Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark
A fantastic landscape and the Chinese version of US's death valley national park. I couldn't search for proper language to describe my experience, just look at the picture, it is not even 1/10 of you may experience with your own eyes.
Beside the regular tourism bus route, highly recommend to take the off-road SUV for an extensive journey in the south section of the park. It will cost additional CNY 350 per vehicle but well worth it.
- Adventure Travel
- Family Travel
Dun Huang night market
A large market selling all kinds of food, handicraft, and entertainments, very exotic. Local people are joined with ethnic Hui, Xinjiang, Tibetian, and Mongolian.
For local food, recommend those made from rice and noodle and lamb.
- Family Travel
Mo Gao Grottoes
Painstakingly built over a span of 10 centuries (a 1,000 year long project!), the Mo Gao Grottoes are truly a feat of devotion and imagination. The grotto construction began in 366 AD. Legend has that it all started when a monk by the name of Yue Zun dreamt of 1000 golden Buddhas one night and decided to, quite literally, make his dream come true!
As it turns out, the Mo Gao Grottoes eventually housed 2000 Buddha statues and 45,000 murals-- looks like the monk overshot his dream a bit ;)
Of the 800+ original caves created, about 500 are still preserved to this very day thanks to the unusally dry and cold conditions in the region. If you want to take a walk through time and see how art has changes over 1,000 years, this is a great place to experience it!
- Mountain Climbing
- Adventure Travel
Great Wall-- Jia Yu Guan Pass
A spectacular point to see the Great Wall, not only because it marks the very western end of this world famous landmark but also because Jia Yu Guan has an uncommon double wall design. There's an outer wall and an inner wall; in fact, the entire complex is very well-maintained so you can walk all around and explore on your own, unlike certain parts of the Great Wall that are sealed off from the public.
Jia Yu Guan Pass was built in the Ming Dynasty (14th century) and its name was derived from the fact that it was located at the Jia Yu Highlands. Although this part of the wall was abandoned at a point, it was later rebuilt and reinforced in the 16th century.
For those interested in history, look out for a little building to the side of the wall-- that's the Jia Yu Guan Great Wall Museum.
Mingsha Dune and Crescent Lake
First of all, you have the opportunity to climb into some fetching day-glo orange protective footwear (a good idea if you are planning on climbing up the sand dune, but not necessary if you just want to go and look at the Crescent Lake).
Once through the entrance, you can opt to ride a camel out to the dune or take a ride in a 'cartoon bus' instead.
For a sand dune, it is surprisingly green. As well as the natural spring-fed Crescent Lake, there is another artificial lake.
The building at the Crescent Lake houses some exhibitions on calligraphy and the history of the area as well as some refreshment kiosks. We sampled ‘apricot water’, made with the local dried apricots, which was very pleasant.
There are lots of activities at the site, from climbing the dune and sliding back down again, to parachuting and microlighting, and even archery.
- Adventure Travel
For a thousand years, pilgrims and travellers had temples and shrines dug out of the cliff and in order to ensure a safe journey. The caves were adorned with paintings.
At the turn of the 20th century a huge cache of manuscripts was discovered by 'Abbot' Wang, who subsequentlly sold a large quantity to Western scholars such as Aurel Stein in order to fund the restoration of the caves.
There are almost 500 caves in total in this complex, though a typical guided tour will include around ten.
Highlights include giant Buddha statues (caves 96 and 130), giant reclining Buddha (cave 148) and some wonderful paintings, and of course the 'library' cave.
There is also a small museum showing facsimiles of manuscripts now held in London, Paris and other cities, and a bookshop.
Photography is not permitted inside the caves. If you want to remember the paintings you will need to buy a book or at least some postcards. Note that postcards are sold in packs and a pack may not include many of the actual caves you visited.
The caves may be closed to protect the paintings in the event of a sandstorm (or rain).
