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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/561

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IMAGINE, if you please, a low river bluff—thirty or forty feet high—faced with a masonry of red sandstone and crowned with warlike battlements, beyond which rise the tiled roofs of low-built houses and fantastic outlines of quaint old temples. Such is the picture presented to the traveler who visits the city of Jah-ding in western China. Behind those battlements are huddled the homes and shops and public buildings of a densely packed population, among whom many a quaint and curious custom still obtains, for modern civilization is being introduced but slowly.

Far in the interior of Asia, more than a thousand miles from the sea as the crow flies, that city is located. It stands on the banks of a gently flowing river. The dark red walls overlook the dull gray water, while overhead hangs a dull gray sky, since the province of Four Streams is renowned throughout all China as the land of clouds. Many travelers have visited that city, for the river which washes its walls is one of the principal waterways of western China. In fact, it is one of the headwaters of the Yangtze-kiang, the natural outlet of that country. To be precise, the town is located at the confluence of three streams, one of which comes from the capital of the province, the great city of Chentu. That capital is the goal of many a globe-trotter of adventurous disposition or scientific tendencies—the kind who write books. On leaving it he floats down stream in a native boat for twenty-four hours and ties up at the gates of Jah-ding (spelled Kiating on the maps), to make a visit to Mt. Omei, one day’s journey to the west. That mountain is not only one of the natural wonders of the world, but is also a center of pilgrimage for all the Buddhists of China, as it marks the point where Buddhism first entered the country. Dotted with temples from base to summit, the mountain overtops the surrounding plain by nearly two miles, while on one of its faces a tremendous precipice descends almost unbroken for six thousand feet. It attracts the adventurous globe-trotter with an irresistible magnetism.

But it is not the writer’s purpose to deal with Mt. Omei or any of its features. They have been portrayed in detail by others. The object of this account is to describe a curious relic, not far from Jah-ding, which well might attract the traveler’s attention, but which has received scant notice. Permit me first to outline how travelers, one after another—men of literary and scientific attainments—journeyed in far western China, wrote of its scenery and its monuments, but neglected to visit and describe the most remarkable monument of them all.

In the late 70’s, Colborne Baber, British traveler, drifted down the