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Charchan was a key oasis in the south-east corner of the Takla Makan on the Charchan river. Charklik was the next town to the east. Stein did not venture so far east during his first expedition. On the second expedition Stein stopped there to hire local labor for his excavation work at Lou-lan and Miran and also during the third expeditions. He devoted considerable thought and writing to discussion of the ancient records on Charchan and Charklik.


Charchan also spelled now Cherchen in Uyghur and named Qiemo in Chinese. Charklik in Uyghur is Ruoqiang in Chinese. These are now popular tourist locations with connections throughout Central Asia. - email to centralasiatraveler@gmail.com or @yahoo.com - a web page at http://www.centralasiatraveler.com/an/xj/cq/chedrchen-qiemo.html has links to other ancient and modern locations. - another place for photos is http://www.flicker.com/centralasiatraveler/collections/

  This narration is from Serindia - the report on the second expedition.

Section I - Early accounts of Charchan

Stein rode for six days from the Endere River to reach Charchan on 20 November 1906. He likes to point out that this was the same travel time as his pilgrim, Hsuan-tsang. He comments that the area likely had not changed much since the previous journey as it was the direct line between the gravel plain north of the K'un-lun and the vegetation belt next to the desert. He continues, that another account of this route between Khotan and Sha-chou is in the T'ang Annals, which also mentions Chu-mo (Charchan) and Yu-t'ien (Endere fort). Marco Polo's description is more detailed than that of Hsuan-tsang. Stein remained at Charchan, which he found was now a growing oasis, for two days. The town was favored by increasing water from the Charchan River. The volume of glacial runoff from the K'un-lun makes this river the only one east of the Khotan River that succeeds in flowing all the way east to the Tarim River in the joint delta marsh. However, Charchan is separated further from the next nearest settlement in any direction than any other oasis in the basin, which inhibits an influx of people despite the ample land suitable for irrigated agriculture.
The earliest record of Charchan that Stein has read is in the Former Han Annals in which it is called Chu-mo, a small kingdom boasting 320 soldiers. The same record mentions many other of the towns and villages all around Chu-mo. Chu-mo is again described in the Later Han Annals and in the Wei'lio. Li Tao-yuan, who died in 527 AD, commented that Chu-mo received water from the Charchan River. Stein continues to cite medieval accounts by referencing that of Sung Yun in 519 AD. He notes the absence of mention not only of Charchan but of travel on the southern route during the later middle ages and right up to the 19th century when Chinese expansion began again.

Section II - Ancient Remains around Charchan

Stein found only traces of the ancient Chu-mo such as a canal and ruined walls. And there were fragments of pottery and bronze all about. On 22 November Stein visited other potential sites showed to him by locals. Again, all he found was pottery and other small artifacts strewn over the hard clay.

Section III - The Charchan River route to Vash-shahri

Stein departed Charchan on 23 November in his hurry to reach Charklik. This leg of the journey began with 5 days travel along the right (south) bank of the Charchan River. Along the way he met a local hunter, Ismail, who guided him to some nearby ruins. On 25 November Ismail showed Stein a ruin on the north bank, which Stein believed to be a stupa made of large bricks. Ismail led Stein to two ruins on 26 November one consisting of three brick buildings and the other of over a dozen similar structures. Stein found enough evidence to show these were Muhammadan cemeteries. On 29 November Stein turned south-east to an oasis known as Vash-shahri (now called Waxxari in Chinese) near a medieval site which he surveyed and explored. Over a broad area he found pottery debris which later analysis dated to the Sung Dynasty. He also found bits of bronze, coins, glass, buckles, arrow-heads, hair-pins, and stone wear. He collected eight copper coins, three of which date starting from 681-627 AD, and four from the Sung 1023-1101 AD. There also were the ruins of a few buildings. Stein quotes from Marco Polo about the location of such a place. Stein comments on the recent efforts to expand cultivation at the new Vash-shahri which he also visited. Like Charchan there was plenty of good soil and water, but the isolated location was not enticing to settlers.

