About a 45 minute drive from Turfan is Bezeklik Grottoes. The drive passes the famous Flaming Mountains which are red in sunlight. Flaming Mountains were on the Journey of the Monkey King, the popular version of the story of the monk Xuanzang “Journey to the West.”
Bezeklik Grottoes have a longer history than most, starting in the 5th century to the 12th or 14th centuries. The caves we saw this day were mostly of later era, 11th Century and showed significant Uighur influences. Although the caves were cut into the mountain, there was significant building of bricks at the entrances.
Cave 17 – Dated 640 AD to mid-9th century. It was a long rectangular cave, about 20’ x 8’. Front niche for Buddha. Buddha images on ceiling in squares. Three large carved mandorlas on each side of cave with statues missing. Images of Turkish donors. Image of Pure Land Paradise.
Cave 16 – Date 8th century. Vaulted ceiling. Musicians playing instrument including Pipa, tom-tom, clappers, Bili (bamboo) flute; all instruments of Gaochang. Also image of Buddha preaching
Cave 20 and 21 – Enter an antechamber with cave 20 straight ahead and cave 21 to the left. Dated 10th century. Another source claims Late Tang which ended in 907 AD. High ceiling corridor to circumambulate around Cave 20. Cave 20 was closed but there were cave images, probably reproductions, on the wall. Many Uighur images: 16 donors, Merchants beneath Buddha offering gold, silver and horses.
Cave 27 – Dated 12th Century. Long and narrow cave, about 40’ x 10’. Portrait of a female Uighur Donor.
Cave 31 – Dated 11th Century. Long cave 50’ x 15’ with vaulted ceiling. 1000 Buddha’s on ceiling. Important image of musicians removed by Japanese expedition.
Cave 33 – Dated 11th century. Rectangle 40’ x 15’ with vaulted ceiling. Many images of Buddha’s Life Story. Above the central niche is an image of devoted and princes grieving at Buddha’s death. Their dress is typical of Gaochang. There is also an image of heretics playing instruments and celebrating Buddha’s death.
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