Mongolia, the Tangut country, and the solitudes of northern Tibet/Volume 1/Chapter 1




Eve of departure — Post across Mongolia — Mode of conveyance — Departure from Kiakhta — Physical features of the country north of Urga — Temples there — Brick-tea — The Kutukhtu and Chinese у towards Lamaism — Description of the town — Disposal of the dead — Government — The Dungans — The Gobi — Its character — Its vegetation and inhabitants — The post-road — Argols — Rapacity of crows — The sand-grouse (Syrrhaptes) — The Mongol lark — The Alpine hare — the Steppe antelope (Dzeren)— Antelope-shooting — The native methods of hunting — Pastures of the Chakhar Mongols — Characteristics of people — Border-land of the Mongolian Plateau — Town of Kalgan or Chang-kia-kau — Tea caravans — Chinese Impositions on Mongols — The Great Wall — Compradors and their Dialect — 'Pigeon-Russian' — Road to Peking — Chinese inns and cuisine — Descent into great Plain of China — Arrival at Peking.

Early in November 1870, after posting through Siberia, I arrived with my young companion, Michail Alexandrovitch Pyltseff, at Kiakhta, where our journey through Mongolia and the adjacent countries of Inner Asia was to begin. At Kiakhta we were at once sensible of our approach to foreign countries. The strings of camels in the streets of the town, the sunburnt faces and prominent cheekbones of the Mongols, the long pigtails of the Chinese, the strange and unintelligible language, all plainly told us we were about to bid a long farewell to our country and all dear to us there. Hard as it was to reconcile ourselves to the thought, we were somewhat cheered by the prospect of soon commencing a journey which had been the dream of my early childhood. Entirely in the dark as we were in regard to our future wanderings, we resolved first of all to go to Peking, there to obtain a passport from the Chinese Government, and then to start for the remoter regions of the Celestial Empire. This advice was given us by General Vlangali, at that time our Ambassador in China, who from first to last assisted the expedition by every means in his power, and whose generous forethought contributed more than anything to its ultimate success. Afterwards, on our first march from Peking, we saw the advantage of having a passport direct from the Chinese Foreign Office, instead of one from the Frontier Commissioner at Kiakhta. Such a passport gave us far greater importance in the eyes of the local population, a very material consideration in China, and (it must be confessed) in other countries also.

Europeans have the choice of two modes of conveyance from Kiakhta to Peking; either by post-horses, or by caravan camels engaged by special bargain with their owners.

Postal communications through Mongolia were established by the treaties of Tien-tsin (1858) and Peking (1860). By these conventions the Russian Government acquired the right of organising at its own expense a regular transmission of both light and heavy mails between Kiakhta, Peking, and Tien-tsin, The Mongols contract to carry the post as far as Kalgan, the Chinese, the rest of the way. We have opened post-offices at four places: Urga, Kalgan, Peking, and Tien-tsin. At each of these a Russian official is stationed, who superintends the post-office, and attends to the regular despatch of the post. The light mails leave Kiakhta and Tien-tsin three times a month: the heavy mails only once a month. The latter are carried on camels escorted by two Cossacks from Kiakhta, while the former are accompanied only by Mongols, and are carried on horses. They are usually taken from Kiakhta to Peking in two weeks; while the heavy mails take from twenty to twenty-four days. The cost to our Government of maintaining the post through Mongolia is about 17,000 rubles (2,400l.); the receipts at all the four offices amounting altogether to 3,000 rubles (about 430l.).[1]

The Chinese Government has also undertaken to transport, from Kiakhta to Peking and back, every three months, at its own cost, for the convenience of our clerical and diplomatic Missions at Peking, a heavy post not exceeding 26 cwts. in weight each time.

On extraordinary occasions when papers of great importance have to be transmitted to our Ambassador at Peking, or by him to his Government, it is arranged that Russian officers may be despatched as couriers, notice being given a day before the despatch of the messenger to the Chinese governor at Kiakhta and the Ministry of War at Peking. Horses are then prepared at all the Chinese and Mongolian stations, and the entire distance of 1,000 miles may in this way be accomplished in a two-wheeled Chinese government cart in nine or ten days. No charge is made for this special service, but according to established custom, the Russian officer presents a gratuity of three silver rubles (about 8s.) at each station. Another mode of communication across Mongolia is by hiring a Mongol who undertakes to transport the traveller by camel caravan across the Gobi. This is the way in which all our merchants travel on their way to China for business purposes, or on their way back to Russia. The traveller usually disposes himself in a Chinese cart, which presents the appearance of a great square wooden box, set on two wheels, and closed on all sides. In the fore part of this machine there are openings at the sides, closed with small doors. These holes serve the traveller as a means of ingress and egress to his vehicle, in which he must preserve a recumbent position head foremost, in order that his legs may not be on a higher level than his head. The shaking in this kind of car baffles description. The smallest stone or lump of earth over which one
Mongolia, the Tangut Country, and the Solitudes of Northern Tibet - Chinese Cart.jpg


The vehicle represented in the above woodcut belonged to the Amban or Governor of Urga, and was photographed in front of the house of the Russian Consul, where this functionary happened to be paying an unofficial visit. The cart in which our author travelled, and which is described in the text, resembled the one shown on this page.

of the wheels may chance to roll produces a violent jolting of the whole vehicle and consequently of its unfortunate occupant. It may easily be imagined how his sufferings may be aggravated when travelling with post horses at a trot.

In a conveyance of this kind, hired from a Kiakhta merchant, we determined to proceed with camels through Mongolia to Kalgan. Our contractor was a Mongol whо had brought a quantity of tea to Kiakhta and was returning for a fresh load. After some negotiations, we finally agreed with him for the transport of ourselves, one Cossack, and all our baggage, to Kalgan for 70 lans (140 rubles, 20l.).[2]

The journey was not to take more than forty days, a comparatively long time, as the Mongols usually convey travellers from Kiakhta to Peking in twenty-five days, but the price charged for this accelerated speed is proportionately higher. I wished to acquaint myself as far as I could with the nature of the country through which I was about to travel, and, therefore, a slow rate of progress was rather an advantage to me than otherwise. A Cossack of the Buriat tribe belonging to the Trans-Baikal force was ordered to accompany us as interpreter of the Mongol language. He proved to be an excellent dragoman; but being the son of a rich man, and disliking the hardships of travel, he soon became so home-sick that I was obliged to send him back, and received two new Cossacks in his stead.

At length, towards the evening of November 29, new style,[3] we started on our journey. The harnessed camel set in motion the cart which contained myself and companion and our common friend, a setter, 'Faust,' brought with us from Russia. Soon we left Kiakhta behind, and entered Mongolia. Farewell my country, a long farewell! shall we ever see thee again, or shall we never return from that distant foreign land?

For the whole distance of about 200 miles[4] from Kiakhta to Urga the appearance of the country quite equals that of the best parts of our Trans-Baikalia; here we see the same abundance of trees and water, the same luxuriant pasturage on the gentler slopes of the hills; in fact, there is nothing to remind the traveller of his proximity to the desert. The absolute height of the region between Kiakhta and the river[5] Kara-gol averages 2,500 feet; then the country rises till it attains at Urga an elevation of 4,200 feet above the level of the sea. This ascent forms the outer northern border of the vast plateau of the Gobi.

The district between Kiakhta and Urga may be generally described as hilly, but the elevations are not great, and most of the hills are round. The ranges have an easterly and westerly direction, and are totally devoid of lofty peaks and steep bluffs; the passes are, therefore, not high, and the ascents and descents are gradual.

