Dunhuang - The Sanctuary of The Thousand Buddhas
Dunhuang, a small oasis town in Gansu, is the most important site on the Silk Road itinerary. Its name, 'Blazing Beacon', is old, dating back to the Han dynasty when Dunhuang was sited at the end of the line of communication beacons and fortifications of the Great Wall of China.

Dunhuang is mentioned by early visitors as being the first place where the eastbound travelers comes across Chinese peculiarities along with Chinese in any numbers. Dunhuang is surrounded by pebbly and sandy emptiness, and lapped by a sea of dunes.

Dunhuang is the setting for the Mogao Thousand Buddha cave complex, arguably the most spectacular in China.
Dunhuang City Ratings
** The following ratings are based on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.
History(8) Art(9) Local Culture/Unique Tour(7)
Nature/Scenic(7) Food/Shopping(4) Night Life(2)
Religion(8) Adventure/Sports(5) Reasonable Cost(9)
Recommended Days of Stay: 1

Quick Facts

Getting In and Out
By Train - Dunhung is 24 hours from Lanzhou and 11 hours from Turpan by train.
By Air - Frequent flights are available from Lanzhou, Xi'an, Beijing and Nanjing to Dunhuang throughout the year.
By Car - Dunhuang is five to six hours from Jiayuguan by car.

Dunhuang's importance lies in the cave-temple complex outside the town, which contains the greatest grouping of early Chinese Buddhist painting to survive. The oldest cave dated back in AD 366 with the best work taken place in Tang dynasty (618-907). Historians attributed the longevity of the caves to the fact that this region was taken by the Tibetans in 781 AD, thus saved from the ruthless persecution of Buddhists which took place throughout China in the 9th century.

The greatest threat to these 1,000-year-old caves came recently with the arrival of treasure-seeking archaeologists. Almost all documents hidden in the cave were lost to China. They are displayed in a handful of museums around the world.

The first person rediscovered these caves found a sealed chamber in cave No 17, which contained a library of ancient documents, hidden for safety. This discovery is now held to be on a par with the opening of Tutankhamen's Tomb. Among the discoveries was the Diamond Sutra which, printed in AD 868, qualifies as the oldest known printed document in the world. Unfortunately, you would not be able to see it in Dunhuang. It was purchased by British archaeologist Sir Mar Aurel Stein in 1907 and is currently on display in the British Museum.

Mogao Grottoes* * * * *
Commonly called "Thousand-Buddha Caves", these grottoes are located at Duanyakou at the eastern foot of the Singing Sand Mountain 25 km southeast of Dunhuang City. The five-tier grottoes extend 1600 meters. Carving began in 366AD. There are 492 caves with some 45,000 sq. meters of murals, more than 2,000 painted clay figures and five wooden structures. The biggest cave is 40 meters high, while the smallest 1/3 of a meter. Mogao Grottoes stand as the largest treasure house of grotto art existing in China. UNESCO entered it in the "List of World's Heritages" in 1987.

The most important cave in Dunhuang is, of course, cave 17 (See History Section above).
Other important caves include number 45 (clay figures), number 96 and number 158 (the 15.6 meter-long Sleeping Buddha).

The caves in Dunhang were used as temples since they offer a sense of tranquility and security. All caves have interesting stories to tell. Some of the original colors still remain vivid.

On your way out it's well worth stopping by the Research and Exhibition Center, which is in the modern building next to the car park. Items on show include documents not stolen. There are sections detailing how the caves were made, and full sized reproductions of some of the caves themselves with dates and comparisons.

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