1304 FROM MAZAR-TÄGH TO MARAL-BASHI [Chap. XXXII
bands of Hun raiders could still make their way through them from the Hami side towards the great Chinese route west of Tun-huang, and when the Chinese opened their ` new Northern route' across those barren hills to Turfan and Guchen.5 It was instructive to find that Kirghiz raids of a corresponding character, made from the high Tien-shan valleys upon the caravan road in the plains connecting Ak-su with Kashgar, are still within living recollection both at t Kelpin and Maral-bashi. I have little doubt that they could yet be revived in practice if the hold of the Chinese administration or of the power northward were relaxed.
The route which was followed from Shait-kak clown to Kelpin lay all the way through deep-cut picturesque gorges. Their precipitous walls of sandstone and gneiss, rising in places to heights of well over a thousand feet, bore striking evidence to the erosive force of the floods which had cut through them in past ages. Yet only in the Karum-boguz gorge (Map No. 14. D. 3) was a tiny stream met with, and this, too, disappeared soon in rubble beds after watering some twenty acres of wheat-fields at the little ` Terelgha' of Terek-abad cultivated from the Kelpin oasis. Below this point the river-bed, completely dry at the time, cuts through the wall-like hill range overlooking the broad open valley of Kelpin from the north. Then by an imposing rock-gate it debouches on to a huge gravel glacis stretching down towards the oasis. Instead of taking the more direct track to the latter,'which strikes off at Terek-abad by a side valley to the south-west, I followed the steadily widening dry flood-bed down to Sairam-mazar (Map No. 14. E. 3), where its subsoil drainage gives rise to a lively spring. A Ziârat sacred to Sultan Owraz-atâ in a fine shady arbour marks this modest ` Su-bashi '. Whatever drainage is else carried down to this huge alluvial fan does not come to light until some 15 miles lower at Bulak-bashi. There the flood-bed just described meets the dry river-bed coming from Kelpin, and from the marshy springs rising near their junction there forms a stream which carries its water to Achal and as far as the station of Chilan on the present Ak-su—Kashgar high road.
The oasis of Kelpin (Map No. 14. D. 4), which I reached on May 15, proved to be a very pleasant and instructive place, notwithstanding the poor reputation enjoyed by its people, whom current belief at Ak-su and elsewhere has long represented as thieves and robbers. Perhaps in the old days, when Kelpin may have served as a convenient base for Kirghiz raids upon the traffic of the high road south or for the disposal of spoils, the reputation was not altogether undeserved. Now the oasis presented a picture of intensive cultivation and relatively high rural comfort such as I had seen nowhere surpassed within the Tarim Basin. Far off from all main routes and thrown upon their own resources through the distances which separate Kelpin from the nearest markets, its people seemed to have escaped most of the changes brought about by Chinese and other foreign influences.° Isolation forced them at the same time to make the best possible use of traditional methods: The utter barrenness of the bill ranges and bare gravel ` Sais ' which surround the long but narrow strips of cultivation on all sides made the result still more striking.
Of fertile loess soil adjoining the old village lands there was plenty to be seen to the west, south, and north. But the water available for irrigation is so limited that the new fields opened to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing population can be tilled only in turns of three or four years. From reliable local information it was clear that since the establishment of settled conditions, which followed the Chinese reconquest, the population of the twelve oimaks or hamlets into which Kelpin is traditionally divided had steadily increased, the total at the time being estimated at about two thousand homesteads. Yet according to the uniform statement of Kasim Beg, the intelligent local