Three of these ranges following the road to Urga are distinguished from the rest by their greater elevation: one on the north bank of the river Iro; a second, the Manhadai, in the centre; and third, the Mukhur, close to Urga. The only steep and lofty pass across these mountains is the Manhadai, which may be avoided by taking a more circuitous road to the east.

The district we are describing is plentifully watered; its chief rivers are the Iro and Kara-gol, flowing into the Orkhon, a tributary of the Selenga. The soil is mostly black earth or loam, well adapted for tillage; but agriculture has not yet been introduced into this region, and only a few acres, about 100 miles from Kiakhta, have been cultivated by Chinese settlers.

The hilly belt of country between Kiakhta and Urga is well wooded. But the trees, which chiefly grow on the northern slopes of the hills, are far inferior in size, shape, and variety to the Siberian timber. The prevailing kinds are fir, larch, and white birch, interspersed with a few cedars, ash, and black birch. The hill-sides are occasionally dotted with sparse clumps of wild peach and acacia, and the rich grass supplies abundant food for the cattle of the Mongols all the year round.

Of the animal kingdom we found few varieties in winter. The most common kinds were the grey partridge (Perdix barbata), hare (Lepus Tolai), and Alpine hare (Lagomys Ogotono); wintering larks (Otocoris albigula), and linnets (Fringilla linota), along the road-side in large flocks. Handsome red-billed jackdaws (Fregillus graculus) became more numerous as we approached Urga, where they actually build their nests in the house occupied by our Consul. The natives told us there were numbers of roe in the woods, as well as wild swine and bears. In fact, the fauna of this district, as well as its flora, is quite of a Siberian character.

After a week's journey, we arrived at the town of Urga, where wе passed four delightful days with the family of the Russian Consul, J. P. Shishmareff.

The town of Urga, the chief place of Northern Mongolia, is situated on the river Tola, an affluent of the Orkhon, and is well known to all the nomads under the name of Bogdo-Kuren or Ta-Kuren, i.e. sacred encampment; its name of Urga, derived from the word Urgo (palace), was given it by the Russians.

The town is divided into two halves — the Mongolian and Chinese. The former is called Bogdo-Kuren, and the latter, not quite three miles to the east of it, bears the name of Mai-mai-cheng, i.e. place of trade. In the centre, half-way between the two parts of Urga, well situated on rising ground near
Mongolia, the Tangut Country, and the Solitudes of Northern Tibet - General view of the town of Urga.jpg


the bank of the Tola, is the two-storied house of the Russian Consul, with its wings and outbuildings.

The population of Urga is estimated at 30,000. The inhabitants of the Chinese town are all Chinese officials or traders. Both these classes are forbidden by law to live with their families, or lead a thoroughly settled life. But the Chinese generally evade the law by keeping Mongol concubines. The Manchu officials, however, bring their families with them.

The most striking features in the Mongolian town are the temples, with their gilt cupolas, and the palace of the Kutukhtu, or living representative of the Divinity.

The exterior of this palace differs but slightly from the temples, the chief of which in size and architectural pretensions is the shrine of Maidari, the future ruler of the world.[6] This is a lofty, square building, with flat roof and battlemented walls. The image of Maidari, raised on a pedestal, occupies a central position in the interior; he is represented in a sitting posture with a beaming expression of face. This image measures 33 feet in height, and is said to weigh about 125 tons: it is of gilt brass, manufactured at the town of Dolon-nor,[7] and brought in pieces to Urga.

Before the image of Maidari is placed a table covered with votive offerings, amongst which I noticed a common glass stopper. Numbers of other lesser deities (biirkhans) are ranged round the walls, which are also adorned with a variety of pictures of sacred subjects.

Besides the temples and a few Chinese houses, the remaining habitations of the Mongolian town consist of felt tents (yurtas) and little Chinese houses, each standing in its own plot of land, surrounded by a light fence. Some of these small enclosures stand in rows, so as to form a kind of street, others are grouped together without any apparent order or regularity. The market square occupies a central position; here four or five Russian merchants have opened shops and ply a retail trade, and are also engaged in the transport of tea.

The standard of value most current in Urga, as well as throughout Northern Mongolia, is brick-tea, which, for this purpose, is often sawn up into small lumps. The value of goods sold in the market and shops is reckoned by the number of bricks of tea: for instance, a sheep is worth from 12 to 15 bricks; a camel 120 to 150; a Chinese pipe from 2 to 5, and so on. Russian banknotes and silver rubles are accepted in payment by the people of Urga, and usually by all the natives of Northern Mongolia; but Chinese lans are preferred, and brick-tea is by far the most acceptable, especially among the poorer classes. Anyone, therefore, desirous of making purchases in the market, must lug about with him a sackful or cartload of heavy tea-bricks.

The population of the Mongolian part of Urga is chiefly composed of lamas,—i.e. of the clergy. At Bogdo-Kuren they number as many as 10,000. This statement may appear an exaggeration, but if the reader take into consideration the fact that a third of the whole male population of Mongolia belongs to the lama class, he will not doubt its accuracy. There is a large training-school at Urga for boys destined to become lamas; it is divided into three faculties, viz. Divinity, Medicine, and Astrology.

Urga ranks in the estimation of the Mongols next to Lhassa,[8] in Tibet, for sanctity.

In these two towns the principal religious dignitaries of the Buddhist world reside. In Lhassa, the Dalai Lama, with his assistant Pan-tsin-Erdeni;[9] in Urga, the Kutukhtu, or third person in the Tibetan patriarchate.

According to the Lama doctrine these dignitaries are the terrestrial impersonations of the Godhead, and never die, but are renewed by death. They believe that after death their souls pass into the bodies of newly-born boys, and thus re-appear to men under fresher and more youthful forms. Search is made in Tibet for the new-born Dalai Lama, according to the instructions of his predecessor. In the same way the Kutukhtu of Urga is generally sought for in Tibet, in accordance with the prophetic indications of the Dalai Lama. When the newly-born saint is discovered, an immense caravan is sent from Urga to convey him to Bogdo-Kuren; and a thank-offering for his discovery, amounting to 30,000 lans in money, and sometimes even more, is presented to the Dalai Lama.

During our stay at Urga the throne of the Kutukhtu remained unoccupied, the holy potentate having died a year or two before; and although his successor had been discovered in Tibet, the Mongol embassy could not make their way thither, owing to the Mahomedan (Dungan) insurrection, which had extended to Kan-su, through which lies the road from Urga to Lhassa.

Besides the Kutukhtu of Urga, there are other Kutukhtus or Gigens in other temples in Mongolia and at Peking itself, but they are all inferior in rank to their brother of Bogdo-Kuren, and when they appear before him they must prostrate themselves like other mortals.

The Chinese Government fully appreciates the extraordinary influence which these Gigens and Lamas exercise over the ignorant nomads, and on this account protects the whole religious hierarchy in Mongolia. In this way the power of the Chinese is perpetuated, and the hatred generally entertained by the Mongols for their oppressors somewhat abated. The Gigens, individually and as a class, are, with very few exceptions, of very limited understanding. Brought up under the watchful guardianship of the neighbouring lamas, they have no opportunity of cultivating their intellects even in the ordinary affairs of life, and exist in a little world of their own. The whole education even of the most important among them consists of elementary instruction in the Tibetan language and the Lamaist books, and even this knowledge is often most superficial. Accustomed from infancy to be looked on as living deities, they seriously believe in their own divine origin and renewed birth[10] after death. Their intellectual inferiority ensures the ascendancy of the attendant lamas, who do not scruple to poison clever boys whose lot it has been to belong to this sacred class. Such a fate is said not unfrequently to befall the Kutukhtus of Urga through the connivance of the Chinese Government, which dreads the rivalry of any independent personage at the head of the Mongol hierarchy.

