Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/127

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115
THE DESERT OF GOBI AND THE HIMALAYAS.

so that there is little room left for the shopkeeper. . . . If you could get a bird's-eye view of Chinese Turkistan, you would see a great, bare desert, surrounded on three sides by barren mountains, and at their bases you would see some vivid green spots, showing out sharp and distinct, like blots of green paint dropped on to a sepia picture." The oases are extraordinarily fertile; every scrap of land that can be cultivated is used up, and every drop of water is drained off and used for irrigation. The inhabitants are industrious, but not so good cultivators as the Chinese. They seem peaceful and contented, dress simply and well, and live in houses which, though built of mud, are kept remarkably clean inside. They are, however, much lacking in spirit, and stand in great awe of the Chinese, who produce upon them, as well as upon all the people of these regions, an impression of their overwhelming strength and importance. They are perfect masters of the art of impressing Orientals; their officials are scarcely known as human beings, but "are presences inhabiting a great walled-in inclosure, entrance to which is barred by massive gates, and they never appear in public except in state and accompanied by an escort. China, too, is regarded by the Turkis as an almost fabulous country." They never go there, and "only hear of it from the Chinese, who give the most exaggerated descriptions of it, telling them that the emperor has an untold number of soldiers at his command, and has a hill of gold and a hill of silver, from which he obtains inexhaustible wealth." Turfan, being seated at a very low elevation and surrounded by the desert, suffers from an intense heat, and the people, to avoid it, dig underground rooms, and live in them during the day.

The Kirghiz, whose country came next in order, were found more well-to-do than the Mongols or Kalmucs, dressing better, living in better tents, and keeping them clean; fine, strong men, not so industrious as the Turkis, but a great deal more so than the Mongols." We put up every night in their tents, and they were generally very civil, though naturally rather curious to know who I was and see all my things. The Afghan had a hard time answering all the questions, so, when he found it monotonous, he used to spread a rug and solemnly say his prayers. He was a Hadji, and, to keep up his religion properly, had to pray five times a day. When he had been traveling all day, and had not been able to say his prayers, he used to make up for it in the evening by repeating them once every half-hour or so." On the plain called the Syrt were large fields of wheat grown by the Kirghiz, who had built houses to store their grain in, but continued to live themselves in their tents. "They said they preferred not living in houses, as they were always afraid of their tumbling down upon them." The author himself, when crossing the Himalayas