|Dunhuang is a famous tourist spot in northwest China and is located in the area of the boundaries of Gansu Province, Qinghai Province and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It is well known for its unique historical and cultural characteristics.
Dunhuang, which refers to a "grand and beautiful desert oasis" in Chinese, was a hub for the middle and eastern silk routes during the Han (206BC-220AD), Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. During that period, Dunhuang attracted a large group of people with its flourishing development and trade between businessmen from Middle East and North Asia. The city's population reached 40,000 during this time, while now it is settled around 200,000.
The city of Dunhuang was left empty for 200 years from 1500 to roughly 1700 because of the aftermath of wars. It wasn't until 1725 that the people began to immigrate here again from Gansu and Xinjiang.
There is no direct flight from Shanghai to Dunhuang, so it is recommended to take a flight to Xi'an in Shaanxi Province and then transfer onto Dunhuang. Alternatively, you can fly to Lanzhou in Gansu first and then take a train to Dunhuang. The flight from Shanghai to Xi'an takes about two and a half hours, and it is another two and a half hours from Xi'an to Dunhuang. The train takes roughly one night from Lanzhou to Dunhuang.
The Mogao Grottoes (莫高窟), or Mogao Caves, are located 25 kilometers southeast of downtown Dunhuang. The caves are cut into the side of the cliff which stretches to almost 2 kilometers in length and 50 meters in height in places. It is said that a monk once passed by and saw golden lights on the cliffs, as if Buddha was sitting there. So the monk proposed to the then emperor that the cliff be cut with Buddhist sculptures. Between 300 and 1300 people dug, carved and decorated caves there. At one time there were 3,000 caves in all, and this is where the Mogao Grottoes get their name: "caves of thousands of Buddhas." But because of natural disasters and wars only about 500 of the caves still remain.
The art in Mogao Grottoes covers more than 10 styles, including architecture, stucco sculpture, wall paintings, silk paintings, calligraphy, woodblock printing, embroidery and literature.
Not all the grottoes are open to the public, and even among those that are, tour guides will take travelers to only 10 to 15 of these caves depending on how many visitors there are. It is advisable to question which guide is going to which caves before making a decision to join a certain group.
Be warned that the site is closed during Spring Festival holiday and during January and February when at times the weather is particularly bad.
Admission: 80 yuan ($12.68) per person (from November to March), and 160 yuan per person (from April to October). Free English tour guide. No admission after 4 pm. Call (0937) 8869060 for updates on closures.
Tips: Only small bags are allowed to be brought onto the site; all other goods must be left with the security guard. No photos inside the caves.
Transport: Buses set out from the Feitian Hotel and Dunhuang Railway Station to the site every half hour for 5 yuan per person. Taxi costs 80 yuan and take half an hour to get there.
Lake in the sand
Yueya Quan, or "Crescent Lake," is a crescent-shaped lake in a desert oasis 6 kilometers south of the city of Dunhuang. Camel rides are offered from the entrance of the site to the lake (40 yuan per person one way, 80 yuan for a round trip).
Mingsha Shan means "echo sand mountain" in English and it is a geological site where sands rub against each other because of the wind, creating a sound like thunder. Dunhuang is not the only city which has a mingsha shan, but it has the longest history and fame in China. Sand sliding (80 yuan per person) is a popular sport here, but climbing up and down the sand dunes is sure to drain your energy.
Admission: 120 yuan per person (includes Yueya Quan and Mingsha Shan)
Tips: It's advisable to prepare back-up shoes and shirts, and be careful to protect your camera lens from sand.
Into the West
Where to stay
Feitian Hotel (飞天大酒店): 4-star; 300 yuan per night (including breakfast); free Internet. The hotel is situated at city's downtown area at 2 Mingshan Road. 50 yuan by taxi from airport; 30 yuan from railway station.
The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel (敦煌山庄): 4-star, 300 yuan per night (including breakfast). The hotel is only 1 kilometer from Mingsha Shan and Yueya Quan and is famous for its decorative style that resembles the Mogao Caves. It costs 60 yuan by taxi from the airport to get there and 40 yuan from the railway station.
What to eat
You can enjoy local specialities such as fried oil cakes, yellow noodles with donkey meat, and apricot peel water in hotels or in the night markets in the city.
Day 1: Arrive in Dunhuang, visit Mingsha Shan and Yueya Quan
Day 2: Visit Mogao Grottoes
Day 3: Visit Mogao Grottoes and Dunhuang city
Global Times | April 26, 2012