Local worship of rocky heights.
Termination of Kâshgar River.
Reconnais- sance to north-east of Maral- bashi.
1310 FROM MAZAR-TAGH TO MARAL-BASHI [Chap. XXXII
Taklamakân.2 The strikingly bold appearance presented by a number of these rocky heights must have made them objects of local worship from the earliest times. The highest among them is the conspicuous massif which rises to the east of Maral-bashi town to an elevation of over 7,000 feet (Map No. 15. c. 1), and this peak appropriately enough is respected as the Mazâr-tâgh gar' €' oviv. A shrine at its north foot, above the oasis of Char-bâgh, is a much-frequented place of pilgrimage. But others, too, of these hills are reverenced as the alleged resting-places of Muhammadan saints, and, if of lesser height, deserve their distinction as ` Tirthas ' by the impressive ruggedness of their cliffs as seen in the case of the Ökur-mazâr-tagh (Fig. 344).
Between the southern ends of these hill chains there extend wide stretches of low ground, much of it still partly permanent marsh, partly liable to annual inundation by the summer floods of both the Yarkand and the Kashgar Rivers. It is in this area, the complicated hydro-graphic details of which could be elucidated only by a minute survey, that the Kashgar River may be said to find at present its virtual termination. That this in earlier historical times lay further east appears very probable, both in view of what has been shown above about the irrigation once brought into the desert round Chong-tim and of what in November, 1913, I was able to ascertain as to exceptional floods on occasion reaching old beds traceable far away towards the extreme southwestern edge of Ak-su cultivation.
Like every deltaic area, this ground between Tumshuk and Maral-bashi must be subject to considerable surface changes, and this is illustrated by two facts which present some antiquarian interest and hence may find brief record here. I ascertained that until the time of the Chinese reconquest in 1877 the whole area between the Mazar-tagh and Ökur-mazâr-tagh, which now affords room for the flourishing and relatively large oasis of Char-bagh (Map No. 15. c. I), was uncultivable owing to annual inundations from the Kashgar River and extensive marshes. In consequence the high road from Tumshuk did not pass by the line it now follows past the southern end of the Ökur-mazâr-tâgh and through Char-bagh, but struck from the gap between the Tumshuk hills across drift-sand desert westwards to the hill chain of Bal-tagh. This it crossed through a similar gap, and thence, skirting the northern edge of the marshes near the now abandoned hamlet of ` Old Char-bagh', passed from the north-east to Marâl-bashi on the terminal Kashgar River course.
The evidence here afforded of a considerable change in quite recent times, affecting both the cultivated area of this tract and the line of an important high road, had its obvious bearing on the question of the ancient Chinese route to Kashgar which my observations south of Kelpin had first raised. So, when on arrival at Maral-bashi I learned of the existence of some ruins where the old route passes through the Bél-tagh hills and of a ruined site beyond at the foot of Lal-tagh, I decided to spare a day for a reconnaissance in that direction. It proved a long and hot day's ride, close on
2 Regarding the morphological connexion between the Mazar-tagh hill chain on the Khotan River and this range, see above, p. 1285 ; Geogr. journal, xlviii. pp. 113 sq.
The growth of Maral-bâshi into an agricultural settlement of consequence seems to be of relatively recent date. The place was formerly known as Barchuk (see Yule-Cordier, Cathay, iv. p. 228) ; but I cannot trace any mention of it in early Chinese records. (The position of Wo-she--te, identified by M.Chavannes, Tures occid., p. 152, note, with Marâl-bâshi, cannot be fixed.)
The irrigation of Maral-bâshi is principally derived from a big artificial lake known as Chong-köl and constructed by the Chinese after 1877.. Its position is roughly marked on Map No. 15. B. 2. It is filled each year by flood-water obtained from the Yarkand River and to some extent also
from the Kashgar-darya. The bed of the latter lies so low that its water during a large part of the year can be utilized only for the irrigation of the lands reclaimed from the old marshes about Char-bagh. Hence whatever new land north of the river has been brought under cultivation during the ten to fifteen years preceding my visit depends on three conduits, or nôr, roughly constructed in wood, which carry the available canal water across the deep-cut river-bed.
There are three of these conduits, called Ukat-nôr, Karaköl-nôr, and Tpa-nôr, and the new colonies opened by means of them bear the same names. The last of them had been established by Fan Ta-jên when in charge of the Yarkand district, then including Mai al-bâshi, and it was pleasant here, too, to find my old friend gratefully remembered by the settlers.