What Time? It’s Dunhuang 趕時間嗎?這裡是敦煌

A video of the trip.

Ancient construction remains at Yangguan, near Dunhuang. 敦煌市郊陽關的古時遺跡。敦煌市郊阳关的古时遗迹。

Remains of a earthen watch tower from ancient China, at the outskirts of Dunhuang. 敦煌市郊的古代更樓遺跡。敦煌市郊的古代更楼遗迹。

Dunhuang's location via Google Earth. 透過 Google地球發現的敦煌地理位置。透过 Google地球发现的敦煌地理位置。

A Timeless Quality 超越時空

Dunhuang’s charm and importance seems to last through the ages.  The city has been an important strategic outpost of ancient China, located at the entrance of the narrow Gansu corridor leading to the heart of the Han Chinese dynasties and empires, and an important Silk Road stop, which introduced the spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Islam along with trade merchandise.  Today it’s a major travel destination and a grape-producing region.

At Dunhuang Airport on arrival. 敦煌機場。

Dunhuang’s strategic importance for warfare is much less today but it’s former glory is still very much visible and enchanting to the visiting traveler.

Volleyball courts next to the hostel.

The hostel of choice for my first night in Dunhuang is right next to the sand dunes in the images below, an idyllic location.  The major drawback is the distance from downtown Dunhuang and therefore inconvenience and difficult access to the night market.

Dunhuang's dunes, one step away from the hostel.

Dunes, unfortunately fenced.

The idyllic hostel viewed from the dunes.

The hostel and relative locations via Google Earth.

A friendly dog near the hostel.

My friend Hannah from Germany and I.

I first became acquainted with Hannah on Couchsurfing.org and met her in person for the first time in Hangzhou.  Then I met her again in Kashgar, another time purely by chance in Ürümqi, and this fourth time (also by chance) here in Dunhuang.

China CCTV and the Third Grape Festival of China Dunhuang (International)

The adventure in Dunhuang started immediately on arrival, being incredibly fortunate to be in town with the annual grape festival and potentially appearing on China’s TV.  Getting out of the Dunhuang airport with only one taxi in sight, the driver asking for 80 RMBs for a ride to the downtown, and no shuttle bus service; I forfeited the over-priced taxi ride and waited outside the airport for the good part of one hour before getting a ride.  Then, upon arriving at the hostel in Dunhuang, I met by chance a couple from Hong Kong which I had first met in Ürümqi.  They had been approached by CCTV journalists and asked if I would participate with them in a CCTV (China Central Television) news production about Dunhuang’s vineyards and grapes, taking place the following day.  Wow!  I will be on TV in China!  I happily participated.

Miss Friendship International and the Grape Fest

The organizers of the Grape Festival definitely offered a great show, with Miss Friendship International participating.  On the run to downtown Dunhuang for purchasing departing train ticket before heading off to the vineyards, we witnessed the grape festival parade in town.

Miss USA of Miss Friendship International.

Parade in downtown Dunhuang for the 3rd Dunhuang International Grape Festival.

The car and driver to the shooting location were provided by CCTV; as can be seen in the video, the unpaved roads leading to the vineyards really calls for an off-road capable SUV.

Vineyard outside Dunhuang.

Harvesting grapes in Dunhuang.

Ready to harvest grapes at Dunhuang.

Dining area at a Dunhuang vineyard.

We were provided nothing short of a rare, most non-touristy experience at the remote vineyard at which the CCTV crew recorded the needed footage and interviews.  Lunching with the town’s mayor and Communist Party Secretary, we dined on locally raised rainbow trout among the rest of a table-full of sumptuous western China cuisine.  The grapes, freshly cut from the vines were sweet, juicy with a distinctive tang.  According to the grape farmers, the grapes grown in Dunhuang are shipped to other provinces of China to produce wines along with fresh consumption.

Gateway to the Sun – Yangguan

After completing the CCTV assignment for the day, the journalists and the 3 travelers (including myself) toured the ancient fort of Yangguan 陽關/阳关, literally meaning “gateway to the sun”.


Fortification at Yangguan.

Replica siege weapons, as shown in the images below and a museum displaying genuine local period weapons are testify to the brutal, bloody fighting right here in ancient China.

Reproduction siege weapons at Yangguan.

Spikes at Yangguan.

Travel documents and ancient forms of visas were already in use at Yangguan, an important pass on the Silk Road, functioned as a modern immigration authority would at international borders.  Traders, merchants and travelers had to present documents to continue their journeys.

