From Turfan to Dunhuang

On to Dunhuang


               As usual for us we are leaving the TuHa Petroleum Hotel in Turfan early to catch the train to Dunhuang.  Even though we planned to leave at 9 AM for a 1040 train, leaving over an hour to get through security, we still had breakfast and caught a taxi at 8:50 and arrived at the station at 9:15.  As before, the line for security to gain access to the station was long and noisy.  In this case, more westerners that locals. 

               More disruptive than waiting was the demand by security to open suitcases.  It is not embarrassment, but the mess and confusion of digging in the clothes to find the items.  By this stage, the suitcase is not well packed and we struggle to zipper closed.  Double difficulty when the suitcase is on the floor of the station and everyone is rushing past.   They taped my Swiss army knife shut and told JoAnn her scissors were small enough not to worry.  The security guards were helpful and courteous in pushing my suitcase closed. 

               The bullet train was clean and comfortable.  Someone actually washes the floor after each train stop.  People around engaged us.  As if being a westerner was still unusual in China.  Well maybe in Western China, Xinjiang Province.

               Time was getting near for our stop, but no one was calling Dunhuang.  A moment of panic, but then remembered we were off at Liuyuan and that the car would take us to Dunhuang.  Lucy and the car were at the station and it was an hour or more to Dunhuang.

               Dunhuang is in the Gobi desert, which was quite different than the Taklimakan of Kuqa and Turfan.  It was flat.  Visibility was for miles.  No mountains as we had in Taklimakan.  Also, no dust.

               We saw cars parked on the side of the road, in the desert.  Amazing they were fishing in a small pond.  In the dessert.  There had been an unusual amount of rain.  The reservoir was filled and it was releasing water into the dessert streams.  I guess the fish are also up river and when the water is released so were fish.  Our guide, Lusy also mentioned that the level of vegetation in the dessert was quite unusual due to the recent heavy rains.  It was green, in the desert. 

               As we came closer to Dunhuang, vegetation increased.  Cultivation of crops and trees became prominent.  Dunhuang is a large oasis in the Gobi.  

               After settling in the hotel, JoAnn began her search for street food.  The shuttle to the Night Market and some wandering around satisfied her need.  One dish was stir fired intestines, not so good.   So much for ordering pointing at pictures.     :     Expand your mind.  Stretch your body.

Bazeklik Grottoes


               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.     :     Expand your mind.  Stretch your body.