Dunhuang

Overview

Introduction

Dunhuang, China, is a large oasis in the Gansu Desert, 750 mi/1150 km northwest of Lanzhou. It was made famous in the desert scenes from the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. For hundreds of years, Dunhuang served as a staging area for trading caravans from China to the outside world on the Silk Road. Today, it's visited mostly because of the Mogao Caves, 15 mi/25 km from town.

The caves hold an incredible collection of well-preserved Buddhist statuary and murals, many of which show startling connections with early Indian and even Hellenic art—testament to China's ancient cultural connections with the West. There are more than 1,000 caves, although only about 40 of them are open at any one time for touring. One ticket allows you access to 10 caves, including the Library Cave, famous for ancient sutras dating back to 400-1000 A.D. English-speaking guides (and flashlights) are now available at the site. The caves are closed November-April. There are also a few small temples in the area, as well as a museum.

Look for camels in the surrounding area. Also nearby (and accessible by taxi) is a small section of the Great Wall—it's not the best part of the Wall, so don't make a special trip unless it is your only opportunity. However, this Wall is more rammed earth than brick, like sections seen at points east.

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