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March up Khaidu-gol valley.
1224 KARA-SHAHR AND ITS RUINED SITES [Chap. XXIX
SECTION V.—THE KHÔRA SITE AND THE DEFILE OF THE IRON GATE
After the trying conditions of work undergone by us all at ` Ming-oi ' I felt glad when the completion of the tasks I had set myself allowed me on December 23 to send off my heavy convoy of antiques to Korla and to start myself with an adequate band of labourers' for the site of Khora. Inquiries begun at Kara-shahr had led to information being elicited with much trouble from reticent Mongol shepherds about Buddhist ruins situated at the north foot of the range which separates the plains west of Korla from the wide valley of the Khaidu-gol. They had so far remained unnoticed • by European travellers. The first march lay through a snowy landscape and led north past straggling narrow belts of cultivation. Their poorly tilled fields belong to semi-nomadic Mongols, and from Shikchin onwards derive irrigation from a canal following a wide depression which seems to mark an ancient branching bed of the Khaidu-gol.
From Nogai-bakche, the list hamlet, we turned to the west, and after a short march, ascending mainly over a bare stony ` Sai ', reached the ruins perched on steep little ridges at the very foot of the range (Fig. 297). Immediately below them there lies, as the site plan (Plate 54) shows, a tiny patch of cultivation. It is irrigated from some springs, found then hard frozen, which rise §ome six hundred yards to the south at the mouth of a small valley. From about two miles before reaching the site, the coarse gravel and stones of the ` Sai ' give way to a scrub-covered clayey steppe where I came upon traces of recent cultivation. This, I found out subsequently, is carried on intermittently by Mongols in years when a specially plentiful snow- or rain-fall on the mountains provides spring floods from the otherwise dry ravines descending near the ruined site. The fact that cultivation, even occasional, is possible under such conditions aptly illustrates what has been said above about the moister climate of the Kara-shahr valley.
The ruins\proved to be those of small Buddhist shrines scattered in groups over low but steep ridges which water-erosion has carved out of the rugged edge of a plateau. The photographs in Fig. 297, 299-300 will help to illustrate their position, which strongly recalled to my mind that of many a ruin of Buddhist times visited in the far-off valleys of Swat and Bnner. The group nearest to the patch of permanent cultivation above mentioned is marked I in the site plan, Plate 54, and seen on the left in Fig. 300. It comprises a number of cellas, mostly quite small, ranged to the north-west and south-east of a central structure conspicuous in Figs. 297 and 300. This consists of a solid masonry base, 9 feet square, bearing at a height of about 12 feet from the ground four niches which once must have been occupied by stucco images completely destroyed. On the top, about 23 feet from the ground, the extant masonry shows the commencement of a circular drum or dome. The base of the structure contains a small chamber, 7 by 4 feet, open to the south-east. Three fragments of Brahmi Pôthi leaves, which one of my Turki followers, sent to reconnoitre the site, had obtained from the solitary old Mongol settled here for some years and cultivating the fields, were said to have been found in this little chamber. The same was stated about the small stucco relief of a seated Buddha, Khora. 002.
A cella, I. i, io by 7 feet, occupying the crest of the ridge to the north-west of this structure, had its brick walls broken from a height of about 2 feet. Its excavation yielded only a number of turned wooden balusters and finials which may have belonged to miniature Stûpas. Similar pieces were among the débris cleared on the west slope below (Khora. 001-4). In another small cella, L ii, measuring 9 by 8â feet, which was deeply filled with débris, there was found the small wooden relief statuette of a Buddha seated in meditation, Khora. 1. ii. Doi (Plate XLVII). Of the fresco decoration of the walls only a band of small standing Bodhisattvas could be faintly made out at a height of about 3 feet from the floor, and their faces, too, seemed to have been purposely effaced.