The second leg of our Gansu adventure here in Dunhuang has really exceeded our expectations. The effort we made in getting here (6 hrs by car yesterday alone) was rendered insignificant in our first sighting of the beautiful, undulating sand dunes of the desert. Our guide facilitated our entry into the area and our camel rental, and then she let us loose to discover and conquer!
The afternoon began with a short trek on top of Bactrian camels in two caravans of five. A camel shepherd led us out to one of the steepest dune where it’s possible to rent a chintzy bamboo toboggan, or as Becca, Eema and Rachel discovered, an aerodynamic inflatable inner-tube. With varying degrees of success, we descended the dune one by one, and then mounted our camels again and headed back to camp.
The second half of the visit we were free to visit the Crescent Moon Lake, a spring-like oasis on the shores of which a Buddhist temple was built. Five memebers of the group took in the shade, while another four had our sights set upwards and tried conquering more steepness. Lilly and I were satisfied with stage one of the climb, but Ada and Ayden muscled their way up one of the steepest dunes–on all fours then with the aid of a rope–to reach the best view of the evening. We returned to the hotel around 8:15 totally zapped by the sun and caked in sand to enjoy a group dinner in the hotel restaurant.
This morning we set out at 8:20 to make our reservation at the Mogao Grottoes (UNESCO World Heritage Site #11 of the trip). We viewed two introductory films which required headphones for the English translation to understand the context of the caves. We’ve decided that most historical films like these need to have warriors on horseback in battle with bows and arrows to keep the Chinese audience engaged–even if the film is about Buddhist relics and stutues. About 10km beyond the Visitor’s Center one can find the caves which are essentially doorways dug into a cliff face with rudimentary scaffolding allowing passage between them. Unfortunately, due to oxidization the bright hues have faded but it’s quite easy to imagine how these stunning caves once looked when discovered about a century ago. No photography is allowed inside the caves, so you’ll have to do a Google search, or use your good old imagination.
We’ll be out of touch for roughly the next 48 hours as we embark home on a 24-hr train journey, from where the girls and I will head on a hiking expedition while Max and Karun head to Sichuan province with Max’s host father.