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
- Religious Travel
There are over 1,000 caves here, of which 600 survive in a recognisable form. Now before I say they are all based on Buddhist texts, teachings and life stories of the Buddha and you all switch off, within these caves is contained an entire history of Chinese art (through each of the dynasties) and influences including Indian, Persian, Central Asian and even Western. Started alledgedly by monk Lie Zun civilisation, it's position on the Silk Road ensured that this spot became a melting pot of thoughts and ideas. The different groups that controlled this spot from time to time, including Tibetan, Uygyr (pre-Muslim) and Mongol ensured a rich mix of ideas.
Each cave style depends on it's creator (cave numbers shown). The first caves are Northern Wei (a turkic group of people) - caves 101, 120N, 135, 254, 257 and 428-101, 257 and 428 show a western influence. Following this are Sui (150 and 427), Tang (1-above, 51E, 70, 96, 130, 139A, and 148) and Tibetan influenced Mongol/Yuan (465) style caves. Tang caves 96, 130 and 148 contain the really big Buddhas.
The caves were abandoned towards the end of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, but avoided damage inflicted to other 'Thousand Buddha Caves' by Muslim invaders. There was some Muslim damage done, but this was early 20th Century by Muslim White Russian troops who found themselves camping here. More damage was done by the attention brought on them by archaeologist Aureil Stein who removed many works of art from these caves (including manuscripts brought back from India by the famous monk Xuanzang), after handing over the equivalent of £130 pounds to self-appointed curator / Taoist monk Wang Yuan Lu. Wang had taken it upon himself to look after and try to restore the caves (no easy task with 1,000 caves to look after).
After this, to cut a long story short, many Qing government officials decided to help themselves to much of what remained.
The Mogao caves ironically were left untouched during the Cultural Revolution, possibly under the orders of Mao's protégé Chou Enlai.
World Heritage Site, 1 of the 3 major grottoes in China (the others are the Yungang Grottoes at Datong, Shanxi and Longmen Grottoes at Luoyang, Henan). Photos are prohibited in the grottoes. A tour is compulsory and included in the ticket price. 100 RMB for Chinese-speaking tour and 120 RMB for English-speaking tour; students get half price. In summer it's 160 RMB for English-speaking tour; I think Chinese-speaking tour is 120 RMB or so. Note that the grottoes are liable to be closed during rainy weather in order to protect them from moisture.
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Singing Sand Dunes and Crescent Moon Lake
Singing Dune Hills and Crescent Moon Lake (Ming2 Sha1 Shan1 and Yue4 Ya2 Quan2) admission 20 RMB (off-peak), usual price is 120 RMB (in non-freezing weather...!). Taking a ride on/photographing with a camel is 30 RMB per camel. The scenery was quite amazing, though we almost froze going there at 0730 trying to wait for the sunrise. Never do this in winter... brrrr! The Crescent Moon Lake was frozen and a bit underwhelming as well. There's a man-made lake closer to the dunes at the entrance, don't mistake THAT for the real thing. If you're afraid of heights, be careful when you climb the sand dunes.
- Adventure Travel
Day 9 - LanZhou
Lanzhou is the capital for Gansu province. Wanghe River runs through the city. Huanghe River is the mother river for Chinese culture.
The city of Lanzhou looks no different to the city of Nanjing (also same as the city of Urumqi).
Lanzhou is famous for its snacks and beef noodles. Yes, I had the best beef noodles soup in my life! The resturant is call "Ma Zi Lu" beef noodle soup. Only 5 yuan you can have a wonderful lunch. I believe there are other places in Lanzhou that has excellent beef soup too.
Another place to visit in Lanzhou is the water cart. It is delicately designed to utilize the flush of the river to mow the rice.
Day 8 - JiaYu Guan
JiaYu Gate is the western start of the great way. If I were to rate my travel highlights, JiaYu Gate is rated No.2 after Bayibruk grass land.
