476 RETURN TO THE MIRAN SITE [Chap. XII
But the examination of any modern map of Tibet reveals an even more cogent geographical fact which obliged the Tibetans to keep a firm hold upon Miran as long as their political and military ambition was turned towards Eastern Turkestan." It is at this small oasis that the two most direct and practicable routes debouch which lead from Central Tibet and Lhassa into the Trim Basin. One of them, coming straight from Lhassa and still regularly followed by traders as well as pious northern pilgrims to the Tibetan capital, crosses the Chimen-tagh and descends the valley of the Jahan-sai River. No other route across the high plateaus and ranges of the K'un-lun could have offered similar advantages for Tibetan inroads directed against the chief oases of the Tarim Basin and the main Chinese line of communication which skirted the Tien-shan.18 The second of the two Tibet routes just referred to passes westernmost Tsaidam with its abundant grazing grounds, joins the hill road from Tun-huang at Bash-kurghan, and thence descends to Achchik-bulak and Miran (see Map No. 61). Thus a Tibetan garrison placed in the fort of Mirân conveniently guarded both these routes, as well as those coming from Kan-su."
But from the geographical facts just examined it is clear that a point d'appui established at the site of Miran would retain its special strategic value only so long as the Miran cross-roads had to be made secure for Tibetan forces having their base far away in the south. As soon as the Tibetan power had disappeared from the north of those great inhospitable mountain wastes which separate the Tarim Basin from the inhabited parts of Tibet, Miran must rapidly have sunk into insignificance. For whatever traffic continued to pass along the ancient ` southern route ' from Khotan and the other oases to Tun-huang and China during Uigur, early Muhammadan, and Mongol times, Charkhlik offered a more convenient and better supplied resting-place. Thus we can easily understand why there is no mention of Mirân in Marco Polo's account, whose ` town of Lop', as we have seen, must be located at Charkhlik. The crumbling walls of the ruined fort looked down upon the Venetian's caravan as it passed on its way into the ` Desert of Lop', but, no doubt, they were then as silent and deserted as they are now.
SECTION VII.—DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ANTIQUES FROM MÏRAN FORT
MISCELLANEOUS OBJECTS FOUND WITHIN OR
NEAR I\11RAN FOIZ'l'
M. ool. Specimen of grain, millet (?).
M. 007. Fr. of bronze plate with hole in corner ; perhaps from scale armour. Picked up by Jasvant Singh, 3o. i. 07. IFxI °xj .
14 See e.g. the map of Tibet and the surrounding regions published by the R. Geographical Society, 1906 (second ed.).
18 The other possible routes which lead from the Tibetan plateaus across the main K'un-lun range westwards, debouching by the valleys of the Charchan, Kara-muran, and Karasai Rivers, are longer and far more difficult. The one which descends the Polur gorge and offers the nearest approach to Khotan may, according to my experience in 19o8, be considered as impracticable both for trade and troops.
19 This military importance of Mirân with regard to the routes descending from the Tibetan plateaus was strikingly brought home to me by a ruin of quite recent date. When I first visited the site on December 8, 1906, from my camp
M. 008. Bronze disc, slightly concave, with remains of stud at centre of back ; a button. Picked up by Jasvant Singh, 3o. i. 07. Diam. 1", thickness c. A".
on the river bank, the caravan track which I followed eastwards led me, after about a mile, past a large roughly built structure of timber and reed walls, enclosed by a rude palisade and situated on a scrub-covered sandy steppe. It had been built about ten years before to serve as a shelter for a detachment of Chinese troops posted here to intercept a body of Tungan rebels who had fled from Hsi-ning to Tsaidam, and after suffering great privations and losses in the mountains were expected to debouch towards Lop-nor. I subsequently in 1907 met the quondam commandant of this modern substitute for the Mirân fort at Nami, and heard a graphic account of the hardships that he and his men had undergone during their long summer's detention here.
Route leading to Lhassa.
Reason for abandonment.