Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes on Silk Road
Situated at the juncture of Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang, with a history of over 2000 years, Dunhuang was the hub of middle and eastern silk routes in ancient times. With the flourishing of trade along the Silk Road, Dunhuang was prompted to be the most open area in international trade in Chinese history. Dunhuang provided the only access westward for the Chinese Empire and eastward for western nationalities.
Dunhuang is also a regional cultural center. The Mogao Grottoes, also known as the "Dunhuang Grottoes" or the "Thousand Buddha Grottoes", is located on the western cliffs of the Singing Sands Mountains. It is one of the most complete collections of Buddhist frescoes and sculpture from a period ranging over ten dynasties.
The Dunhuang city landmark is an attractive statue, the idea of which comes from the mural in Mogao Caves, a shrine to the culture and arts of Dunhuang. Dunhuang is more than a fabulous archeological treasure-house; since its discovery by a Taoist monk at around 1900, Dunhuang has become a magnet for the modern-day faithful.
Best Time to go
March~October is suitable for visiting Dunhuang, with May to September offering the most clement weather, especially for visiting the caves, as there are no lighting facilities inside but the sunshine perfuse the caves with radiance at this time.
Getting there and away
Situated 13 kilometers east of Dunhuang City is Dunhuang Airport (DNH).Tourists can fly to Dunhuang from Lanzhou, Xian, Beijing, Jiayuguan, Urumqi, etc.
When you arrive at the Dunhuang airport, it is convenient to take a taxi to access downtown Dunhuang.
Important notice: taxis outside the airport will cost less than those inside.
There is no railway station in Dunhuang and the nearest station is Liuyuan Railway Station which is about 128km away. Travelers can arrive at Liuyuan from Shanghai, Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Lanzhou, Urumqi, Chongqing, Lianyungang, Zhengzhou, Hankou, etc.
It takes 2hrs from Liuyuan to Dunhuang, costing Y80~120 for a Santana.
Dunhuang Long-Distance Bus Station is located at No. 24 Mingshan Road, Shazhou Town, opposite Feitian Hotel. There are bus routes to Xining, Xian, Hami, Turpan, Urumqi and Golmud, etc. If you want to visit Tibet from Dunhuang City, you can first take the bus to Golmud, and then transfer to the bus for Lhasa along the Qinghai-Tibet Highway, which is a very long journey with stunning landscape on route. Also, Qinghai-Tibet railway is in operation now.
Dunhuang Bus Station and Dunhuang Passenger Transport Center, located at No. 25 Mingshan Road, offers local services between Dunhuang and other cities or regions inside Gansu, which including Lanzhou, Jiayuguan, Zhangye, Jiuquan and Wuwei, etc.
Minibuses run along fixed routes throughout Dunhuang. Taxis are also convenient. If you'd like to rent or hire vehicles for traveling around Dunhuang, pls consult at your hotel or a local travel agency.
Budget hotels are most available in southeast of the Dunhuang city, close to the bus Station. Feitian Hotel offers reasonable rates at a great location just opposite the long distance bus station. Western Region Hotel is another popular budget choice. Y15~30/dorm,Y120/std. dbl.
Dunhuang food revolves around wheat flour noodles as the main staple of the local diet. Noodles are served with lamb, chicken, or beef. On the other hand, Dunhuang Rang Pizi has long been one of the most popular dishes in the city. These noodles are actually made from pea flour and are clear, white, cool and slippery,seasoned with hot peppers for a cool, yet spicy feel that is just perfect for desert weather.
Shazhou Night Market is one of the best places in Dunhuang to try authentic Dunhuang specialties. Virtually all of the very best of Dunhuang's northwestern cuisine can be found here: Saozi Noodle, stuffed bread and even mutton kebabs. In addition, you will also have opportunity to sample Huanghe sweet melons, grapes and Hami melons.
The Mogao Grottoes (Mogao Ku)
Also known as the Thousand Buddha Caves, constitute one of the three major Buddhist grotto sites in China. It is situated 25km southeast of Dunhuang city on cliffs in the eastern Echoing-Sand Mountains. Dating back to the Han Dynasty, the caves contain Buddhist sculpture and frescoes from ten dynasties ending with the Tang.