The Kutukhtu of Urga is very wealthy, and besides the offerings of enthusiastic devotees he owns 150,000 slaves, who inhabit the environs of Urga, and other parts of Northern Mongolia. All these slaves are under his immediate authority, and form the so-called Shabin class.

Outwardly the Mongol part of Urga is disgustingly dirty. All the filth is thrown into the streets, and the habits of the people are loathsome. To add to all this, crowds of starving beggars assemble on the market-place; some of them (mostly poor old women) make it their final resting place. It would be difficult to picture to oneself anything more revolting. The decrepid or crippled hag lies on the ground in the centre of the bazaar with a covering of old pieces of felt thrown to her by way of charity. Here she will remain, too weak to move, covered with vermin and filth, imploring alms from the passer-by. In winter the cold winds cover her den with the snowdrift, beneath which she drags out her miserable existence. Her very death is of an awful nature; eye-witnesses have told us how, when her last moments are approaching, a pack of dogs gather round and wait patiently for their victim to breathe her last, when they devour her corpse, and the vacant den soon finds another such occupant. In the cold winter nights the stronger beggars drag the feeble old women out into the snow, where they are frozen to death, crawling themselves into their holes to avoid that fate.

But these sights are not the only ones of the sacred city. More sickening scenes await the traveller if he resort to the cemetery, which is situated close to Urga. Here the dead bodies, instead of being interred, are flung to the dogs and birds of prey. An awful impression is produced on the mind by such a place as this, littered with heaps of bones, through which packs of dogs prowl, like ghosts, to seek their daily repast of human flesh.

No sooner is a fresh corpse thrown in than the
Mongolia, the Tangut Country, and the Solitudes of Northern Tibet - Street in Urga.jpg


dogs tear it to pieces, and in a couple of hours nothing remains of the dead man. The Buddhists consider it a good sign if the body be quickly devoured; in the contrary event they believe that the departed led an ungodly life. The dogs are so accustomed to feed in this way that when a corpse is being carried through the streets of the town to the cemetery the relations of the deceased are invariably followed by dogs, sometimes belonging to his own encampment (yurta).

The government of Urga, together with the two eastern aimaks (khanates) of the Khalkas, or of Northern Mongolia, viz. those of Tushetu-khan, and Tsitseng-khan, is in the hands of two ambans or governors. One of them is always a Manchu sent from Peking, the other, one of the local Mongol princes. The two remaining aimaks of the Khalkas, those of the Djasaktu-khan and Sain-noin, are under the Tsiang-tsiun (commander-in-chief) of Uliassutai.

Although the Mongol Khans who govern these aimaks are absolute masters in all that concerns the internal affairs of their khanates as sovereign princes, they, nevertheless, own allegiance to their Chinese rulers, who are the jealous guardians of Chinese ascendancy over the nomads.

During our stay at Bogdo-Kuren wе heard terrible reports of the Dungans, i.e. the Mahomedan insurgents, who had just plundered Uliassutai, and threatened Urga with a similar fate. Their apprehensions for this city, which is of such importance in the eyes of the nomads, induced the Chinese to march hither 2,000 of their own soldiers, and to assemble 1,000 Mongol troops. But the notorious cowardice of these fighting men afforded a very insufficient safeguard to Urga, and the Russian Government was obliged to send a considerable force (600 infantry and Cossacks, with two guns) to protect the consulate and the tea trade. This detachment remained at Urga more than a year, and thanks were due entirely to it if the insurgents relinquished their attack on Bogdo-Kuren.

At Urga the Siberian character of Northern Mongolia ceases. On crossing the Tola the traveller leaves behind him the last remaining stream; and here too, on Mount Khan-ola, considered sacred ever since the Emperor Kang-hi hunted there,[11] he must take his last look at forest scenery. Southwards, as far as the borders of China Proper, lies the same desert of Gobi,[12] which extends like an enormous girdle across the plateau of Eastern Asia, from the western spurs of the Kuen-lun to the Khingan mountains, which divide Mongolia from Manchuria.

The western part of this desert, especially between the Thian-shan and Kuen-lun, is entirely unexplored even at the present day. The eastern half is best known along the Kiakhta and Kalgan road, which crosses it diagonally. Here the barometrical levels of Fuss and Bunge in 1832, the journeys of Timkowski, Kowalevsky, and other savants, some of whom have generally accompanied our ecclesiastical missions to China, have enlightened us on the topography and physical character of this part of Asia. Lastly, the recent journey of the astronomer Fritsche on the Eastern Gobi, and my own observations in its south-eastern, southern, and central parts, have supplied, not merely conjectural but most accurate data concerning the topography, climate, flora, and fauna of the eastern half of the great desert of Central Asia.

The barometrical levelling of of Fuss and Bunge first exploded the theory, till then prevalent among geographers, of the great height (8,000 feet) of the whole Gobi, reducing it to 4,000 feet. Further observations by the same savants proved that in the direction of the Kiakhta-Kalgan caravan road the absolute height of the plateau in the middle part sinks to 2,400 feet, or as Fritsche will have it, even to 2,000 feet; and this depression continues for about sixty-five miles, but does not extend far to the east, as Fritsche's journey showed, nor to the west, as we found on our march from Ala-shan to Urga, through the centre of the desert. It should also be mentioned that the Eastern Gobi is not so thoroughly desert in character as it becomes towards the south and west. Thus, the plains in Ala-shan, and in the vicinity of Lake Lob, are sterile and desolate in the extreme.

As we have before stated, the Siberian character of the country, with its mountains, forests, and abundant supply of water irrigation, ceases near Urga, and from hence southwards nature assumes the true Mongolian aspect. After the first day's journey the traveller finds everything changed.

A boundless steppe, slightly undulating in some parts, in others furrowed with low rocky ridges, fades away in the bluish misty distance of the horizon without any break in its sameness. Here and there may be seen numerous herds and flocks of Mongols grazing, and their encampments frequently stand near the roadside. The road is so good as to be perfectly practicable for a tarantass.

The Gobi Proper has not yet begun, and the belt of steppe we are describing, with its soil of mingled clay and sand, clothed with excellent grass, serves as a prelude to it. This belt extends from Urga to the south-west along the Kalgan road for about 130 miles, and then imperceptibly shades off into the sterile plains of the Gobi Proper.

Even the Gobi is rather undulating than flat, although you sometimes come on tracts of perfectly level plain, extending unbroken for many miles together. These level tracts are particularly frequent in the central part of the plateau, whereas in the north and south there are plenty of low hills either in detached groups or in prolonged ridges, rising only a few hundred feet above the surrounding plains, and for the most part consisting of bare rocks. Their ravines and valleys are all marked by dry watercourses, which only contain water after heavy rains, and even then for not more than a few hours. Along these water courses the inhabitants dig wells to supply themselves with water. No running streams are met with the whole way from the River Tola to the borders of China Proper, i.e. for about 600 miles; the rains in summer forming temporary lakes in the loamy hollows which soon dry up during the severe heat.

