An oasis in the desert, the birthplace of Buddhism in China
Our Trip to Dunhuang was in fact, the highlight of our short visit out west. 100F in the day, but cool at night, we dined on dates and other local foods while experiencing all that the desert had to offer
Escaping Qinghai was a feat in itself, arriving at the airport on our way to Dunhuang (a desert city only 90 minutes north of Xining) our passport numbers were wrong and the woman refused to correct them.
Upon landing, we were yanked off the plane early, as the only two foreigners, or as they politely put it “passport holders” on the plane we had to have special screening.
They were kind enough to acknowledge our test results after 20 minutes.
Our hotel was nothing short of gorgeous, and less than a mile away from the Crescent Moon Lake, after the difficult week in Qinghai it was nice to check into a hotel with a promise of air conditioning, a working shower, and a concierge who spoke English.
Our first day we spent eating traditional foods of the region, dates, dumplings, and a rose tea that would follow us around for the next few days.
1,000 Buddha Caves
A tourist trap if there ever was one, it was probably the most highly recommended part of our trip by my friends in Shanghai. Each cave now held both a door, and a line.
The caves were crowded and we were shuffled in and out of them with no photographs, but the nine story buddha in particular was worth the entrance fee.
In some caves all the idols were faceless, where it is believed that Russians who had found the caves either detested the idols or coveted the gold.
There was plenty to be stunned by though, in the caves for the brief moments that you were allowed to look upon it, thousands of buddhas artfully painted as wallpaper from floor to ceiling.
I took a few illegal photos but I won’t share them.
Dunhuang is an oasis, near a river and the caves were on the shores of one, so there were gardens and orchards growing around the caves where people rested from the hot summer sun.
Before we left we tried the famous plum rose tea, with plums taken from the orchards outside the shop.
Our introduction to the Gobi Desert was mountains of sand and a Dico’s.
Crescent Moon Lake, and the surrounding desert was probably the highlight of the entire vacation. A well laid out tourist spot with no beginning or end, you could easily wander out into the dunes and stay forgotten.
The camel rides were 100RMB for 4KM which seemed like a good deal, but there was plenty of recreation to be seen, and our camel herder was an excellent photographer.
At the pagoda near the lake (which appears mostly man made, but I won’t spoil the illusion) we met a woman trying to sell people hot coffee and plenty of wedding photographers. It was too crowded to be nice, so we quickly departed to explore the surrounding desert landscape.
We hiked up a dune, single file with a ladder buried somehow into the sand, otherwise the sand is too fine and you will sink into it.
Exhausted, and dehydrated we surveyed the valley at sunset while a man began to yell in Chinese nearby at the crowds gathered to watch sun dip below the dunes, a party of women were clinking champagne glasses together.
The man stopped yelling and suddenly ran down the dunes while we set up our tripod to hopefully get some spectacular sunset shots.
Suddenly, a wall of sand came across the desert and over us all. The man was shouting a warning of the impending sandstorm.
I can still taste sand.