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The Tang-ch'üan (Tang-ho) River and Beyond

The Tun Huang Lu mentions the river from which the Mogao oasis gets its sustenance.  Although in this photograph there is not a drop of water to be seen, at times of the spring run-off, the river has been known to flood.   To protect the caves, a retaining wall has been erected along the bank.   Modern engineering has also provided an irrigation canal which siphons off to the oasis the last of the river's flow in dry months from a hundred yeards upstream.

In the center on the horizon is a hill, seen here on the right in another photograph, which commands a panoramic view of the surrounding country.  It appears as though an old route to the south left the river bed at its first bend above the oasis and passed the hill, where not surprisingly, a watch-tower was built, probably dating back to Han times.  To the southeast, as the photograph shows, one sees the Ming-sha Dunes.   Directly south of the tower, one can look back along the river and the Mogao Oasis.   In the opposite direction, a gravel desert extends to the loftier peaks of the Nan-Shan Range (the Tun Huang Lu's "Great Snowy Mountains"), seen here in a photograph taken from the San-wei Mountain:

Since the garrison for the tower would have needed a water supply, a small fort was built below it at the second bend of the river, not far from where the gorge narrows to pass through this range of the hills.  The location also appears to have been of some significance for local religious observances, as there are two stupas.  The larger of them, remarkably well preserved, may date from as far back as the Xi Xia (Tangut) period (11th-12th century).   It has elegant stucco dragon decoration around the niches on its sides.

© 1999 Daniel C. Waugh