Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/125

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113
THE DESERT OF GOBI AND THE HIMALAYAS.

ing far away in the distance there was a great, rolling, grassy plain, on which the flocks and herds and the yurtas, or felt tents, of the Mongols were scattered about. These people offered a striking contrast to the Chinese inhabiting the districts I had just left. They were strong and robust, with round, ruddy faces, very simple-minded, and full of hearty good humor. They are entirely pastoral and nomadic in their habits, and do not take to agricultural pursuits. The old warlike spirit which made them so powerful in the days of Genghis Khan has now disappeared completely. The Chinese Government has purposely encouraged the men to become Lamas, and now it is said that as many as sixty per cent of the whole male population are Lamas, who, by their religion, are neither allowed to marry nor to fight. In consequence, there is a great decrease in the fighting strength of the Mongols, as well as in the whole population. A recent famine carried away numbers more, and the country, it seems, would almost become depopulated were it not that Chinese immigrants are now invading it, and these are even outdoing the Mongols in their own callings, for I met Chinese in Mongolia who owned flocks of sheep which they were fattening for the Peking market."

In order to avoid the heat of the day, and to let the camels feed by daylight, when they could be watched and kept from straying, the usual plan of the journey was to start at about three o'clock in the afternoon, and travel on till midnight or later. The nights were often extremely beautiful, and the stars shone out with an unwonted magnificence. "Venus was a resplendent object, and guided us over many a mile of that desert. The Milky Way, too, was so bright that it looked like a brightphosphorescent cloud, or as a cloud with the moon behind it. This clearness of the atmosphere was probably due to its being so remarkably dry. Everything became parched up and so charged with electricity that in opening out a sheep-skin coat or a blanket a loud crackling noise would be given out, accompanied by a sheet of fire. The temperature used to vary considerably. Frosts continued to the end of May, but the days were often very hot, and were frequently hottest at nine or ten in the morning, for later on a strong wind would usually spring up, blowing sometimes with extreme violence, up till sunset, when it generally subsided again. If this wind was from the north, the weather was fine but cold. If it was from the south, it would be warmer, but clouds would collect, and rain would sometimes fall ; generally, however, the rain would pass off into steam before reaching the ground. Ahead of us we could see the rain falling heavily, but before it reached the ground it would gradually disappear — vanish away — and when we reached the spot over which the rain had been falling there would not be a sign of moisture on the ground." Instead of the rain, the sand