a relative elevation of only about 300 feet.2
1 Regarding the more northerly and somewhat more direct line of the ancient high road traced by me in 19o8 and 1913 towards Maral-bashi, cf. Serindia, iii. pp. 1307 sq., and above, i. pp. 77 sqq. ; for its alternative continuation thence westwards, see above, i. pp. 7o sqq.
2 For the heights observed by aneroid on my route between Kucha and Kara-yulghun and determined by Dr. J. de Graaf Hunter, cf. Addendum to his Appendix B in Memoir on Maps.