Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/375

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301
NORTH TO THE SIBERIAN RAILWAY

for I had been told that no secular hand may touch them, I started to pick one up, but the man courteously but very firmly waved me back; hardly would he allow me to look at them from a distance. He assured me he could read them, but that is not true of most lamas. A little altar set out with small images and pictures of Buddha, and among them a cheap photograph of the Gigin of Urga, did not seem half so sacred, for the lama displayed them freely, even allowing me to inspect the dozen or so small metal pots containing oil and other offerings which were ranged in front of the images.

When our food was ready, the lama carried off the Russians to eat in the men's tent; that is the rule, but the neighbours, men and women, who had flocked in, stayed to watch me. Various strange dishes were put before me; best of all, some hard curds decorated with lumps of sugar. Sugar is a great delicacy with the Mongols.

As we were nearing the land of hotels, I emptied my tiffin basket here, making my hosts and their friends happy with tins of jam and marmalade and sardines and beef extract, not to mention enamelled cups and plates and stew-pans. Everything was eagerly taken, even empty jars and bottles, and they seemed as pleased as children with a new toy.

The country changed abruptly after leaving the last Mongol settlement. Houses of Russian colonists