On the Silk Road trail – Dunhuang & Zhangye, China – Part 2

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And here’s Part 2 of my Silk Road trail.

Carrying on the journey the next day, we visited Mogao Caves. A brief description of the caves taken from Wikipedia is as follows:

The Mogao Caves or Mogao Grottoes (Chinese: ; pinyin: Mògāo kū), also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas (Chinese: 千佛洞; pinyin: qiān fó dòng), form a system of 492 temples 25 km (16 mi) southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China. The caves may also be known as the Dunhuang Caves, however, this term is also used as a collective term to include other Buddhist cave sites in the Dunhuang area, such as the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, and the Yulin Caves farther away. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years.[1] The first caves were dug out in 366 CE as places of Buddhist meditation and worship.[2] The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and, along with Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes, are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.

Photography is not allowed inside the caves in order to preserve the caves for as long as possible, therefor i have no photos to be shown. I just managed to take 1 picture of the exterior of the most prominent cave there.

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The history behind these caves is very impressive and it is a bit overwhelming in terms of the achievements the ancient Chinese was able to produce. The artwork found inside the caves are beautiful and it is hard to imagine how they are all being done up. Firstly the caves are dark, and some of them are pretty huge in size. Without the use of modern technology, the ancient artists are able to paint up many wall murals and even erect statues inside the caves.

However, it is also saddening to know that a lot of the murals and scriptures found inside the caves were being stolen by foreigners and now they’re being kept in museums in other countries and not within China. There’s a really long history behind the caves and the best way to learn it is to visit the place yourself.

After visiting the Mogao Caves, we visited Echoing-Sand Mountain & Crescent Lake. Crescent Lake is a crescent-shaped lake in an oasis near Dunhuang. The Gobi Desert surrounds the lake and the sand dunes around the lake is called Echoing-Sand Mountain, due to the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes, which causes the singing sand phenomenon. The Chinese government have turned this place into a tourist area, and lots of touristy activities can be found here; including camel rides, paragliding, buggy rides, etc. In other words, there’s plenty of people around. We’re waiting for sunset, so we took our time to explore the area and climbed up the sand dunes to get a high vantage point.

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Early next morning, we set off to our next destination. A little bit of convincing from me to Michael caused him to make a detour to White Horse Pagoda. Nice little place to visit with a bit of history behind it.

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The next destination is Xuan Bi Chang Cheng (悬壁长城). I have no idea what it is called in English, but a loose translation means Overhanging Great Wall. Basically the place was part of the Great Wall of China.

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After visiting this part of the Great Wall, we head on to Jiayu Pass. Jiayu Pass is the first Pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China, so you can pretty much guess the importance of this Pass in ancient China. The Pass itself is pretty huge in size, along with houses for the generals that were out-stationed here.

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We headed outside to a nearby patch of open land to hopefully get some sunset pics of Jiayu Pass. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy and we didn’t get any nice sunset. Still the landscape was very pretty.

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The next morning, we visited The First Pier of Great Wall. This place is supposedly the start of the Great Wall in maybe the Song Dynasty. It is built just by the cliff walls of the Beida River. and there used to be military camps in this area of ancient China. One interesting tidbit about this place according to the local guide is that many Chinese martial art films are shot here, including the popular New Dragon Gate Inn (1992).

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In the afternoon, we headed east towards Zhangye. The main attraction there was Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park. The landforms here are absolutely beautiful. There’s the whole bit of history on how these landforms are formed. In ancient times, the area is actually submerged under water, most probably a lake or river. Over the years as the water dried up and the land got pushed up around due to moving tectonic plates, and as a result, the colourful landforms are developed. Beautiful sight to behold, if you ask me.

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Finally we’re down to the last day of our tour. We are headed back to Lanzhou and it’s a long journey from Zhangye, so the last leg of the trip was pretty much spent on the roads. It was pretty much beautiful mountainous landscape and we passed by some Tibetan mani stones as well.

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We passed by some rapeseed plantations along the way as well and boy, were they beautiful. According to the guide, this area has the some of the biggest rapeseed plantations in the world.

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We finally reached Lanzhou after a long journey on the road and it was time to have an early night. We have a very early flight to catch in the morning and we certainly do not want to be late.

Frankly speaking, this trip is one of nicer ones which i have been on and it is certainly eye-opening for me in terms of the Chinese arts & culture. Now that i’ve been to the first pass of the Great Wall on the Western end of China, i now have this burning urge to visit the first pass of the Great Wall on the Eastern end! Until then!

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