The soil of the Gobi Proper is composed of coarse reddish gravel and small pebbles interspersed with different stones such as occasional agates. Drifts of yellow shifting sand also occur, although of a less formidable character than those in the southern part of the desert.

Vegetation finds no sustenance here, and the Gobi produces even grass but scantily. Completely barren spots are certainly rare along the Kalgan road, but such grass as grows is less than a foot high, and hardly conceals the reddish-grey surface; only in those places where the gravel is replaced by clay, or in the hollows where the summer moisture is longer retained, a kind of grass called by the Mongols Dirisun {Lasiagrostis splendens), grows in clumps four to five feet high, and as tough as wire. Here and there too some solitary little flower finds an asylum, or if the soil is saline the budarhana (Kalidium gracile), the favourite food of camels, may be seen. Everywhere else the wild onion, scrub wormwood, and a few other kinds of Compositæ and Gramineæ, are the prevailing vegetation of the desert. Of trees and bushes there are absolutely none; indeed, how could there be, in such a region? Putting out of question the natural impediments to vegetation, the winds of winter and spring blow day after day with such violence that you see even the humble shrubs of wormwood uprooted by them, rolled into bundles, and driven across the barren plain!

The population in the Gobi Proper is far more scanty than in the steppe country which precedes it. Indeed, none but the Mongol and his constant companion the camel, could inhabit these regions, destitute alike of water and timber, scorched by an almost tropical heat in summer, and chilled in winter to an icy cold.

The barrenness and monotony of the Gobi produce on the traveller a sense of weariness and depression. For weeks together the same objects are constantly before his eyes: cheerless plains, covered in winter with the yellowish withered grass of the preceding year, from time to time broken by dark rocky ridges, or by smooth hills, on the summit of which the swift-footed antelope (Antilope gutturosa) occasionally casts a light shadow. With heavy measured tread the laden camels advance; tens, hundreds, of miles are passed, but the changeless desert remains sombre and unattractive as ever. . . . The sun sets, the dark canopy of night descends, the cloudless sky glitters with myriads of stars, and the caravan, after proceeding a little further, halts for the night. The camels show unmistakable satisfaction at being freed from their burdens, and lie down at once near the tents of their drivers, who busy themselves in preparing their unsavoury meal. In another hour men and beasts are asleep, and all around reigns the deathlike silence of the steppe, as though no living creature existed in it. . . . Besides the post road, which is farmed by Mongols, there are other routes across the Gobi from Urga to Kalgan which are usually followed by the caravans. At certain distances[13] along the post road wells are dug and tents pitched which serve as stations, but along the caravan-routes the number and size of the Mongol encampments depend on the quality and quantity of pasturage. These roads, however, are only frequented by the poorer inhabitants, who earn a livelihood from passing caravans either by begging, pasturing camels, or by the sale of dried argols (dung of animals), which is an article of great value both for the domestic use of the nomads and for travellers, as it is the only fuel in the whole Gobi.

Our days dragged on with tedious monotony. Following the central caravan-route we generally started at midday and marched till midnight, averaging twenty-seven to thirty-three miles per diem. During the daytime my companion and I generally went on foot a-head of the caravan and shot any birds we saw.

The crows soon came to be looked on as our bitter enemies, on account of their unbearable rapacity. Soon after we started I noticed some of these birds pursuing the baggage camels which followed our cart, and after perching on the packs fly away with something in their beaks. On a closer investigation, I discovered that they had torn a hole in one of the provision bags, and were purloining our rusks. They would hide their plunder somewhere on one side of the road, and then return again for more. After this discovery, all such thieves were summarily shot; but others soon appeared in their stead, to share a like fate.

This went on every day till we reached Kalgan. The rapacity of the crows in Mongolia surpasses belief. These birds, so shy with us, are there so impudent as to steal provisions almost out of the tents of the Mongols. Nay, they will actually perch on the backs of the grazing camels, and tear their humps with their beaks. The foolish, timid animal only cries at the top of its voice, and spits at its tormentor, who returns again and again to the back of the camel until it has inflicted a large wound by means of its powerful beak. The Mongols consider it wrong to kill birds, and so they cannot rid themselves of the crows, which accompany every caravan across the desert. It is impossible to leave any food outside the tent without its being instantly stolen by these audacious birds, who, if they can find nothing better, will tear the undressed hides off the boxes of tea. These crows and the kites in summer were our inveterate foes throughout the expedition. Many a time they robbed us of small skins which we had prepared for our collection, to say nothing of the meat they stole; but many hundreds of them paid the penalty of their lives for their unceremonious effrontery.

The only other members of the feathered tribe which we saw in the Gobi were the sand-grouse and Mongol larks. Both these kinds are peculiarly characteristic of Mongolia.

The sand-grouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus),[14] discovered and described at the end of the last century by the celebrated Pallas, is distributed over the whole of Central Asia as far as the Caspian Sea, and is occasionally met with as far south as Tibet. This bird, called Boilduru by the Mongols, and Sadji by the Chinese, only inhabits the desert, where it feeds on the seeds of different grasses (dwarf wormwood, sulhir, &c.), upon which it entirely depends for food in winter. In the cold season vast numbers flock together in the desert of Ala-shan, attracted by the seeds of the sulhir (Agriophyllum Gobicum), of which they are very fond. In summer some of them appear in Trans-Baikalia, where they breed. Their eggs, three in number, are laid on the bare ground, where the hen bird sits staunchly, although the bird is in ordinary circumstances timid. In winter they are often compelled by the cold and snowstorms to take refuge in the plains of Northern China, where they may be seen in large packs; but as soon as the weather moderates they return to their native deserts. Their flight is remarkably rapid, and when in large numbers the whirring sound made by their wings is heard a long way, resembling the noise of an approaching storm.[15] They are very awkward runners on the ground, probably owing to the peculiar formation of their feet, the toes almost growing together, and the sole being covered with a horny substance like the hoof of a camel.

After their morning meal, the sand-grouse always resort to some spring, well, or salt-lake to drink. Here they will not alight till they have first described two circles in the air to assure themselves of safety, and after hurriedly satisfying their thirst they fly off again. They will sometimes fly long distances to the water.

The Mongol lark (Melanocorypha Mongolica) is only met with occasionally on the desert tract; its habitat is in the grassy portions of the Gobi, and there in winter it is found by hundreds and thousands. Those we saw were mostly in the Southern Gobi; they are also not uncommon in China, at all events during winter.

The Mongol lark is the best songster of the Central Asian desert. In his music he rivals his European congener. He has also a remarkable power of imitating the notes of other birds, introducing them into his own melody. Like our lark, he sings as he soars up to the sky, or when perched on a stone or stump of a tree. The Chinese call him bai-ling, and delight in his song, often keeping him as a cage-bird.

Like the sand-grouse, the Mongol lark visits the north, and breeds in Trans-Baikalia, although it prefers remaining in Mongolia, where it makes its nest on the ground like the European species, depositing three or four eggs in a little hole. In the desert of Mongolia, where the cold weather lasts all the spring, these larks form their nests late in the year, and we found their fresh-laid eggs in the beginning, and even the end, of June. Wintering in those parts of the Gobi where little, if any, snow falls, they withstand the severest cold (as much as -34° Fahr.),[16] finding shelter in the tufts of dirisun, the small seeds of which are at this season their chief food. This, and similar observations we have made, lead to the opinion that many of the feathered tribe are driven southwards in winter by want of food, and not by cold.

