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ritual, that the first missionaries to China declared it was a trick of the devil to mortify them. Gerbillon thinks, indeed, that Christian priests were formerly in Mongolia, and that being cut off from communication with their brethren, the religion was corrupted by the intermingling of heathen ceremonies, till it gradually lost its Christian character. Mr. Timkowski tried to get a view of the temples, but was prevented by the high walls around them—he could merely see that they had roofs painted green, and round one of them a splendid gilt latrice. In a walk which he afterwards took, his curiosity was, probably, more fully gratified, though he describes things only in general.
“From this hill we enjoyed an extensive prospect over the Tola, and the town with its splendid temples. On the south rises Mount Khan Ola; on the north, the town is sheltered from the cold winds by a chain of high mountains; in the west, we saw the houses of the Vang and the Aniban, a number of tents which form part of the town, vast meadows, and in the blue horizon, the summits of a chain of moun: tains; to the east, plains and mountains, the maimatchin, and in the distance, masses of naked granite. The numerous tents, designed for the abode of the faithful who came to adore the Koutoukiou, their horses and camels, gave an extraordinary animation to this place, which otherwise has a rude and desolate appearance.” Vol. i. p. 125.
On the 25th of September, the mission left Ourga.* Up to that place, the scenery and the productions were so similar to those of their own frontier, that the travellers could almost fancy themselves in Russia, but they felt that they were in a different country at the very first step beyond the Tola. They “ drank a glass of fresh water out of the pure and transparent stream, and entered on the dreary, melancholy deserts of Mongolia.” The region of towns, villages, and even houses was now past, and the only mansions of man were occasionally solitary tents, like bee-hives on the waste. Hills and even mountains lay in their course; more frequently they traversed boundless sterile plains, unbroken by forests and unrefreshed by rivers. The soil was not invariably sandy ; sometimes it was covered with gravel or fragments of rock, calcareous stones, white and grey marble, and huge rocks of red granite; sometimes were scattered over the ground, in vast profusion, yellow and white feldspar, quartz, carnelians, jasper, agates, cherry coloured spar, grey, dark blue, white, veined, and sky blue chalcedonies, glittering in the sun with their varied hues like a brilliant
Stations have been established from Ourga to China for the accommodation of the Russians.
mosaic. Denditric chalcedonies, like those of Bohemia, were also found, on which the figures are coloured by Manganese.
The rains bad been abundant and the pasturage was tolerable; and in some of the vallies, large droves of excellent horses, camels, sheep and oxen, attested the wealth of the proprietors, and the capabilities of even these regions. Mr. Timkowski did not see the Bos-Grunniens, but was told they were numerous in the Kalkas, neither does he speak of the wild mule, which is equally so.* He saw ducks in abundance, and troops of gazelles, on approaching the territory of the Sounites.
Rapid transitions of weather were common--the days were frequently as warm as summer, while at night the thermometer sunk to 5° below zero. With such a country and such a climate, it may well be supposed that the journey was none of the most pleasant. During the day if it was warm, they were “half-baked by the sun, half-blinded by the sand," and when the temperature changed, the wind was sometimes so strong that it was good horsemanship to set firm in the saddle. One storm was so violent as to rend the felt of some of the tents, and crack the poles so as to leave the Cossacks entirely unsheltered against its pitiless peltings. In a storm in 1807, eighty horses of the mission were dispersed and afterwards died of exhaustion. The mission passed near Mount Darkan, renowned in the bistory of Gengis Khan, whose deeds of high enterprize are still said and sung by the Mongols with an enthusiasm equal to the Arabians, in their traditions of Haroun al Raschid. The marvellous and supernatural have been mixed up largely with feats which needed no additions to astonish posterity. According to tradition, the anvil of the conqueror is still on the mountain, a wondrous metal, hard like iron, and yet flexible like copper.
“ Before us (says Mr. Timkowski) stood Mount Darkan resembling a giant, the guardian of the waste: on its right are two insulated mountains, like twins, and farther to the east, the blue summits of other mountains. I resolved to satisfy my curiosity by visiting this mountain which is highly veperated among the Mongols for its connexion with the history of Gengis Khan. I set out at six o'clock, accompanied by the monk Israel, and an officer of Cossacks. After leaving the station, we made our way, with great difficulty, along ravines formed by rain. At the foot of the mountain, and near a little chapel, are several tents, the habitation of a rich Tardzi and his family. At length we reached the summit, after passing over an immense quantity of pointed fragments of granite. Mount Darkan extends a considerable distance from north to south, and its lofty ridge is composed of steep rocks of red granite, between which grows the Robinia Pygmæa. On the extreme
* Du Halde, vol. ii. p. 253.
southern height, at the foot of which we were, there is a great obo of stone, erected by the Mongols, who come here every summer to celebrate the memory of Gengis Khan. From the summit there is a boundless plain ; towards the east are eight salt lakes; farther on the same side, are the blue mountains on the Kerouloun ; to the west, an immense tract covered with pointed eminences.” Vol. i. p.
The obos mentioned above, are hills or mounds of stone, sand, earth or wood, elevated on nearly every eminence of Mongolia, as altars to the supreme being. Every Mongol in passing them, alights from his horse and makes his prostrations. Salt lakes are frequently met with in the Kalkas, and, indeed, in every part of Central Asia, not excepting the loftiest plateaux. Mr. Timkowski speaks of the clay near them as being calcareous, but we presume that it was in reality gypsum, as no fact appears better established in geology, than that gypsum is always associated with rock salt. The wells, which were their only dependence for water throughout the desert, were, as might be well supposed from the great number of salt lakes, frequently brackish, and as frequently bad, from the negligence of the wandering inhabitants of the steppes, whose vagabond life leads to apathy and carelessness in every thing that regards comfort. The community there does nothing, and individuals will not bestow much labour on what they can possess but temporarily.
