98o IN THE DESERT DELTA OF SISTAN
in tracking through waterless wastes after sixteen centuries of abandonment. The history of this ` Sistân Trade Route ' supplies a very apt modern parallel in other respects also to that ancient desert route. Like the latter it had been planned for the expansion of trade, but events in due course were now bringing about its use for political purposes and military operations.
Comparison It is true that wells of tolerably fresh water at most of the stages, comfortable Government
with Lop rest-houses at all, and good camel grazing at half a dozen of the stages, made the journey along
Desert route. this modern desert track, by fifteen forced marches on riding camels, seem child's play compared
with the hardships faced in tracing the ancient Chinese highway from Lou-lan eastwards. In ancient times, moreover, the physical difficulties successfully overcome by the early Chinese pioneers must have been vastly greater than any that this route from Nushki to Sistân ever presented in the days before its improvement. But in the utterly barren foot-hills that we skirted, in the long stretches of gravel ` Sai ' or dune-covered ground that we crossed, in the desolate small posts (Fig. .505) that we encountered—in all these there was much to suggest the scenes that must have met the eyes of those ancient wayfarers while making their weary progress through the Lop Desert past the foot of the ` Dry Mountains '. Even the great ` Salt Marsh ' was recalled by glimpses of the salt-fringed sheet of the Gaud-i-Zirrah as I saw it glittering far away in the distance. At the same time the sight of the many hundreds of dead camels which the convoys of military stores, &c., moving from the Nushki railhead to Sistân for months past, had left behind on their trail, poignantly brought home to me once more the vast amount of suffering which that far more difficult route from Tun-huang to Lou-lan must have witnessed during the centuries of its use by the caravans and military expeditions of Han times. It is a comfort to know that the construction about the year 1918 of the railway from Nushki to Duzdâb to meet military requirements put an
end to these heavy sacrifices.
On February 2 ISt I reached Nushki, whence the railway carried me first to Quetta and subsequently to Sibi, the cold weather head-quarters of Sir John Ramsay, then Governor-General's Agent and Chief Commissioner, Balûchistân. At Quetta I had an opportunity of examining at the local museum the very interesting and well-arranged collection of antiquities from Sistân which had been brought back by Sir Henry McMahon's Mission and which would well deserve separate description. At Sibi I had a welcome opportunity of personally expressing to Sir John Ramsay, an old friend, my gratitude for the very helpful arrangements by which my journey from Sistân had been expedited, and also of reporting to him what I had observed of the heavy strain involved by the conditions of camel transport then prevailing on that desert route.
During the week's stay at Delhi that followed I received fresh proof of the kind personal interest with which His Excellency the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, had from the start followed and encouraged my enterprise, an interest which I shall always remember with sincere gratitude. There, too, at India's new capital I was able to meet again two of my oldest friends in India, Sir Edward Maclagan, then Secretary to the Government of India in the Education Department, and Mr. (now Sir) Malcolm Hailey, then Chief Commissioner of Delhi ; both had at all times been ready to accord all the official support they could give to my Central-Asian explorations. A subsequent brief stay at Dehra Dun, the head-quarters of the Trigonometrical (now Geodetic) Branch of the Survey of India, enabled me to secure the willing help of Colonel Sir Sidney Burrard, then Surveyor-General of India, and of Colonel (now Sir) Gerald Lenox-Conyngham towards the suitable publication of the topographical results brought back from all my three expeditions, in the form of the atlas of maps which accompanies the present publication. At the same time I obtained the admission of Afr5.z-gul Khan to the service of the Survey Department under conditions opening up to this capable young assistant prospects of a good career, of which he has since proved himself fully worthy.
Visits to Delhi, Dehra Dun, Lahore.