The Mongol lark is found as far south as the northern bend of the Yellow River, and then avoiding Ordos, Ala-shan, and the mountains of Kan-su, it re-appears in the steppe near Lake Koko-nor. Two other kinds of larks also winter in the Gobi in very large numbers (Otocoris albigula, Alauda pispoletta), and the Lapland ortolan (Plectrophanes ponica); the latter, however, is mostly seen in the country of the Chakhars, i.e. on the south-eastern border of the Gobi.

Of mammalia peculiar to this desert only two characteristic kinds can be mentioned : the Alpine hare and antelope.

The Alpine hare (Lagomys Ogotono), or, as the Mongols call it, the Ogolono, belongs to the order of rodents, and is from the form of its teeth regarded as closely allied to the hare. It is about the size of the common rat and burrows in the earth, invariably choosing for its habitat the grass steppes, particularly where the ground is uneven, and the valleys in the mountains of Trans-Baikalia and the north of Mongolia. It is never found in the barren desert, and, therefore, does not inhabit the central and southern Gobi.[17]

The ogotono is a curious little animal of a sociable disposition, and where one of its burrows is found some tens, hundreds, or even thousands more will invariably be near it. In winter, when the cold is intense, they never leave their holes[18], but as soon as the temperature becomes warmer they come out and sit at the entrance sunning themselves, or scamper from one burrow to another. The poor ogotono has so many enemies that it must be constantly on the look-out for danger. It will sometimes only venture half-way out of its hole, raising its head to assure itself of the absence of danger. Steppe-foxes, wolves, but especially buzzards, hawks, kites, and even eagles, daily destroy countless numbers of these little animals. The skill with which the winged assailants seize their prey is remarkable. I have often seen a buzzard descend so rapidly on its victim as not to give it time to retreat into its burrow, and an eagle on one such occasion swooped down from a height of at least 200 feet. The buzzard (Buteo ferox) feeds entirely on the ogotono; but such is the rapidity with which they breed that this wholesale destruction is probably the only way of checking their excessive increase. Curiosity is a distinctive trait of this animal; it will allow a man or dog to approach within ten paces of it, then suddenly disappear in its hole; but, in a few minutes its head may be seen at the entrance, and, if the object of its fears has removed a little further away, it will venture out and resume its former position. Another of its habits, peculiar also to other kinds of this tribe, is to lay in a store of hay for winter use, stacking it at the entrance of its home. The hay is collected towards the end of summer, carefully dried and made into little stacks weighing from four to five or even ten pounds. This serves for its couch underground and for food during the winter; but very often the labour is in vain and cattle devour its store. In such case the unfortunate little creature is reduced to feed on the withered grass which grows near its burrow.

The ogotono can exist a long time without water. In winter it can quench its thirst with snow, and in summer with rain, or if there be no rainfall, with dew, which, however, is rare; but the question is what does it find to drink in spring and autumn, when for months together no rain or snow falls on the plateau and the atmosphere is excessively dry?

This little animal is found as far south as the northern bend of the Hoang-ho, beyond which it is replaced by other kinds.

The dzeren (Antilope gutturosa) is a species of antelope, about the size of the common goat, characteristic of the Gobi desert, especially of its eastern or less barren part. It is also met with in Western Mongolia,[19] and in the environs of Lake Koko-nor, which is the southern limit of its distribution.

These antelopes are gregarious, their herds sometimes numbering several hundred or even thousand head in those parts where food is plentiful, but they are most frequently seen in smaller numbers of fifteen to thirty or forty head; although they avoid the neighbourhood of man, they always select the best pasturage of the desert, and, like the Mongols, migrate from place to place in search of food, sometimes travelling great distances, especially in summer, when the drought drives them to the rich pasture lands of Northern Mongolia, and as far as the confines of Trans-Baikalia. The deep snows of winter often compel them to travel several hundred miles in search of places almost or entirely free from snow. They belong exclusively to the plains, and carefully avoid the hilly country, but sometimes appear in the undulating parts of the steppe, particularly in spring, attracted by the young grass, which shoots up under the influence of the sun's warmth. They shun thickets and high grass, excepting at the time of parturition, which is in May, when the doe seeks the covert to conceal her new-born offspring. But a few days after their birth the fawns follow their mothers about everywhere, and soon rival the fleet-footedness of their sires. They very seldom utter any sound, though the males occasionally give a short loud bleat. Nature has endowed them with excellent sight, hearing, and smell; their swiftness is marvellous, and their intelligence well developed, qualities which prevent their falling so easy a prey, as they otherwise would, to their enemies — man and the wolf.

Antelope-shooting is a difficult business, both because the animal is so shy, and because even when hit mortally it will often get away. In the open steppe a man cannot approach within 500 paces of them, and if they are once startled you may say twice that distance. Their careful avoidance of any cover makes it next to impossible to stalk them in the open plain. It is only in those parts of the steppe that abound in hillocks that a man can get within 300 yards, or sometimes, but rarely, within 200 yards, and even then he cannot be certain of his quarry. Granted that at 200 yards, with a good rifle, you are sure of your aim, on the other hand, your bullet does not kill unless it chance to hit the head, heart, or lungs. In any other case the dzeren escapes, although perhaps mortally wounded, and is often lost to the hunter, for it runs faster with a broken leg than a good horse can gallop. For this sport you must have a rifle with a long point-blank range, because it is almost impossible to judge distances accurately in the steppe. You must have a rest for your rifle, such as the native sportsmen of Siberia use, otherwise you will be apt to find that, after having walked quickly for a considerable distance, your hand is shaky just when you want to take your aim! In fact on entering the deserts of Asia the sportsman must lay aside his European experiences and learn a great deal from the native hunters.

The Mongols, armed with their poor matchlocks, hunt the dzerens in the following way. In those parts of the steppe where antelope abound they dig small pits at certain distances apart. These holes at first excite mistrust, so the animals are left alone for some weeks to get used to them. The hunters then repair to their allotted stations, and conceal themselves in the pits, while others make a wide circuit to windward driving the herd towards the ambush, and no gun is fired till they are within a distance of fifty paces or even less. The drivers must know their business and be thoroughly familiar with the habits of the animal, otherwise their labour will be lost. They must never gallop suddenly up to the herd, because if they do the antelope almost always escape. The usual plan is to make a circuit round the herd, slowly narrowing the circle with repeated halts, or else to ride on one flank at a foot's pace, gradually edging the herd towards the ambush.

The natives have another mode of hunting dzerens. A Mongol, mounted on a quiet and well-trained camel, rides over the steppe. On seeing antelope he dismounts, and leading his camel by the bridle quietly approaches the herd, concealing himself as much as possible by keeping step with the camel. At first the antelope are startled, but seeing only a camel quietly browsing, they allow the hunter to approach within a hundred paces, or even nearer. Towards the end of summer the dzerens are very fat, and are eagerly hunted by the Mongols for the sake of their delicate flesh, and also for their skins, which are made into winter clothing. The nomads, however, rarely wear the skins themselves, but sell them to Russian merchants at Urga or Kiakhta. Dzerens are also snared in traps made in the shape of a shoe, of tough grass (dirisun). When caught by the leg in one of these, the animal lames itself in its struggles to get free, and is unable to move.

The dzeren have even a more deadly enemy than man in the wolves. Whole herds, according to Mongol description, meet their death from these. And they are also subject at certain periods to epidemics, which, as I myself witnessed in the winter of 1871, commit great ravages among them.

