From Dunhuang's famous caves to Jiayuguan

Trip Start Jul 20, 2004
Trip End Jul 20, 2014

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

My next stop was Dunhuang. The national, historical city of Dunhuang is a renowned tourist city famous for the Mogao Caves. It is situated in the common boundary of Gansu Province, Qinghai Province and Xinjiang Province. Dunhuang, long ago referred to as 'Sha Zhou' (beautiful desert oasis), was the hub of middle and eastern silk routes in ancient times. In ancient times, Dunhuang was the center of trade between China and its western neighbors. At that time, it was the most westerly frontier military garrison in China. With the flourishing of trade along the Silk Road, Dunhuang was prompted to become the most open area in international trade in Chinese history. It provided the only access westward for the Chinese Empire and eastward for western nationalities. Today, as a reminder of this historical area, we are left with the Mogao Caves, Yangguan Pass, Yumenguan Pass and many wonderful Chinese poems depicting the time. Although what remains of the two Passes are crumbling walls, one can still experience the atmosphere of that time while visiting in person.

I got to Dunhuang around 11am in the morning and was greeted at the bus station by a bunch of employees from a hotel that absolutely wanted me to stay at their place. The hotel was right at the bus station across from the FeiTian hotel where I was planning to check in. The people convinced me to at least look at the room and I could not say know as the price was 25Y and they were so excited to show me around. I decided to stay, mostly because I liked the people. I had my own room with two beds and the shower was a floor down and it was hot water. They employees were extremely friendly (something you don't find too often in China)and ushered me around and helped me getting bus tickets, etc. It wasn't love at first sight, it came later but it stayed. Dunhuang is in the process of getting new water or sewage pipes so the main roads, Mingshan Lu was torn open and dusty and just didn't look pretty. After checking in, I had lunch and then took the bus to Mingshan Shan. I was planning on climbing up the sand dunes but it was so hot and the sand was boiling that I decided to linger around the camel camp. I didn't feel like paying money to see Crescent Moon Lake and wander into the dunes on a camel ride. Then, I walked back into town, where I inspected the local indoor swimming pool. I would have loved to go for a swim but the pool was hot and smelly. Outside, there was a water canal with blue-green water and a few guys were jumping into the fast moving waters where some of them lost their undies in the strong current. Otherwise they had a blast frolicking in the cold waters. I was very tempted to jump in but I decided that the feet will have to do. I started to like the town as I wandered the streets. At night, I went to the night market were I ate liver at a food stall and met Li Xiang who was interpreting my desire for food to the lady across his food stall. Li Xiang runs two hamburger places in Dunhuang called "Rou Jia Bing". He is originally from Xian and is contemplating opening a hamburger place in Beijing. I hang out with Li Xiang who introduced me to the China Welfare Lottery. I handed in my first bet and paid him 2Y for 6+1 numbers (one blue number). I told him I will be back the next day.

The next morning, I went to the famous Mogao Caves, 25 km outside of Dunhuang. The caves are amazing as they include a varietu of Buddha statues from different dynasties, most of them from the early to late Tang Dynasty.The Mogao shrine at Dunhuang is a cluster of 492 caves, containing 45,000 square meters of frescoes and 2,415 stucco statues. It has great historical and artistic value. These caves were created, renovated and maintained continually with devotion and care from the 4th up to the 14th century. They were also maintained during the subsequent periods up till the 19th century. From the 7th to 9th century, culture and art enjoyed a golden period in China, so did Dunhuang Art. The caves include a 30m long reclining Buddha and two huge sitting buddhas. The tour includes a visit to 10 caves and the library museum. After this, visitors are free to check out the Dunhuang research center (which I missed). As I missed my bus bus, I decided to walk and see if anybody would stop. Otherwise, I was prepared for an easy 24km walk back into town. 15 minutes into my walk, a car stopped and the people took me into town and filled me up with Nescafe from the can. Very lovely people as all the people in Dunhuang. I could have stayed longer, just because I liked the people a lot. In the evening, I had 2 hamburgers at my friends place and we played the lottery again. The next day I left to the 10 hour journey to Jiayuguan. This trip went via the back roads of Gansu. it is interesting t watch Chinese road construction which is everywhere. They are building a new highway which one day will link Dunhuang to Jiayuguan via wide 4 lane highway. I wonder what the labor wage for construction workers is, except for some heavy machinery, everything is done my manual labor which is probably not a problem with a population of 1.3 billion people.
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