Singing, But Expensive Dunes

Road to the Singing Dunes and Crescent Lake.

A ticket to enter the Singing Dunes and Crescent Lake scenic area is 120 RMBs.  I hesitated to spend the money, but having come all the way to Dunhuang and with the finale of the Grape Festival happening behind the gates, I plunked down the cash for a ticket.

Entrance to the Singing Dunes and Crescent Lake.

Official recognition of the Singing Dunes and Crescent Lake as a major tourist attraction.

Inside the gates of Singing Dunes and Crescent Lake.

A fighter jet in the sand.

Climbing the singing dunes.

Protection from sand.

Many tourists opted for the orange bright orange coverings to keep sand out of shoes and going up pant legs.  I had my Timberland boots that only let in a pinch of sand but really are waterproof and the most durable pair of footwear I own.

The remains of the Grape Festival behind the gates of the Singing Dunes and Crescent Lake.

Cleaning up, the end of the Grape Festival.

On the way to Crescent Lake.

Pagoda built next to Crescent Lake.

Near Crescent Lake itself.

The fence surrounding Crescent Lake.

Unfortunately it was already too dark to see Crescent Lake.

Sand in the air by the Crescent Lake.

Shooting the above photograph reminded me of taking underwater photos without proper lighting equipment.  Suspended particles, instead of the intended subject are illuminated by the flash, creating the cloudy image.  The sandy, particle-filled air was very noticeable and somewhat difficult to breathe with dust filling up my nostrils.

Entering the Dunhuang night market zone, the 敦煌風情城, or "Dunhuang Charm City".

View of the Dunhuang night market from my downtown hostel window, I stayed there for my second night in Dunhuang.

Another view of the night market in Dunhuang.

Republic of China stamps for sale in Dunhuang.

Dunhuang at night.

Outside the hostel for my second night in Dunhuang.

Trip Highlight, The Mogao Grottoes:

A series of caves in a hillside in Dunhuang the Mogao Grottoes contain Tang Dynasty era (dating back at least 1,200 years) Buddhist wall painting art and sculptures statues.  All are priceless relics of Dunhuang, the Silk Road, and Buddhism’s past.  According to Wikipedia, a Buddhist mantra known as the Great Compassion Mantra (Nīlakantha dhāranī) was discovered at the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang.  I am listening to a recording of the Great Compassion Mantra as I work on this post; it helps me focus and direct my mental energy to the task at hand.

At the Mogao Grottoes area.

The Mogao Grottoes with each individual cave-room numbered.

The Mogao Grottoes and I.

UNESCO recognition of the Mogao Grottoes.

A dream world-touring bike, parked at the Mogao Grottoes.

The bike.

I spotted another BMW bike of the same model in Kashgar, with Kyrgyzstan plates.

"Sister caves" to the actual Mogao Grottoes.

Photography was not allowed inside the individually numbered caves which numbered from 1 to about 400.  Still wanting images of the stunning artwork in the caves, I bought postcards of the Mogao Caves even after having decided at the beginning of the trip to bring home nothing but photographs along the journey.

There is an incredible sense of peace and tranquility that is simply, ineffable and invulnerable to disturbance in the presence of the Mogao artwork that has stood through more than one millennia.  Even with the large crowd of tourists visiting the Grottoes, all in the caves at any one moment, there is a soothing quietude beyond the sound inside the caves.  I experienced a very soothing calm in the Mogao caves.  The only time a similar quietude was experienced was while SCUBA diving in some of nature’s wonders.

Dunhuang is the highlight of my entire trip; the Mogao Grottoes are the highlight of my visit to Dunhuang, and lastly the ultimate highlight are 2 statues of the Buddha and a secret room where ancient Buddhist texts were hidden.

The largest statue at the Mogao Grottoes is 30-meters (about 90 feet) tall, but had been repainted during the Qing Dynasty and is housed in a pagoda built into the side of the caves.  A second statue of the Buddha, smaller than the 30-meter work but retains its original colors, took a single artisan’s solo effort 30 years to complete.  The artist’s sheer dedication is incredible and standing at the toe-level height of the great Buddha is simply indescribably inspiring.

My words do not do justice to the wonder of the relics of humankind’s past at Dunhuang!

Gift shop at the Mogao Caves.

Leaving the Mogao Grottoes, photograph taken from a bus.

The courtyard of the hostel just before departing Dunhuang.

2 nights was all I could stay in Dunhuang, but the days and nights there were so adventure filled, enough to last until the next.

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