It was on our way to Kalgan, some 230 miles from Urga, that we first saw the dzeren. I need not dwell on the impression produced by the first sight of a herd of these antelope on myself and companion. We went after them day after day, to the extreme dissatisfaction of our Mongols, who had to wait hours for us, and at length became so discontented that we could only appease them by giving them a share of the spoil.

Notwithstanding the barrenness and desolate appearance of the Gobi, the road to Kalgan was kept amply alive by the tea-caravans which passed us by the dozen daily. I will presently describe one of these caravans, but now let us go back to the plateau of Mongolia.

After leaving the Khalka country, we passed through the land of the Sunni Mongols, and left behind the most barren part of the Gobi, entering a more fertile belt, which forms a fringe on the south-east, as a like belt does on the north, to the wild and barren centre of the plateau. The surface of the country now becomes more uneven, and is covered with excellent grass, on which the Chakhar Mongols pasture their numerous herds. These people are the frontier police of China Proper, having been enrolled in the government service, and divided into eight banners. Their country is about 130 miles in width, but its length from east to west is nearly three times as much.

Owing to their constant intercourse with the Chinese, the Chakhars of the present day have lost not only the character, but also the type, of pure Monqols. Preserving the native idleness of their past existence, they have adopted from the Chinese only the worst features of their character, and are degenerate mongrels, without either the honesty of the Mongol or the industry of the Chinaman. The dress of the Chakhars is the same as that worn by the Chinese, whom they resemble in features, having generally a drawn or angular, rather than a flat or round face. This change of type is produced by frequent intermarriages between the Chakhar men and Chinese women; the offspring of this union of race is called Erlidzi. Other Mongols, particularly the Khalkas, detest them as much as they do the Chinese, and our drivers always kept watch at night while travelling through this country, because they said that all its inhabitants were the greatest thieves.

The Chakhar country is badly watered, but a few lakes may now and again be seen, the largest of which is Lake Anguli-nor. It is only when you get near the border of the plateau, and after you have passed some small streams, that the first signs of cultivation and settled life appear. The Chinese villages and cultivated fields plainly tell the traveller that he has at last left the wild desert behind him, and has entered a country more congenial to man.

At length, far away on the horizon, can be discerned the dim outlines of that range which forms so distinct a definition between the high chilly plateau of Mongolia and the warm plains of China Proper. This range is thoroughly Alpine. Steep hill-sides, deep valleys, lofty precipices, sharp peaks often crowned with overhanging rocks and an appearance of savage grandeur, are the chief characteristics of the mountains, along the axis of which is carried the Great Wall. Like many other ranges of Inner Asia, which have a lofty plateau on one side and low plains on the other, this presents no ascent from the side of the plateau. To the very last the traveller makes his way through undulating hills, until a marvellous panorama is suddenly disclosed to his view. Beneath his feet are rows upon rows of lofty mountains, precipices, chasms, and ravines, intermingled in the wildest confusion; beyond lie thickly populated valleys, through which glide winding rivers. The contrast between that which has been passed and that which lies before is wonderful. The change of climate is not less remarkable. Hitherto, during the whole of our march, frosts were of daily occurrence, sometimes exceeding —34° Fahr., and always accompanied by strong north-west winds without snow. Now, as we descended, the temperature grew warmer at every step, and on arriving at Kalgan the weather was spring-like, although it was yet early in January; so marked was the change in a distance of about seventeen miles, separating this town from the commencement of the descent. The high land has a height of some 5,400 feet, whereas the town of Kalgan, at the entrance to the plains, is only 2,800 feet above the level of the sea.[20]

This town, called by the Chinese Chang-kia-kau, commands the pass through the Great Wall, and is an important place for the Chinese trade with Mongolia.[21] Kalgan numbers 70,000 inhabitants, who are entirely Chinese, but include a great many Mahomedans, known throughout China by the name of Hwei Hwei. Two Protestant missionaries, and several Russian merchants engaged in the tea-carrying trade, reside here. Notwithstanding the increased importation of tea by sea, and the consequent diminution of the land transport, 200,000 chests are still annually sent from Kalgan to Urga and Kiakhta, each weighing 108 lbs. This tea is brought to Kalgan from the plantations near Hankau,[22] partly by land and partly by steamers, to Tien-tsin; one-half is then delivered to Russian merchants for further transport, and the remainder is forwarded to Kiakhta or Urga[23] by the Chinese themselves. The Mongols are the carriers, and earn large sums from this business, which only lasts during the autumn, winter, and early spring (up to April). In summer all the camels are turned out to grass on the steppe, where they shed their coats and recruit their strength for fresh work.

The caravans of tea form a very characteristic feature in Eastern Mongolia. In early autumn, i.e. towards the middle of September, long strings of camels may be seen converging on Kalgan from all quarters, saddled, and ready to carry a burden of four chests of tea (a little under 4 cwts.) on their backs across the desert. This is the usual load of a Mongol camel, but the stronger ones bear an additional fifth chest. The Mongols contract to carry tea either direct to Kiakhta or only to Urga, beyond which place the mountains and frequent deep snows are formidable obstacles to the progress of camels. The tea is only transported in this manner as far as Urga; it is conveyed the rest of the way in two-wheeled bullock-carts.

The average cost of the transport of one chest from Kalgan to Kiakhta is equivalent to three lans (or taëls); each camel can therefore earn twelve lans (or about 3l. 10s.). The caravan generally accomplishes two journeys from Kalgan to Kiakhta during the winter, the owner earning about 7l. by each of his animals. Two drivers are usually placed in charge of twenty-five camels and their loads; the cost of transport is therefore very small, and the contractor realises a large profit, after deducting for losses by the death of camels from fatigue and starvation. The caravan camels are often rendered unfit for service by sore feet, lameness, or galled backs, occasioned by careless loading. If the lameness be caused by worn-out hoofs, the Mongols bind the animal, throw him on the ground, and sew a piece of leather over the injured hoof, which answers the purpose of a sole, and generally effects a cure; a sore-backed camel is unfit for further use that season, and is let loose on the steppe to recover. Taking into account the percentage of lost and damaged camels, the owner of some dozens of these animals may gain a large profit; but many carriers have several hundred camels, and of course their earnings are proportionately greater. One would suppose that the Mongols would grow rich in this way, but in fact it is otherwise, — hardly one of them taking home a few hundred rubles, and almost all the money passes into the hands of the Chinese.

The latter impose upon the simple-minded Mongols in the most scandalous way. On the arrival of the autumn caravans, the Chinese ride out to meet them, and invite the owners to stay with them. Lodgings are given gratis, and every attention is shown. The unkempt Mongol, to whom the Chinese at any other time does not deign to speak, now lounges on the couches of his host, the rich merchant, who generally waits upon his guest in person, and anticipates his slightest wish. The Mongol accepts all this hospitality as genuine, and authorises his host to settle accounts for him with the merchant whose tea he contracts to carry. This is exactly what is required by the Chinaman. On receiving the money, always paid in advance, he swindles his client in the most unconscionable way, and then offers him first one and then another article, charging double price for all. Part of the money is then kept back for taxation and fees to officials, and more is expended on entertainment, until the Mongol takes his departure from Kalgan with a mere fraction left of his large earnings. Some of this, too, he is compelled to devote to religious uses, so that he returns home in spring nearly empty-handed.[24]

The land transport is so expensive that the price of brick-tea, which is exclusively consumed by the Mongols and inhabitants of Siberia, is increased by three times the cost of its production. A caravan takes from thirty to forty days on the road from Kalgan to Kiakhta, according to agreement with the contractor.

