Sunday, October 21, 2012

The old Silk Road - Day 4 - DunHuang

We went to sleep on the train and woke up in Egypt!!  Well, not really, but it looks like it here! 

First, I promised a translation.  "Pitted the resulting forward" roughly translates into something like "If you move forward in the direction of this arrow, the result will be that you will find the pit where the trains are."  Even our tour guide had problems interpreting it.  Pretty funny!

I actually slept some on the train, even with the door opening for bathroom goers and some intermittent snoring.  When we got up in the morning, we were in Liu Yuan in the Gansu Province.  We took a bus ride through the Gobi, which is near the Taklamakan Desert.  OK, I always thought that it was the "Gobi Desert", but they are two different things.  The name of the desert translates "The Place of No Returning" and has only sand.  The Gobi has bushes and shrubs and the favorite of the camel, the tamarisk tree.  As we drove to DunHuang, the landscape and agriculture looked like Arizona, except the people picking cotton were doing it by hand.
Headed to the cotton gin.  Is this Marana?
We ate lunch at a really nice restaurant, and one dish was made by women stir-frying the meat and vegetables in a wok with hot rocks!  The rocks were left in the food to keep it warm.  Clever!
Next we headed for the Mingsha Shan or Singing Sand Mountain.  The nickname comes from the fact that when it's really hot, the sand makes a "singing" sound when blown by the wind or when you walk in it or slide down it.  But today, it was all about the camels.  We had a fun ride, even though these really are Egyptian camels with two humps.  The Asian camels are dromedaries with only one hump.  But you can't ride those as easily!  We didn't slide down the mountain, but we were just as happy not to have sand in our pants the rest of the day!

My camel was at the back of the 5-camel-train, and when Kirk tried to "kick" his camel to make it go faster, it bothered my camel, so he pulled his head back with a snort, and pulled his rope off the back of the train.  The guide had to come reattach the rope and lead us back to the train.  That's why my friend got that great shot of me by myself at the top of the blog!  These photos don't show the hoards of people who were there this day, and the ultralight planes flying overhead and thousands of people on camels and by foot.  Because of the National Holiday, the place was packed!  But we still had fun times!

There is a beautiful spring in the midst of the mountain called "Crescent Moon Spring".  It's amazing it hasn't been buried in the sand.  You can see the orange shoe covers that people rented to keep all the sand from getting in their shoes.
 We drove to the south side of the mountain to the Mogao Grottoes.  These are more Buddhist caves with frescoes and statues.  Buddhists lived, worshiped and died here throughout 10 dynasties (from 430AD to after the Yuan Dynasty).  One cave has the third largest Buddha in China, 106' tall.  There are 735 surviving caves, 492 of which have murals and painted sculpture.  This area was busy during the height of the Silk Road traffic, but was "lost" and rediscovered in the early 1900s.  Curious archaeologists from abroad came through and purchased some of the manuscripts and art work from an ignorant Taoist priest who didn't realize their value.  There are even some in the library at Harvard!  We spent the afternoon walking through and examining as many of the caves as we could.  A second large Buddha, 84' high, was interesting, along with a reclining Buddha that was also very large.  The largest Buddha is housed in cave #96, known as the Nine-storied Temple.

I've seen lots of religious art throughout the world, but this was my first trip to see Buddhist frescoes and sculpture.  It was all quite interesting.  The grounds surrounding the caves have been very beautifully landscaped and a lovely park adds to the appeal, but all the sculptures are dusty and grimy, so hopefully they will spend some of their tourist income to find a safe way to clean them up!

After donkey carts, camel rides and sleeping on a train, my hot soak in a real bathtub was a special treat this night!

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