Little is to be gleaned from a monotonous narrative over a monotonous country. We extract the following description of the curious appearance of a stony eminence, consisting of decomposed granite in large masses, from three to nine inches thick, overgrown here and there with the Robinia Pygmæa:
“We were encamped in a sandy valley, stretching from east to west, which was covered with high feather grass : a stony eminence at the distance of a werst from our tents, extended in the same direction as the valley. At a distance it looks like a forest; but when seen near at hand, it presents an extraordinary lusus naturæ. These rocks resemble now an immense altar, now a sarcophagus; here a tower, there the ruins of a house, with a stone floor.” Vol. i. P.
After passing the territory of the Kalkas, the mission entered upon that of the Sounites :
“On the 22d of October, [says our author,] we crossed one of the ravines that surround the Oubouronde. As soon as we attained the summit, the boundless steppe opened to our view; the most remote heights, about fifty wersts distance, appear in the blue horizon, like the agitated waves of the sea. We here began to ascend the highest plateau of central Asia, that which is properly called Gobi. The rainy summer
had caused a little grass to grow in this steppe, which is usually naked and barren; but in a season of drought, it is a real vale of affliction : the cattle perish of hunger and thirst, as experience has too well shown to our caravans, which used to convey goods to Pekin, and to almost all our missions." Vol. i. p. 200.
The desert which the mission had now to pass might be called a sea of sand and flints, traversed here and there by stony mountains. There were a few clayey spots, and among the minerals, slate and some carnelians are mentioned. The Boudourgana, a tufted plant, with reddish leaves, found only in spots in the desert of Gobi, covered the ground farther than the eye could reach; the Derrhissou, and the poisonous plant, called Souli, grew among the scanty grass, and in approaching the 'Tsakhar country, the sand willow was seen. The heights produced the Robinia Pygmæa. Mr. Timkowski suggests that this latier plant and the Boudourgana would answer well for fuel instead of the wretched argal* used by the Nomades.
Notwithstanding the sterility of the soil, it supplies large droves of horses, and cattle and flocks of sheep. In one place alone, the emperor's horses amounted to two thousand, handsome, though not large, every one with a star in the forehead. The hares were plentiful, and the mice so numerous, that in spots the horses were continually sinking down in their burrows.t In the day, the weather was sometimes as warm as August in Petersburg, but more generally cold, with cutting winds, and, for variety, now and then, a snow storm. The thermometer went as low as 12o and 14°, and even los below zero of Reaumur. Mr. Timkowski concurs with the Jesuit Gerbillon, in attributing the extreme cold to the saline nature of the soil, which is evident from the numberless salt lakes, brackish water and saline efflorescences. The lofty situation of the country, which, as we have before stated, rises constantly from Kiakhta, must, however, be the principal cause of the cold. As to the probable height, it is impossible to conjecture; it must be very great, as from the calculations of Gerbillon, the descent in the course of eight leagues before entering the Great Wall, is between three thousand five hundred and four thousand feet.
Dung of sheep, cows, &c. + The marvellous animals, or rather men in the shape of dogs, mentioned by the Rev. Franciscan Carpini, in 1246, seem to have entirely disappeared. According to that holy father, those canine specimens of the human family, at the approach of an enemy, threw themselves into the water; they then rolled themselves on the ground, and the dust and water freezing together, rendered them as invulnerable to swords and arrows as if they had been dipped in the Styx. Hist. Gen. Voy. vol. vii. p. 258.
Hist. Gen. Des Voy. vol. vii. p. 456.
Hist. Gen. Des Voy. vol. vii. p. 470.
Imagination can scarcely picture an abode more dreary and cheerless than the desert of Gobi :
-but sands instead
The arid soil, with its scanty herbage, obliges the few inhabitants to live so far apart that the pleasures of social intercourse are almost unknown. Under the most favourable aspect, the boundless prospect exhibits but immense plains, intersected here and there with barren mountains and sandy elevations, thinly coated with herbage, or covered with dwarfish plants that seein nerely to grow to show the boot less struggles of nature against a sterile soil and thirsty sky. No forests, not even insulated trees diversify the dull uniformity. No rivers, no expanse of water, but the dark and stagnant salt lakes, which often evaporated by excessive droughts, present only broad sheets of white crystal, glittering in the sun. Should the summer prove sultry, the earth is quickly robbed of its moisture, the vegetation disappears, the scanty wells become sandy pits, the very air passes like the heated breath of the furnace, the dust rises in whirlwinds, and the proprietor is forced to leave his dying cattle, glad to escape with life to a more favoured spot. Change of season brings little change in happiness. Frequently in winter, violent storms disperse the flocks and herds, or heavy falls of snow deprive them of pasturage. Slight tents but badly protect their inmates from rains and piercing cold, and, at times, blasts sweeping over extended plains without an object to break their force, tear from their moorings, or rend in fragments these frail mansions of the waste. It is no wonder that the mission rejoiced at passing this comfortless region, “ like mariners who enter a port, after a voyage, in a stormy sea late in the season."
Noveinber 8th, the mission entered the territory of the 'Tsakhars. It was true that the travellers had now passed the sandy desert, but they had not yet gained an Araby the blest ; they, however, had better pasturage, better water, a wealthier and more civilized Nomade people. On the first day's journey, they saw by the way-side a dead child in a leather sack, on which was a little piece of sheepskin, some millet and bread-a common method of burying among the Mongols. The precepts of the priests of Boudha are strictly followed in similar cases.