The tea chests are first covered with thick woollen cloths, which are afterwards stripped off, and the boxes sewn up in undressed hides, and despatched to European Russia, on carts or on sledges, according to the season of the year. Kalgan, as we have said, commands one of the passes through the Great Wall, which we beheld for the first time. It is built of large stones, cemented together with mortar. The wall itself is tapering, 21 feet high, and about 28 feet wide at the foundation. At the most important points, less than a mile apart, square towers are erected, built of bricks laid in mortar, as headers and stretchers. The size of the towers varies considerably, the largest measuring 42 feet on each side at the base, and the same in height.

The wall winds over the crest of the dividing range, crossing the valleys at right angles, and blocking them with fortifications. At such places alone could this barrier be of any advantage for defensive purposes. The mountains, inaccessible by nature, are nevertheless crowned by a wall as formidable as that which bars the valleys.

What could have been the object of this gigantic work? How many millions of human hands must have laboured at it! What a vain expenditure of national strength! History records that this wall was built, upwards of two centuries before the birth of Christ, by the Chinese sovereigns, to protect their empire from the inroads of the neighbouring nomads; but we also read that the periodical irruptions of the barbarians were never checked by this artificial barrier, behind which China ever lacked, and even now lacks, that sure defence of a nation — moral strength.

The Great Wall, however, which the Chinese estimate to be about 3,300 miles long, and which is continued on one side into the heart of Manchuria, and on the other a long way beyond the upper course of the Yellow River, is very inferior in those parts more remote from Peking. Here it was built under the eyes of the Emperor and his chief officers of state, and is therefore a gigantic work; but in those distant localities, far removed from the supervision of the superior government, the celebrated Great Wall, which Europeans are wont to regard as a characteristic feature of China, is nothing but a dilapidated mud rampart, 21 feet high. The missionaries HuC and Gabet mention this fact[25] in the description of their journey through Mongolia and Tibet; and we ourselves, in 1872, saw a wall of this kind on the borders of Ala-shan and Kan-su.

We passed five days at Kalgan, where we met with the greatest kindness from M. Matrenitsky and some others of our countrymen, who, in their mercantile capacity, manage the tea-carrying trade for the Russian firms at Hankau. Their residences are outside the town of Kalgan, near the entrance of the beautiful valley by which we descended: a situation which has the advantage of escaping the dirt and smells, — those inseparable adjuncts of every town in the Celestial Empire.

Like other foreigners in China, the Russians at Kalgan transact business through the medium of compradors, i.e. Chinese who are entrusted to conduct negotiations with their countrymen; but some of the Kalgan merchants know enough Chinese to do business for themselves, and others are brought into direct intercourse with the Mongol carriers. At Tien-tsin, however, and all the other ports of China open to Europeans, every mercantile house must have its compradors. They transact all the business, and rob their employers so outrageously that in a few years a comprador is generally able to set up a business establishment of his own.

The compradors living with foreigners learn to speak the language of their master, whatever may be his nationality. The Russian language is less easily acquired than any other, on account of the difficulty of pronouncing the words and mastering the construction of the sentences. 'Quickly thy master shoots,' once said a comprador at Kalgan to me on seeing me shoot rock-pigeons on the wing. 'Thy food will not will?' enquired the same individual, offering me at the same time something to eat. We met several such grammarians at Urga. One of them had the reputation of having formerly manufactured false Russian bank-notes, which he circulated among the Mongols. On asking him if he still continued this occupation, he replied: 'How is that possible now thy paper bad is? write write — (i.e. the text on the bank-note) — few few our people do can, but the face (i.e. the portrait) very wonderful is.' The Mongols, however, are not particular about the artistic merit of the bank-note; and we saw several false notes at Urga, the portraits on which were simply drawn by hand.

Another comprador thus expressed his opinion to me of foreigners residing in China: 'Thy people same as Pehling-Fanqui[26] not; thy people our people odali[27] good; Pehling-Fanqui bad are. I could not help being flattered at hearing such praise from a Chinaman, who thus assured me 'that we were not at all like the French and English, but the same as the Chinese who good are.'

However, this opinion, which may have been only that of the individual, does not free the Russian from the general hatred which the Chinese entertain for all Europeans, and from the nickname applied to all of us of Yang-kwei-tsz, i.e. 'foreign devil.'

The European will hear himself called by no other name; and on our first entrance into China Proper we experienced all the miseries which await the traveller from the West within the limits of the Celestial Empire. But of this later. I will now continue my narrative.

With the assistance of our countrymen at Kalgan we hired two riding-horses for the journey to Peking, and some mules for the baggage. Europeans usually travel in litters carried between two mules, but we preferred riding, because we could see the country better in this way than in closed litters.

The distance from Kalgan to Peking is about 140 miles, usually performed in four days. Several halts are made on the road at inns, most of which are kept by Mahomedan emigrants from Eastern Turkestan. Good inns are very difficult of access for the European, who is shown into mean caravanserais, where he is charged double, triple, and even ten times the usual price. But after sitting for six or seven consecutive hours in the saddle, chilled with the night air, one is glad of any shelter. In spite of the well-known liberality of Europeans, such is the hatred to the 'foreign devils' that we were sometimes refused a night's lodging, notwithstanding the intervention of our Chinese mule-drivers. This befell us at the town of Sha-chang, where we were obliged to ride for an hour from one inn to another, offering ten times the usual charge, before obtaining shelter in a dirty, cold room.

Our ignorance of the language was another great hindrance to us, especially at the stations where we wanted something to eat. Fortunately, I had written down at Kalgan the names of some Chinese dishes which served as our menu to Peking. I do not know how others may like the taste of Chinese cookery, with its flavour of sesamum oil and garlic; but, as for us, the messes in the inns were simply disgusting — the more so because we saw haunches of asses' meat in the butchers' shops, and always had well-grounded suspicions that we were fed on the same. The Chinese themselves show no repugnance to any kind of nastiness, and will even eat dogs' flesh. On our second visit to Kalgan we saw some Chinese butchers buy a camel suffering from the mange so badly that its whole body was one mass of sores, and then and there cut it up and sell the meat. Any animal that has died is eaten, as a matter of course, and the asses sold in the meat shops have never come by their death in a violent manner, for such is the meanness of this people that they will never willingly kill a beast of burden for the sake of its meat, if it has any work left in it. The reader can now form an idea of the relish with which Europeans, fully aware of the coarse gastronomical tastes of their hosts, partake of the dishes served in Chinese inns.

On leaving Kalgan, and turning his back on the border range, a wide, thickly-populated, and highly cultivated plain lies before the traveller. The cleanly appearance of the villages affords a striking contrast to the towns. The road is very animated; — strings of asses laden with coal, mule-carts, litter-bearers, and scavengers pass along. In all the villages and towns full-grown men may be seen all day long on the roads, with a basket in one hand and a spade in the other, collecting animal dung, which is used for manuring the fields and for fuel.