When I walk around the millitary town, I am thinking of the many peoms I studied to describe the mode of Soilders being sent to the remote place, far away from home. The millitary town is not big at all in today's view and many soldiers spend their entire life in such a place.
Studying the construction of the millitary town is also very interesting such as "Wen Cheng" which is a 90 degree turn to stop the empty from getting directly in. There is also an opera stand for soilder entertainment with naked woman painted on the ceiling.
There is also a great wall museum built inside JiayuGuan nowadays which is worth visiting.
Day 7 - MingSha hill
MingSha moutain means "Singing sand" hill in chinese. Because sometime in the evening when there is someone walking through the hill, the sand hill will give out some noices. It because the sharp temporature difference in the sand. I don't fully understand the why and wasn't lucky enough to hear it.
The moutain is pure pure sand dessert which is fun. We took a Camel ride all the way up to the sand moutain. There is some game call sand skiing on the moutain as well. The sand is so fine grained that if you drop your camera into the sand, it will be damaged permanently because sand sinking into the camera like water.
The famous cresent moon lake is at the same place. It should be a place full of legends because who can imagine there is a lake being there for hundreds and thousands of years in the deadly pure dessert? But the water in the lake is slowly sinking into the ground and the lake is smaller and smaller.
Day 7- MoGao Cave
It is 100 yuan per visit and one visit allows you to see 5 caves. The 5 caves are randomly picked but reprenstitive of the sculpture and painting from different time.
My expreience is that even with a torch it is very dark inside and you cannot see very clearly. Besides, you visit the cave with a large group of people and the guid has to make the schedule. So the real meaning for me to visit MoGao Cave is to know the Cave's actual surroundings and get a real general feeling about the cave. I bought a well printed book in the store to study the paintings in detail after I got back home. That's a clearer way of enjoying the paintings and sculptures.
More History of the Mogaokou - Part III
Buddhism at Dunhuang was not initially affected by the Tang dynasty persecution - in fact a major earthquake was more likely to have been the beginning of the end for active construction - but the general retraction of Chinese influence in the west of China left the desert oases vulnerable to attack from Tibetans, from the Xi Xia kingdom and later on by the rapid spread of Islam. Slowly the monks dispersed and at some point - believed to be around the beginning of the 11th Century, possibly in 1004 - the huge collection of manuscripts were hidden behind a brick wall in one of the caves. Eventually there were no monks left and this stony ravine became quiet, until monks finally returned again to worship the frescos and art. But these returning monks, some of them Taoist rather than Buddhist, were no longer on a great trade route, but in a remote desert gorge where peace and quiet was a definite attraction.
More History of the Mogaokou - Part II
The number of caves grew in number over the years, and the caves became a renowned centre of Buddhist art, with many painters and sculptors travelling long distances to add their work to the to the growing galleries in the pebbly cliff-face. The processes varied little over the years, with paper patterns, pricked with holes used to mark out the main features. Powder was blown through the pinholes creating a stencil effect, over which the artists - at least some of them - painted in colour. The religious grottoes became a focal point for Buddhist art and there was no shortage of benefactors to contribute money for new frescos, paintings and art. The monks created a library, later to become one of the most famous Buddhist and Central Asian libraries.
The caves are not natural, having been hollowed out by the monks, who used multiple layers of mud to create a smooth surface. Often mud was used to cover over older frescos to allow newer, better frescos to be created. This was not always done through choice, as over the centuries earthquakes damaged many of the caves: the newer frescos were often just done to patch up the spaces where part of the roof or wall had collapsed. The latest stage of Dunhuang art used very advanced forms of smooth surface for their age, utilising kaolin to create a white surface. The lack of space on the cliff at Dunhuang led to frequent reuse of caves at later points, although often the earlier structure (with a central supporting roof pillar) was kept rather than creating a bigger, open cave as was more common later. Sadly, the bigger caves have tended to weaken the entire cliff face, so exacerbating the situation.
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