Dunhuang

We bussed from Jiayuguan to Dunhuang, with a stop for lunch along the way in one of those cavernous "motorway service stations" that are ubiquitous in China. Not the greatest lunch I have eaten, but there was no real alternative on this route. On arrival in Dunhuang, we were overnighted at the Yuntian Hotel

Dunhuang is a city in China’s northwestern Gansu Province, on the edge of the Gobi Desert. Once a frontier garrison on the Silk Road, it’s known today for the Mogao Caves, a complex of 492 grottoes adorned with Buddhist statuary and frescoes. Carved into the cliffs above the Dachuan River, the caves were created between the 4th and the 14th centuries. The caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Yuntian Hotel

Assuming you are a tourist passing thorough for one or two nights, then this is a perfectly clean, and adequate hotel. It is an easy walk to the night market (well worth visiting - few tourists and many interesting items for sale), and you can get out of town to see the Mogao Grottoes and the Crescent Moon Lake. I was happy with our room, the breakfast and the service. Overall the hotel was "average", nothing to write home about and nothing to complain about. In short a safe choice if you are staying in Dunhuang

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Mogao Grottoes

UNESCO World Heritage since 1987, the caves are situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their manuscripts, statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art.

Carved into the cliffs above the Dachuan River, the Mogao Caves south-east of the Dunhuang oasis, comprise the largest, most richly endowed, and longest used treasure house of Buddhist art in the world. It was first constructed in 366AD and represents the great achievement of Buddhist art from the 4th to the 14th century. 492 caves are presently preserved, housing about 45,000 square meters of murals and more than 2,000 painted sculptures. Cave 302 of the Sui dynasty contains one of the oldest and most vivid scenes of cultural exchanges along the Silk Road, depicting a camel pulling a cart typical of trade missions of that period. Caves 23 and 156 of the Tang dynasty show workers in the fields and a line of warriors respectively and in the Song dynasty Cave 61, the celebrated landscape of Mount Wutai is an early example of artistic Chinese cartography, where nothing has been left out – mountains, rivers, cities, temples, roads and caravans are all depicted.

As evidence of the evolution of Buddhist art in the northwest region of China, the Mogao Caves are of unmatched historical value. These works provide an abundance of vivid materials depicting various aspects of medieval politics, economics, culture, arts, religion, ethnic relations, and daily dress in western China. The unique artistic style of Dunhuang art is not only the amalgamation of Han Chinese artistic tradition and styles assimilated from ancient Indian and Gandharan customs, but also an integration of the arts of the Turks, ancient Tibetans and other Chinese ethnic minorities.

The discovery of the Library Cave at the Mogao Caves in 1900, together with the tens of thousands of manuscripts and relics it contained, has been acclaimed as the world’s greatest discovery of ancient Oriental culture. This significant heritage provides invaluable reference for studying the complex history of ancient China and Central Asia. The "Library Cave," had been walled-up in the 11th century. The content of the library was dispersed around the world, and the largest collections are now found in Beijing, London, Paris and Berlin, and the International Dunhuang Project exists to coordinate and collect scholarly work on the Dunhuang manuscripts and other material. In the early part of the 20th century the caves were "looted" legally by a number of western archeologists who removed much material back to Europe.

The caves did not come under state protection until the 1950s. Today, they are open for tourists. One starts at the Visitor Centre and watches two movies 'A thousand Years of Mogao Caves' and 'Splendours of Buddha's Palace' and then takes the shuttle bus to visit the caves. Numbers are limited to 6000 a day, but that is still a lot of people. They seems to open the caves on a rotation basis, so to a certain extent it is pot luck as to which are open. As far as I could ascertain, one could have bought a more expensive ticket, and seen some of the better caves - but we did not get this ticket.

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We chose to miss out on the walk to Crescent Moon Lake, is a crescent-shaped lake in an oasis, 6 km south of the city of Dunhuang. It was a very hot day, and the shade of the cafe was more appealing. The lake itself apparently was scarcely worth the walk, as there is very little water there now.

The strange looking chap in the Laker's cap was our local guide in this leg of the trip. I think it would be fair to say that he was as strange as he looked

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From here it was another overnight train from Liuyuan to Turpan

On to next town - Turpan

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016