Twenty miles from Kalgan, on the edge of the plain, stands the large town of Siuen-hwa-fu, surrounded, like all the Chinese towns, with a battlemented mud wall, like the Kitai-gorod at Moscow. After leaving it, the road enters the mountains, following a gorge through which flows the rapid and wide stream of the Yang-ho. In the narrower and more intricate parts of the defile the road is hewn out of the rocks, and it is altogether well adapted for wheeled conveyances. After passing the town of Tsi-ming, we again enter a plain, about nine miles wide, extending towards the west between two chains of mountains, one of which we have just crossed; the other, higher and far grander, forms the outer barrier of the second descent by which the table-land of Eastern Asia subsides into the plain which extends eastward to the Yellow Sea.

The elevation of the country between Kalgan and Chadau, which stands at the entrance to the last range of mountains, is very even, and the journey is continued over high land.[28] At Chadau the descent of the second range, called Si-shan by the Chinese, begins. Like the Kalgan mountains, this range is only developed fully on the further side, i.e. towards the plain at its base.

The road follows the pass of Gwan-kau the whole way from Chadau as far as the town of Nan-kau, situated at the egress from the mountains. The pass is only 70 to 80 feet wide at first, and is shut in by stupendous rocks of granite, porphyry, grey marble, and silicious slate. The road was once paved with stone-flags, but is now completely out of repair, and almost impassable for equestrians, although the Chinese drive their two-wheeled carts over it, as well as caravans of camels, laden with tea.

Along the crest of this range is built the second, so-called inner, Great Wall, far greater and more massively built than that of Kalgan. It is composed of great slabs of granite, with brick battlements on the summit; the loftiest points are crowned with watch-towers. Beyond it are three other walls, about two miles apart, all probably connected with the main barrier. These walls block the pass of Gwan-kau with double gates, but the last of all in the direction of Peking has triple gates. Here may be noticed two old cannon, said to have been cast for the Chinese by the Jesuits.

Immediately after passing through, the defile widens, although its wild, weird appearance continues for some distance further. Mountain torrents and cascades rush noisily down the rocks, and at the foot of overhanging cliffs Chinese houses appear everywhere, with their vineyards and small orchards of fruit-trees. At length the traveller arrives at the town of Nan-kau, 1,000 feet below Chadau, from which it is only fifteen miles distant.

Thus the entire width of the border of the plateau, from the summit of the descent above Kalgan to the entrance into the plain of Peking at Nan-kau, is about 130 miles. Towards the west it probably widens, dividing into a number of parallel chains, abutting on the northern bend of the Hoang-ho, while to the east the distinct ranges unite in one broad belt of mountains, which continues to the Gulf of Pechihli in the Yellow Sea.

Peking[29] is only one day's journey, i.e. about 35 miles, from Nan-kau. The country is a plain, hardly above the sea level, with an alluvial soil, consisting of clay and sand, highly cultivated in all parts. The frequent villages, groves of cypress, tree-juniper, pine, poplar, and other trees marking the burial-places, lend variety and beauty to the landscape. The climate is warm; at a season when in Russia severe frosts are prevalent, the thermometer here at noon rises many degrees above freezing point in the shade. Snow is rare; if it fall occasionally at night, it generally thaws the next day. Wintering birds abound, and we saw thrushes, mountain finches, greenfinches, bustard, rooks, kites, pigeons, and wild ducks.

Nearer to Peking the population is so dense that villages grow into towns, through which the traveller is unconsciously approaching the wall of the city, until at last he finds himself to have entered the far-famed capital of the East.

  1. There is another post-road between Urga and Kalgan, established by the Chinese for themselves. From this road another one to Ulias-sutai branches off on the border of the Khalkas country, near the station of Sair-ussu.
  2. Lan appears to be the Russian way of representing the word which French and English sinologues write usually as liang, viz. the taël, or Chinese 'ounce of silver.'—Y.
  3. All the dates in this translation have been reduced to the new style.—M.
  4. According to a recent traveller, the distance from Urga to Kiakhta is 176 miles. See 'Rough Notes of a Journey made in the Years 1868-73,' p. 19. Trübner, 1874.—M.
  5. The word gol is the Mongol for river, and is always added to the name of a river, in the same way as nor (more correctly nur, lake) to the name of a lake, and daban (range) or ula (mountain) to the name of a range or a mountain. [See Supplementary Note.]
  6. Maidari is the Mongol form of the Indian Maitreya, the name of the Buddha that is next to come, the fifth of the World-period in which we live.—Y.
  7. This town is on the south-east border of Mongolia, and is the chief place for the manufacture of Mongol idols.
  8. Lhassa, the capital of Tibet, is called by the Mongols Munhu-tsu (the ever sacred).
  9. Pan-tsin-Erdeni does not reside in Lhassa itself, but at the monastery of Chesi-Lumbo [i.e. at the place which is variously called in our maps Teshu-lumbo, Jachi-lunpo, and Shiggatzi, at least 120 miles from Lhassa. It is scarcely correct to call the Panjan Irdeni or Panjan Rimbochi, the personage whom Lieut. Samuel Turner visited as envoy from Warren Hastings in 1783, and whom he calls the Teshoo Lama, the 'assistant' of the Dalai-Lama.—Y.].
  10. The Gigens whom we met during our journey never made use of the expression 'at my death,' but always 'at my renewed birth.'
  11. It is probable that the sacredness of Khan-ola is due to a more ancient and notable circumstance, viz. that the great Chinghiz-Khan was buried there; see 'Quatremère, H. des Mongols,' p. 117 seqq.; and 'Marco Polo,' bk. i. ch. li. note 3.—Y.
  12. The word Gobi in Mongol literally means a waterless barren plain almost devoid of grass. The word for steppe is Tala.
  13. There are forty-seven post stations between Urga and Kalgan, along a distance of about 660 miles.
  14. Or Syrrhaptes Pallasii, allied to the Pterodes to which the name sand-grouse is, I believe, more usually applied, but with some curious peculiarities. This bird, whose proper home is in the steppes of North-Eastern Asia, and which is described by Marco Polo under the name of Barguerlac (Turki Baghirtlak), visited England in considerable numbers between 1859 and 1863, but has not since, I believe, renewed its immigration, so far from its natural habitat (see Marco Polo, 2nd ed., i. 265, and the references there).—Y.
  15. Marco Polo's recollection of this characteristic is condensed into the words 'moult volant.'—Y.
  16. A lower temperature even than this was recorded at Urga.
  17. The ogotono is very numerous in the grass plains of South- eastern Mongolia.
  18. These little animals arc never dormant in winter.
  19. There are no dzerens in Ala-shan on account of the utterly desert and barren character of that country.
  20. Kalgan is derived from the Mongol word Khalga, i.e. a barrier.
  21. Russian cloth, plush and furs are also sent hither.
  22. This town is on the lower Yangtsze-Kiang, or Blue River; in it are the establishments of the Russians and other Europeans engaged in the tea-trade.
  23. Some of the tea is left here for the consumption of the Mongols.
  24. See in Huc a clever description of the way in which the Mongol is swindled. Huc's 'Souvenirs d'un Voyage dans la Tartarie, le Thibet, et la Chine,' vol. i. 173. — Y.
  25. See Huc's 'Souvenirs d'un Voyage dans la Tartarie,' &с. Paris, 1850, vol. ii. p. 28.
  26. Pehling is the Chinese for Englishmen; Fanqui for Frenchmen.
  27. Odali means 'same as' in the dialect of Trans-Baikalia.
  28. Kalgan is 2,800 feet, Chadau (Chatow or Chatao of our maps) 1,600 feet, above the sea.
  29. Peking is only 120 feet above the sea level.