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Dunhuang: a cultural oasis in the desert
  The largest Dunhuang art exhibit is currently on display at the National Art Museum. Ten duplicated Dunhuang caves are there for the first time. The National Art Museum has frescoes painted on its outer walls to complement the exhibit within.
For most visitors who lack the time and opportunity to see Dunhuang, the exhibit is a nice chance to see its Buddhas and frescoes. But what was left behind in those Gansu Province caves that the exhibit couldn't capture?

Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes

The Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes are located in the vale of the Daquan River, southeast of Dunhuang city. Its 492 caves honeycomb all the walls of the vale.

The grottoes were first built in 366 AD. By Tang Dynasty (618-907), the number of caves reached one thousand.

Due to natural and man-made damage, only 492 caves remain today: these house about 45,000-square-meters of frescoes and 2,400 colored statues. The caves were halls for monks to perform religious ceremonies.

Colored statues are the bulk of Dunhuang art, and have an important position in each cave. Most statues are combinations of a Buddha and two Bodhisattvas. Starting in Sui (581-618) and Tang Dynasty, colored statue groups began to appear. The statues of the late Tang were more real and emotional.

Another feature of the Mogao Grottoes is the large numbers of colorful frescoes. Buddhas, mountains and rivers, animals, fairy tales and ornaments were all subjects. They reflect the life of people in ancient times, as well as their technology, music, dance, and clothing.

Open: 8:30 am to 6 pm from May to October; 9 am to 5:30 pm from November to April

Admission: 160 yuan per person from May to October for Chinese; 180 yuan per person for foreign visitors including foreign language tour guide; 80 per person from November to April for Chinese; 100 yuan per person for foreign visitors.

Traveler's experience

"At any given time, around 50 caves are open to the general public, and access is only possible as part of a guided tour. Although the guide will have a flashlight, it is advisabe to bring your own, but be prudent with its use-the frescoes and pigments are damaged by light.If you are referring to one of the specialist guide books, note that the cave numbering system has changed, which makes it all a little confusing. The highlights for many fast-paced fleet-footed tour groups are the northern and southern Big Buddha caves, which, artistically are among the least interesting, so if you let your guide know that you are willing to skip these, you will have a lot more time to see some of the more interesting caves."

"Forget about seeing the caves depicting tantric sex: these are off-limits to all but the most serious of researchers. Cameras are not allowed in the caves; they have to be deposited in a locker-room near the ticket office."ĘC mke1963 wrote on

Jiayu Pass (Jiayuguan)

Jiayu Pass is a five-hour trip from Dunhuang. It was built in 1372, nine years earlier than Shanhai Pass (Shanhaiguan), called the First Pass Under Heaven. The location of Jiayu Pass is vital both in natural environment and geographical condition.

Open: 8:30 am to 6 pm from November to April; 8:30 am to 8 pm from March to October

Admission: 61 yuan per person

Traveler's experience

"Jiayu Pass is the western beginning of the Great Wall. If I were to rate my travel highlights, Jiayu Pass would be second place. When I walked there, I thought of many poems I studiedto describe the mood of the soldiers sent to such a remote place. From a modern viewpoint, the military town is minuscule, and many soldiers spent their entire lives there. There was an opera stand to entertain the soldiers with naked women painted on the ceiling. The pass also has a Great Wall museum, which is worth a visit."ĘC yirutang wrote on

Mingsha Hill

Mingsha Hill lies south of Dunhuang city. The hill body is an accumulation of quicksand. It looks golden, soft and silent. The east end of the hill is at Mogao Grottoes and runs 40 kilometers.

Visitors like to climb Mingsha Hill, but to reach the top is no easy feat. The soft sand carries you half a step back for every one step forward. You have to climb on your four limbs, but once at the top, you can see sandy waves like those in a desert. People slide down the sand back to the base after viewing the peak.

Admission: 80 yuan per person from April to June; 120 yuan per person from July to November

Traveler's experience

"Mingsha Hill means 'Singing sand' hill in Chinese. Sometimes, in the evening, the sandy hill will make some noise as people walk on it. It is because the sharp temperature differences in the sand. I don't fully understand why-I wasn't lucky enough to hear iThe mountain is a pure sand desert. We took a camel ride all the way up the sand mountain. There is also a game of sand skiing on the mountain. You have to be careful not to drop your camera, because if you do, it will be permanently damaged. The sand can flood into the camera like water. The famous Crescent Moon Lake is at the same place. It is hard to imagine a lake being there for hundreds and thousands of years in the middle of a deadly pure dessert. The lake is also slowly sinking into the ground, and it is becoming smaller and smaller."ĘC yirutang wrote on
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