Sec. i] FROM AN-HSI TO HAMI ; HSÜAN-TSANG'S DESERT CROSSING 1143
from a place on the Su-lo Ho which must have been in the vicinity of the present An-hsi and probably not far from the point where the high road of our times passes the river. Considering that this road, except for a small detour between Ta-ch`üan and Sha-ch`üan-tzit due to necessities of water-supply, leads in what practically is a straight line from An-hsi, or Kua-chou, to the Hâmi oasis, it seems safe to assume that the ancient route which the pilgrim intended to follow—the story, as recorded in the Life, clearly shows that after the first four marches he strayed from it—could not have lain far away from the present route line.
But before we attempt to follow the traces of the pious traveller on his adventurous journey, which threatened nearly to end with his dying of thirst in the desert, it will be well to indicate briefly certain main topographical facts concerning the ground traversed by the present high road. As the Maps Nos. 8(3,81 show, the first five marches from An-hsi lead across a succession of harrow hill ranges, all striking approximately east to west and rising but little above the wide plateau-like valleys between them. The halting-places offering water are all situated close to the foot of these ranges. The subsoil drainage comes to light in springs at the first three stages (Pei-tan-tzû, Hungliu-yiian, Ta-ch`tian) and is easily reachéd by wells not more than 6-8 feet deep at Ma-lien-ching-tzû and Hsing-hsing-hsia. The water is fresh at all these stages, and some scanty grazing obtainable. It is probably not without reason that the boundary between the provinces of Kan-su and Hsin-chiang is fixed now close to Hsing-hsing-hsia ;5 for beyond the character of the ground changes, distinctly for the worse. Much bare rocky ledge and detritus is passed on the next two marches to Sha-ch`iiantzû and K`u-shui, there being a steady descent of some two thousand feet from the average level of the preceding stages. Vegetation becomes increasingly scanty and the water decidedly brackish, as the name of Ku-sizui, ` Bitter Water ', rightly indicates.
But it is the next march, that to Yen-tun (Map No. 76. A. 4), which is most dreaded of all by Chinese wayfarers. For a distance of some 35 miles it leads down over absolutely bare gravel slopes into a depression lying at its bottom some 1,500 feet below the level of Ku-shui. Totally devoid of water or shelter of any sort, this long march is attended with risks on account of the great summer heat here experienced and the icy north-east gales to which it is exposed in the winter and spring. This great depression or trough of Yen-tun extends far away to the east, as our surveys of 1914 proved, and serves apparently as a main conductor for the bitterly cold winds which sweep from Southern Mongolia across the eastern Kuruk-tâgh and down to the Lop basin. Carcases of transport animals marked the route all the way from K`u-shui ; nor are losses in human lives unknown here. From Yen-tun another march, over similar gravel wastes but much shorter, brings the traveller to the springs of Chang-liu-shui (Map No. 73. D. 2) at the southern edge of a wide belt of loess ground which receives subsoil water from the snows of the Karlik-tâgh and is covered with abundant scrub and reed-beds. At Chang-liu-shui the first tiny patch of Hâmi cultivation is met, and after two more easy marches the town of Hami, or Kumul, is reached in the central oasis.
With these topographical features of the route from An-hsi to l-Iâmi the essential points in the story of Hsüan-tsang's desert journey, as related in the Life, can be shown to be in close agreement. This agreement is all the more remarkable because we are unable to control here the statements of the Life by the text of the Hsi-yii-chi,.since Hsüan-tsang's own account of his travels does not begin until after his departure from Kao-chiang or Turfân. An obvious lacuna in the story of the Life, which we shall have occasion to notice presently, can cause no surprise, considering what we know