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    • Day 33


      March 20, 2015 in China ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

      An oasis town and once an important hub of the silk road, Dunhuang has little left of its historical character. However, out of town lies a wealth of fascinating sites.
      Arriving at the train station in the dark, cold early morning, I was greeted by a wall of taxi drivers all competing for passengers. Behind them dozens and dozens of old volkswagons were lined up, nose to bumper. I found a driver and he led me to his car... Now, how were we going to get out? There was a lot of impatient shouting and manouvering of cars through tiny spaces until we were free.
      In the morning I explored the Mogao caves; over 700 buddhist caves built into the sandstone in the Gobi desert. I found another westerner (German man) and we had a tour together. The frescoes and statues inside were inredible and so we preserved given many are over 1000 years old.
      Later, I went to the sand dunes where the original oasis is. The chinese have managed to give it a slightly theme park air to it but once I had scaled the first dune (via the stairway to heaven), the views were incredible. I even joined a group of chinese to do a tandem rubber ring down the other side, flying through the sand very fast. For dinner I tried donkey which, if you're wondering, tastes like roast beef.
      The next day I took slowly and spent the afternoon sitting on the rooftop of the Silk Road Hotel with Tess and Francesca, a mother and daughter team who are cycling the Silk Road. Very admirable. They are lovely, interesting people with many stories to share.
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    • Day 4


      October 17, 2017 in China ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

      It took us a 5 hour bus ride from Jiayuguan to get here. We reached at 9pm yesterday. After a well deserved rest, we started our day by visiting Mingsha Mountain Crescent Spring Scenic Area. The entrance fee was ¥120 per person. This is actually the Gobi desert beyond the Great Wall. The mountain is also known as the Sand Echoing Mountain because at times when the winds are strong, you can hear howling. It has an oasis with a crescent-shaped lake, hence the name.

      There are multiple tourist activities here such as camel riding, hiring a helicopter and renting a glider. I didn't do that as I didn't find it all that interesting. I'd rather move on foot and save money as I have another 11 days of China to go.

      We first visited the oasis, where there was a pagoda like structure called the Yuequan Pavilion. Too many tourists wandering here so I decided to skip the picture taking and climb up one of the dunes instead. To me, the climb was physically challenging as well as shoe filling (with sand). I only climbed up the first dune as I had the physical stamina of an 80 year old with a heart condition. Once up there, I just sat there for a bit admiring the view as well as observing the colourful chinese tourist with their high enthusiasm for posing during photo taking.

      We were done with this place by 1pm. We headed off to Mogao Grottoes as we had tickets for 2pm. The fee for this place was ¥220 and it covered everything from the videos, to the english speaking guide as well as a 2 way bus ride to the grottoes. Lucky for us, the staff let us in by 1.30pm (because we mentioned we had a train to catch at night). We watched 2 videos on the history of the place, one of which was 3D and was simply amazing as the screen covered the entire dome. Then we took a shuttle bus to the actual Mogao Grottoes. It wasn't exactly what I expected as it has been touched up in view of its old and crumbling structure. The cave entrances now have doors with numbers on it.

      Built 1000 years ago by a wandering monk who once had a vision to teach peace to the world via Buddhism. Slowly through the course of time, more and more caves were built with statues and murals representing the Buddhist religion. There are about 735 caves here, of which 492 had Buddhist statues in them. Out of those, around 300 were built during the Tang dysnasty. Other dysnasties that contributed were mainly the Sui and Ching. From what I gathered, the people from the Ching dynasty simply loved the rebuild and repaint the statues and cave walls.

      They also had a library with thousands of manuscripts and paintings, most of which have been taken/bought (I would say stolen) by foreigners from France, America, Japan, etc. One genius even took an entire Bodhisattva statue and sold it to the Harvard Museum. Like why would you take away history from its original resting place. Greed obviously.

      There is a Buddhist statue 35.5 metres tall here, which is the third tallest Buddhist statue in China. It was huge! I saw it but I couldn't take pictures inside any of the caves. The 2nd tallest one in Mogao Grottoes had a height of 26 metres but I couldn't see that one as it was undergoing reconstruction.

      Besides meditating caves, there were over 200 caves on the Northern end for travellers and merchants on the Silk Road to rest and also for protection against bandits.

      So much history here but I only gathered a glimpse of it today. Before this, I never even knew a place called Mogao Grottoes existed. Yet another reason for me to hit the history books.
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    • Day 12


      May 27, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

      After a long drive we arrived in the rather pleasant city of Dunhuang. With a population of only 200,000 it's virtually a village by Chinese standards. An oasis town set amidst the stark Gobi Desert, it once served as the last stop on the Silk Road before the leap into the unknown. After settling in to our hotel we headed out, relishing the rare opportunity for independent exploration.

      We'd observed outdoor exercise parks elsewhere on our journey and Dunhuang was no exception. Indeed, it is very common to see adults and children alike exercising in these communal settings at any time of the day.

      An impressive "river" runs through the city, offering mid-river picnic spots, a fantastic fountain display, dragon boating and more. We really liked this city!

      Our destination was the White Horse Pagoda (or Baima Ta), set within a very modest Buddhist temple located in a rather down-trodden (but soon to be upgraded) part of town. The pagoda was built in memory of a horse belonging to a Buddhist monk who'd passed through the area. He clearly made an impact! His horse died at the temple in 384 AD.

      After rejoining our fellow travellers we spent a pleasant few hours observing the locals, partaking of the local beverage and enjoying the stunning light show.
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    You might also know this place by the following names:

    Shazhou, 敦煌市

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