Other than the dunes, the other thing to see in Dunhuang is the Mogao Grottos. Since this town was on the Silk Road route from India, it was heavily influenced by Buddhism pretty early on. Around the 5th century, artists here stated carving grottos in the sand stone and painting Buddhist art on the walls. A lot of it is super well preserved. There are hundreds of these grottos, but in the tour you only get to see 10 of them so that people arent trampling through all the grottos everyday. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos inside the grottos so I don’t have any photos to show (I only took photos of the outside). The painting and statues were super impressive though.
One interesting story about the grottos. In the late 11th century, the monks that were living here had to abandon the area, so they put a ton of old manuscripts etc inside one small cave, sealed the wall, and drew a painting over it to conceal it. The monks never came back. 800 years later, some dude is in there sweeping out sand and when he bumps a wall, he notices a crack in it. They open this crack and find *50,000* priceless documents from centuries ago including the world’s earliest printed book. How insane is that?! I mean, that is like something you’d see in a Indiana Jones movie and roll your eyes because it seems so unreal and ludicrous. Sadly, when the guy went to tell the local government, they didn’t really understand the value of this stuff and didn’t care. So, the British and other international archeologists swooped in and bought 40k out of 50k manuscripts for next to nothing.
On the way back to town, my taxi needed to get gas. Oddly, he makes me get out of the car and stand outside of the gas station on the side of the road. Huh? Why can’t i sit in the car while he gets gas? Why cant i even be *near* the car? No clue, but this happened to me all 3 times that i was in a taxi that got gas.
The fanciest hotel here is on the outskirts of town and they have a rooftop restaurant where you can chill and look at the dunes just outside of town. It really was a *fantastic* view! Unfortunately, when i had come here earlier it was closed for the afternoon. I had been craving Western food all day and had really been looking forward to getting something other than Chinese food for the first time this trip. Dont get me wrong… the food has been really good, I just dont feel like the flavors have as much of a variety as say Thai food or Indian food, so after 9 days of Chinese food all day long, i wanted just one break. But, since the restaurant was closed, i had to eat elsewhere, and when i came back here for the sunset, i just had a beer and sadly longingly looked at the menu that had pizza, steak, and other stuff. Heh, nothing is ever easy here.
So… that’s it. I did it. I traveled the whole route of the Silk Road in Gansu province. I made it to the edge of the old Chinese empire. Now what? I had two options: 1) I could press on westward and go into the next province or 2) I could loop back east and check out this beautiful Tibetan village up in the mountains. I chose option #2… but sadly, there was no way for me to do it. The village was a 3 hour bus ride up a windy mountain from the nearest town, Lanzhou, which is where i had started, and even just getting to Lanzhou would be a pain. I explored every possible option of trains, flights, etc. Everything was either way too expensive or sold out. I seriously spent *hours* trying to find a way. Finally i gave up. Nothing is ever easy here.
Time to keep heading west.