Sec. iv] FROM SARIKOL TO KASHGAR 45
` Two hundred li, or so, to the west of the city [of Wu-sha],' thus the Hsi yü-chi tells us 1.5, ` there is a great mountain. This mountain is covered with brooding vapours which hang like clouds above the rocks. The crags rise one above another, and seem as if about to fall where they are suspended. On the mountain top there rises a Stûpa of a wonderful and mysterious construction. This is the old story : many centuries ago this mountain suddenly opened ; in the middle was seen a Bhikshu, with closed eyes, sitting ; his body was of gigantic stature, and his form dried up ; his hair descended low on his shoulders and enshrouded his face.'
Hsüan-tsang goes on to relate how a hunter once caught sight of the Arhat and told the king, who came in person to see him and pay him worship. A monk of his following explained that it was an Arhat absorbed in that complete ecstasy which produces extinction of the mind, and indicated the means by which he might be safely roused from his trance. When these had been applied, the Saint, ' looking down on them from on high for a long time,' inquired about Ka yapa, his master, and about Sa.kyamuni Tathagata. On hearing that they had both long ago attained their Nirvana, he remained for a long time with his head bowed. Then he rose in the air and miraculously created a fire which consumed his body. His burned bones, which fell to the ground, were collected by the king, who raised a Stûpa over them.
No one who has passed some time within sight of the great Murtagh-Ata Peak, and has witnessed the superstitious awe with which its majestic ice-dome is regarded by the Kirghiz in all the valleys around, could fail to be reminded by Hsüan-tsang's story of the legends which cluster around that ` Father of ice-mountains'. According to the simplest form of the legend, which I myself heard from the Kirghiz with whom I came into contact during my brief surveying excursions around Murtagh-Ata, a hoary ` Pir' resides on the glacier-crowned and wholly inaccessible summit. Long, long ago, the eyes of adventurous hunters beheld him. Other Kirghiz legends, which Dr. Hedin heard during his prolonged stay in the same region, in 1894-5, represent the sacred mountain as ` one gigantic Mazar or burial-mound of saints ', in which dwell among others the souls of Moses and Ali, &c.16. Stories of mysterious help rendered by these sacred dwellers of Murtagh-Ata are interwoven with what popular tradition remembers of the struggle between the Khwajas of Kashgar and the Chinese which found its tragic conclusion on the Pamirs (1759 A. D.). On the top of Murtagh-Ata Kirghiz belief places an ancient city, whose inhabitants live on for ever in enjoyment of unblemished happiness, &c.
The great height of Murtagh-Ata (24,321 feet according to the latest triangulation), and the dominating position it occupies, make its glittering dome visible far away in the plains about Yarkand and along the road towards Yangi-Hisâr 17, whenever the dust-haze peculiar to the air of the plains clears away sufficiently. It is true that such occasions are rare, but this, perhaps, renders the vista of the distant icy peak all the more impressive to the imagination. Its direction as seen from Yarkand is almost due west—the same direction which Hsüan-tsang indicates for the great peak with its mysterious Stûpa in relation to the chief town of Wu-sha. The distance recorded by him, ` 200 li or so ', is, indeed, beyond all proportion too small, seeing that in a direct line no less than 118 miles separate Murtagh-Ata from Yarkand, or 65 miles from Yangi-Hisar. But it must be remembered that neither Hsüan-tsang's narrative nor his ` Life ' indicates a personal visit to the chief town of Wu-sha or an actual sight of the Stûpa mountain. If the pilgrim heard the legend en route, while moving through the mountains relatively near to Murtagh-Ata, so serious an underestimate of the distance would be less surprising.
15 Compare Si yu-kz; trans]. Beal, ii. p. 305 ; Mémoires, 16 See Hedin, Through Asia, pp. 218 sqq.
ii. pp. 217 sqq. 17 Compare Yarkand Mission Report, p. 286.