Tang Dynasty is the heyday of Dunhuang Mogao Buddhist art. After this period, the local economy around Dunhuang declined and the production of Buddhist art lessened dramatically. Despite the ravages of time, the winds and sand, 492 caves are still in existence. These caves contain thousands of square meters of frescoes, created with layers of cement and clay and then painted. The various dynasties each feature different styles and themes, and the content of the frescoes is diversified, although themes typically revolve around Buddha images.
The Mogao Buddhist sculptures were generally constructed with terracotta and then covered with a carvable plaster surface that is painted after being carved. Cave number 17 is particularly famous for its hoard of Buddhist scriptures and artwork.
Opposite the Mogao Grottoes at the foot of Sanwei Mountain, the Dunhuang Art Exhibition Center was built by the Dunhuang Art Study Institute with donations by Japanese contributors.
Getting there - take a minibus from down town to get there for about Y35, rent a taxi costs Y100~120/day.
Admission Fee: Y100
Better bring a great flashlight to enjoy the caves and frescoes. There are some low-powered flashlights available for rent outside the main gate, but you may be disappointed.
Don't take the cameras into the Grottoes.
Visit Mogao Grottoes in the morning,when it's not so crowded and the lighting condition may be the best within a day.
- Before entering the Grottoes, you'd better read some materials about, or it would be very hard for you to understand the miseries of the mural paintings.
5km south of Dunhaung, famous for the sounds the wind makes when blowing over the dunes. Also, the sand is said to be rather noisy when tread upon. The dunes are also famous for their size, some reaching 100m or more, relatively stable despite the fact that the dunes beyond the mountains shift frequently. Also, the sands are said to regain form overnight if tread upon the day before.
The sunset at Echoing-Sand Mountain is amazing, so the best time to be there is around sunset in a summer/autumn day.
- Crescent Moon Spring
just nestled in the arms of Echoing-Sand Mountain, quite literally an oasis in the desert. The Spring's name derives from the crescent moon shape the small pool of spring water has taken between two large sand dunes. Although the area is very dry, the pool doesn't dry up as one might expect.
Getting there - take bus No. 3 from downtown, or take a taxi for about Y15, or rent a bicycle.
Admission Fee: Y80(incl. the dune and the spring)
- Camel riding for Y30-50, without time limitation
- Dune paragliding for Y20. Foreigners are asked to pay Y50, Just don't!
- Sand sledding for Y10,which is the most marvelous experience in the dune.
- The Yang Pass (Yangguan)
Also known as the Southern Pass, sits 75km southwest of Dunhuang, originally built by Emperor Wu in the Hang Dynasty as one of the two most important passes protecting Dunhuang from invasion from the west (the other pass is the Yumen Pass).
Yangguan has been ruined with great sections buried in the shifting sands. During its heyday, this system of beacon towers and walls marked the western border of the Chinese Empire, although it seems slightly difficult to imagine this today. There are now hardly any walls in sight, with the only visible sections being the foundations of some of the walls. To the south of the mound is an expanse containing millions of pieces of broken tile over an area of 20km, some of the last remaining evidence of civilisation here.
How to get there: take a public bus from Dunhuang to Nanhu,about 1.5 hrs. Hiring a minibus may cost around Y180.
Admission fee: Y40
- The Yumen Pass
90km northwest of Dunhuang, was once one of two critical defensive passes protecting Dunhuang from invasion from the West about two thousand years ago. At that time, anyone in China wishing to take the Silk Road west (or east into China through Dunhuang) had to pass through this spot. Those familiar with ancient Chinese poetry, may recall a poem written by the renowned Tang Dynasty poet, Wang Zhihuan, describing the unique scenery and atmosphere here.
The pass has also been known as Little Square City, named after a rare square piece of jade that was sent from the west to the Han emperor. Today, there are two gates at the western and northern sides of the pass built with yellow clay. Owing to severe erosion, some parts of the walls have collapsed, forming huge holes. On the northern side, there is a road leading west towards the ancient village of Hechang (15km away), which used to be the granary for the pass garrison.
How to get there: The journey to the Yumen Pass requires an entire day as the route is not well marked. To hire a minibus or other vehicle should cost around Y500 for the day.