Section IV - The Oasis of Charkhlik and its old remains

After two more days and 51 miles, Stein reached Charklik on 2 December 1906. He planned to base his further operations including the trip to Tun-huang from this relatively large oasis. These operations included lengthy explorations of the distant Lou-lan, Miran and the terrain all around the western and southern edge of the Lop-nor salt sea. He hoped to hire 50 laborers and many camels plus the food supply to last the whole party for 5 weeks and for his own team for another month. All the work and travel to and from would have to be completed by March in order to enable the following move to Tun-huang before the change of weather would prevent it. At this small oasis he could find few camels, enough to make a full complement of 21 counting those he already had. He planed to create an intermediate depot at the small fishing village at Abdal on the Terim River. That he was able to accomplish anything despite the strong reluctance of the locals to brave the desert was due to diligent assistance of the local Amban, Liao Ts-lao-yeh. The arrival of two experienced desert hunters from Abdal, Mullah and Tokhta Akhun, who ranged all over the Lop-nor area and had actually been with Dr. Hedin in 1900 was a great help as well in raising the morale of the Charklik men. But they had not been to Lou-lan over the direct route from Abdal.
Stein found some time while at Charklik to also investigate what ancient remains there might be. His study of historical records and of the geography had already convinced him that Charklik was the principal seat of local government and most important oasis in the south-east corner of the Tarim. This had to be the well-known Lop. He notes that Prejevalsky was the first European to visit Charklik in modern times (1876) which at that time had only a few free families from Khotan plus a Chinese convict labor colony. But he also reported on finding extensive remains of a medieval wall. Stein found 300 families in residence. The location was valuable from a business view point as well as governmental and military strategy. Was at the convenient cross roads of the east -west caravan route from Tun-huang to Khotan and the south - north migration route for Mongols and Buddhists in general between Tibet and the north. The relatively extensive agricultural area could support supplies for passing caravans. (A factor that Stein counted on.) Sure enough, Stein quickly located the existing remanent of the medieval town wall, locally known as Sipil. The remains of the mud wall extended for more than half a mile, north to south while the width was about a third of a mile. The remaining ramparts in places still rose to a height of 20 feet. It was now in the midst of cultivated fields but Stein found that ancient clay bricks were in current use in people's homes. In the center of the interior field Stein found the remanent of a Buddhist stupa. Outside this former enclosure Stein also found a larger mound some 50 feet high. This also was formerly a stupa situated on top of an accumulated pile of debris far more ancient.

  Stein also described his activities at Charchan and Charklik in his book, Ruins of Desert Cathay from which the following is taken.

Stein set out eastward from Endere on 15 November to Charchan, a 106 mile, 6 day journey. The caravan route lies along the border between the stone glacis from the mountains to the south meets the sand dunes of the desert to the north. Vegetation along the western part of this border is fed by springs that appear when mountain fed rivers flowing under the glacis appear. After the 4th day's travel the vegetation ceases and pure desert appears. On the 5th day there was a very welcome surprise. The Beg of Charchan brought a large delegation of locals including four Pathan merchants out to meet Stein, the famous 'Sahib' from India, with a full "Dastarkhan" of assorted dishes and beverages. Stein quizzed the Pathan merchants about travel conditions. They all reached Charchan by torch light.

Stein stayed in Charchan for two days to give the men a brief rest after 5 weeks in the desert. The oasis was thriving and a good place to secure more camels and warm winter clothing. It was located at a convenient place halfway between Keriya and Lop-nor. Both Hsuan-tsang and Marco Polo mentioned Charchan. Stein had a tour through the old and new sections and wrote up his observations of recent progress as well as what historical references he found. But there was nothing worth archeological study. They departed on 23 November for Charklik on the caravan route adjacent to the Charchan Darya. Stein provides his usual detailed description of the terrain and flora. Stein simply had to cross the ice filled river to inspect a mound on the left bank and received a good soaking for his trouble and that of Ismail who was attempting to carry him across. This was nothing but a small square structure that might have been the base of a stupa. On a following day Stein was again led off the route to inspect another ruined group of structures that turned out to be a Moslem cemetery.

