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group1 we beheld, spread out to the west, a wonderful expanse of steppes and of lakes, shimmering as in a mirage, giving strange contrasts of blue and of yellow, and stretching in endless succession as far as the eye could reach towards the distant plains of Northern Turkestan. On the east the Barlik ranges rose to an altitude of 9,500 ft., and, far away in the dim distance, the loftier snows of the Ala-tau lifted themselves into the blue; but, separating us from them, was a break in the mountain-wall,—a deep-cut depression dividing the Siberian plains from the Dzungarian deserts, and lying between the ramparts of the Ala-tau on the west and those of the Barlik on the east.
We had frequently heard of the terrors, dangers, and winds of the Dzungarian Gate. We had read the records of such early travellers as Carpini and Rubruck, both of whom mentioned that "there blows nearly continuously such a wind through this valley, that persons cross it with great danger, lest the wind should carry them into the sea." We therefore approached this remarkable geological phenomenon both with interest and a certain amount of anxiety, for the weather was unusually unsettled, snow-clouds were threatening us, and we were unwilling our caravan should be "blown away into the sea."
Even at a distance, with the Dzungarian Gate lying before us—unseen, we instinctively became aware of its presence; for when we came within sight of Ala Kul, whilst crossing the open foot-hills of the Barlik Range
1 The Barlik proper overlooks the Dzungarian Gate on the east. We found the natives using Barlik for the whole mountain-group to the east. I use the term, therefore, to include the Chagan-oba, the Dzusau, and the Mail] ranges.
some twenty miles from the lake-shore and some 2,000 ft. above it, we were in absolute stillness; and yet, strangely enough, the waters of Ala Kul were tossed into waves— the white crests being clearly seen with a glass, while even with the naked eye breakers could be distinguished dashing on to the southern shore of an island in the middle of the lake. Although we were becalmed, there was evidently a gale blowing through the " Gate," and as we approached nearer we became at every step more keenly alive to the action of this wind-trough. At night we heard a distant roar as the imprisoned winds of the Dzungarian deserts escaped through this narrow defile. The only night we camped on the very shore of the straits, the wind increased to such a violence that our tents, though well protected in a valley, were by the morning all blown away, for the wind swept in great gusts over the hills, and the back eddies tore them down; the noise was terrific, and sleep out of the question. This wind came from the south, but threatening storm-clouds to the north made us far more uneasy.
Fortunately we succeeded in crossing the depression in a nine hours' trek without mishap, a strong head-wind being the only cause for annoyance. Had there been rain or snow falling, travelling would have been impossible, but the wind was luckily from the south and comparatively warm, the temperature at night only just touching freezing-point. Only just in time did we escape from this home of the winds, for the day after crossing the valley,—when travelling southwards along its western flanks,—the wind swung round to the north and swept cruelly through the gap, bringing with it hail and frozen snow. Had we then been journeying northwards the making of any headway would have been out of the question, for neither man nor beast could have faced the elements; travelling as we were—with the wind—we endured the cold and congratulated ourselves on our fortunate escape. A bleak, inhospitable landscape now surrounded us, mountains, clad in fresh snow, showed up here and there through breaks in the blurred atmosphere, and great cloud-banks swept through the "straits," as if rushing through some gigantic funnel. We enjoyed no rest until we were safely ensconced in the broken and wind-worn granite range lying to the north-west of Ebi Nor.
The natives relate the usual traditions as to the origin of the winds in this locality. In the myths of Central Asia a "hole in the mountain," or "an iron gate in a lake" is the usual explanation of the origin of winds. In the case of which I am writing the island called Ala-tyube—a small extinct volcano in Ala Kul—is made responsible for the furious winds which sweep through the depression; the wind is called " ebe," or "yube" by the Kirghiz, and in special cases, when it reaches its maximum velocity, the term "buran" is applied. From autumn to spring the prevailing wind is from the south-east.1 I think, however, that the
1 I found considerable difficulty in getting reliable information as to the prevailing winds of this district. A Russian who had lived at a frontier post in the Dzungarian Gate said that the strongest burans always came from the south-east, while the rain-winds came from the north-west. He said that "the air was always moving," but that autumn and spring were especially marked as the windy seasons. Chinese soldiers in the guard-houses on the high-road which passes the south end of Ebi Nor where there is a belt of sand-dunes, claimed that, when the sand moved, it always came from the north-west, or the direction of the Dzungarian Gate. Their statement was proved by the fact that their guard-houses in the sand-belt were banked up by high sand-dunes on the north-west. The burans, they said, also came from the direction of the Gate. In contrawind which causes havoc amongst the nomads, and kills off men and flocks when caught unprotected, is this north wind when it attains the velocity of what is called a " buran."
We experienced one buran only during our journey across Asia, and it took place in this very locality during the following summer. On June 20th a buran struck us from the north when camped on the south side of the main ridge of the Dzusau portion of the Barlik group, which stood up like a wall close above our camp, and gave us protection from that quarter. In Central Asia the highest gale is inconsiderable in comparison with a buran. A vast difference lies between the two: a buran blows steadily, without lulls, and with a force against which it is useless to contend.
Miller describes how this buran caught him, when on a hunting expedition :—"On the second day away an everincreasing wind began to blow from the north-west, though the sky was cloudless. By the evening it had blown up into such a gale that we had the greatest difficulty in reaching the yurts for which we were making. It was all our horses could do to move against the force of the wind, which frequently shifted us in our saddles. By night-time the yurt in which we had taken shelter began to suffer. The huge pieces of felt which covered the roof worked loose, and were whisked away, causing the frame-work to rattle down upon us. It was only the
diction of this, I noticed that all the sand-dunes at the south end of Ebi Nor were formed by winds which must have blown from the eastnorth-east. Ebi Nor, by its very name, is "wind-lake," and it would be hard to give an impression of the sight its frozen waters presented inmidwinter. We saw it in January, from the crest of a sand-dune on its southern edge. Its southern shores were a jumble of great blocks of ice piled up in fantastic shapes, and the actual surface of the ice was as if its waves had been instantaneously frozen solid in stormy weather.