| || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || |
1238 TO KUCHA AND THE KERIYA RIVER END [Chap. XXX
while I was near Korla, I had learned from a letter of Rai Ram Singh, written after he had reached Khotan via Charkhlik, that the search set on foot under my instructions of the preceding spring and carried out by some of my old ` treasure-seeking ' guides on the Khotan side had resulted in the tracing of several unexplored sites in the desert below Keriya and. Khotan. A letter from my old friend and factotum Badruddin Khan, the Aksakal of Indian and Afghan traders at Khotan, which a trader just arrived delivered to me at Kucha, confirmed this information. The details it gave of the great number of ` old houses ', i.e. ruined structures, traced at several of these sites, and about the position of the latter, furnished ground for believing that I should need all the time that could possibly be secured in order to explore them before the heat and the sand-storms of the spring would make work on that ground impracticable.
This consideration compelled a move south as early as possible, and as Kara-dong near the terminal course of the Keriya River was reported as a site where more ruins had come to light since my visit of 1901, I decided to strike due south from Kucha to where the Keriya River dies away in the sand, and thus to save time by a ` short cut '. I knew well that this desert crossing was beset with serious difficulties and risks also. But Dr. Hedin's pioneer journey of 1896 showed that it was practicable, if prepared and carried through with due care and precautions. The saving in time which this plan promised to effect was a great attraction—and so, too, to me personally, I confess, the chance of once more crossing the very heart of the desert. For the safe transport to Khotan of my heavy convoy of antiques, making up twenty-four camel-loads, there offered itself conveniently the well-known trade route leading up the dry bed of the Khotan River, and on this it was accordingly started under the care of Chiang Ssû-yeh.
The considerations here briefly indicated will explain why during my week's stay at Kucha I could make no attempt to supplement in any way the protracted labours which had been devoted to the plentiful ancient remains of this great and important oasis during the preceding five years by Japanese, Russian, German, and French archaeological expeditions. I managed, however, to visit practically all the chief ruined sites within a day's ride from Kucha. town, the interesting cave-temples near Kum-tura, Kizil-kaghe, and Kirish, and the large temple ruins of Duldur-akhur and Su-bashi (Map No. 34. B—D. 1, 2 ; Fig. 292). To notice at the last two sites the systematic thoroughness and care with which their final clearing had been effected by the French Mission under Professor P. Pelliot was a source of special satisfaction. Useful information was collected also from local Afghan traders as to the necessarily rather different operations by which so many important acquisitions of ancient manuscripts from Kucha, including the famous ` Bower Manuscript', now mainly in the British collection formed under Dr. Hoernie s care, had been secured since 1890.
Kucha has at all periods been one of the most important territories in the Tarim Basin, in many ways a worthy pendant of Khotan owing to its geographical position and the rôle it has played in
Buddhist art and civilization. It is hence particularly fortunate that Professor Sylvain Lévi, in the
same masterly paper in which he has proved the identity of the remarkable Indo-European language previously designated as ` Tokhari B ' with the tongue once spoken at Kucha, has also furnished us
with a lucid and exhaustive analysis of all historical data about Kucha found in the Chinese Annals
and other sources.1 This makes it easier for me to leave whatever observations I might have to offer on the historical topography of Kucha, and on the part which geographical conditions have
played in determining the importance of this great and flourishing oasis in ancient times, for the report on my third journey. Then I was able to devote a number of weeks to a close survey both of the actually cultivated area and of that which, as is proved by the evidence of numerous ancient sites found scattered in the scrubby desert to the east, south, and west, must once have formed part
' Cf. S. Lévi, Le ' Tokharien I3', langue de Koulclra, J Asia., 1913, sept.—oct., pp. 323-80.