Vash-shahri (now in Chinese Waxxari) was and ancient site a day's march from Charklik. On some interest is that Charklik was in the Tao-t'ai-ship of Ak-su, the administrative center on the north side of the Takla Makan rather than that of Keriya despite the geography of the basin. And Stein's friend from 1900, P'an Ta-jen had moved north to become the Tao-t'ai. Thus it was the before reaching Yash-shahri already the local Beg rode out to meet the travelers. On the following day Stein stopped long enough to examine the ruins near the modern settlement. Among other finds were T'ang and Sung dynasty coins, indicating the settlement had been occupied at least to the Mongol period. Here Stein obtained ox-hide for camel 'shoes' and explains that camel's feet are damaged by trodding sharp stones and that the hide is then sewn right onto their live skin, a very painful process only accomplished by an expert camel-man such as Hassan Akhun. This accomplished on December 1st Stein continued on for two more days' travel over 50 miles to Charklik. Again they were met outside the town by the local Begs who set up another Dastarkhan. Stein related Charklik through history as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Na-fo-po also called Lou-lan or Shan-shan during the Han Dynasty from 77 BC, as noted in T'ang Annals. Stein found welcome rest in a large home of Tursun Bai. The following morning he made the usual, important visit to the Amban's (Liao - Ta -lao-ye) Ya-men. The Amban's commands would be essential for the raising of any local work force and collection of supplies.
At Charklik Stein planned to hire 50 local laborers and collect enough supplies for them for 5 weeks plus another month for his own group and enough camels to transport all this into the desert. Winter work alone made it possible to do all this because water could be carried in the form of ice. Recruiting the workers was extremely difficult despite the Amban's commands as the locals were understandably frightened about going out into the unknown desert and in the frigid winter no less. With his usual forethought Stein had sent word ahead to Mullah and Tokhta Akhun, two hardy Loplik hunters from Abdal known as guides for Hedin around Lop-nor. They promptly rode the 60 miles from Abdal and were able to provide some reassurance to the reluctant locals. Eventually Stein obtained his 50 workers, personally inspected to insure they were the strongest and healthiest men. He specifically included two carpenters, a blacksmith, a leather worker, and for each pair a laden donkey with supply of oats and flour and more.
Ever eager for archeology Stein found right in Charklik the remains of an ancient fortification wall with remaining ramparts as high as 12 to 20 feet. Outside this area he found the remains of a large Buddhist stupa. Stein remained in Charklik for 3 days. On the last evening he welcomed the return of Rai Ram Singh from his successful trigonometric survey of the Kun-lun.
Stein returned to Charklik briefly after completing excavation work at Lou-lan to prepare for further work at Miran.

During the third expedition Stein visited Charklik on 31 December 1913 and the first week of January 1914 as he described in his narrative, Innermostasia.

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The central section of Stein's map of the Takla Makan shows his routes east from Keriya to Charchan and west from Hami to Kuchar and his route south from Kuchar across the desert back to Keriya. - The map also shows the Charchan River flowing east out of the foothills of the Kun-lun on the south side of the desert meeting the Tarim River flowing east from the Pamirs and T'ien-shan on the north side of the desert. They eventually dry up at the Lop-nor salt flat.

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A more detailed view of the east central section of Stein's map. On the south it shows his route east from Niya and Endere to Charchan and then to Miran. It shows his route from Miran to Lou-lan and back. It shows his two routes from Miran-Abdal east - one along the edge of the Lop-nor salt flat north of the Kun-tagh desert and the other through the foothills of the Altin Tagh. Both routes reach Tun-huang. North of Tun-huang is the Han wall along the south side of the Su-lo Ho. From Tun-huang his route goes east to An-hsi and then shows his complex exploration of the eastern Nin-shan south of Su-chou and west of Kan-chou. On the north side it shows his route west from An-hsi to Hami to Khara-shahr and then to Kucha. Stein's method was to explore the desert sites between late November and March and the high mountains between June and October.

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Detail from Stein's map showing Charchan on the Charchan river and the two caravan routes north-east to Charkhlik.

{short description of image} This important map showing Stein's work around the Charchan oasis is missing from this copy of the printed edition. It would be west of # 50 and north of # 47 - it forms the link in the west - to east travel route But we do have some maps from "Innermostasia" Stein's report from his third expedition

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109 - Mao, Ta-lao-yhe, Chinese magistrate of Charklik - Charklik was the next significant village east of Charchan - Stein received important assistance from the Mr Mao.

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279 - Dunes in dry river bed near Charchan Darya

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133 - Stein's tent at Shah-tokhtaning-koli, by Charchan river, On left Ibrahim Beg of Keriya, on right a Loplik with cyclometer

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Detail of the map sheet showing Stein's routes between Charklik and Abdal and northeast to Lou lan

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A view of the larger area from Stein's map showing the entire region from Charklik to Miran to Abdal to Donglik - The southern mountain range here is very close to the desert.

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The area west of Abdal and Miran to Lop hamlet - Stein was able to recruit workers from this tiny village for ecavation work in the middle of winter - Dec - Feb - at Lou lan. The men here were mostly fishermen. It is near Lop that the Charklik and Tarim rivers geneally meet as they disappear into the salt sea.

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East of #46, West of # 53 - it is on the south edge of the desert and northern edge of southern mountain foot hills - the streams flow north into desert. They road to Charchan is west to east. In the northern 1/3 the Charchan River is lined with marshs and caravan route follows it. But map #46 is missing.  

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