Dunhuang

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An ancient Silk Road town on the edge of the Gobi Desert, sand dunes dominate the view to the South and I often wondered why these giants hadn’t taken over. I stayed at Charlie Johng’s guesthouse in the middle of town, I’m pretty sure I was the only guest and I had an 8 bed dorm to myself. This place is relatively new and looked like it would be the happening place during the peak season. There were plenty of places to eat in the Bazaar below and Charlie could organise multi-day camel treks out into the desert.

The desert sand dunes where impressive and the highest peak is supposed to be just over 1700m. Just south of town is Crescent Moon Lake, a true desert oasis, although it has now been turned into something of a theme park with camel rides, sand boarding, dune buggies and a ridiculous entry price. I wasn’t going to pay the equivalent of $20 to see the desert so I walked through some farm lands that boarded the desert until the Park fence came to an end. Here I scaled the dunes and explored the desert for a couple of hours.

The other main drawcard for the town is the Mogao Caves which is one of the world’s greatest stores of Buddhist Art. The first cave dates back to around 366 AD and many of the paintings have been very well preserved. The only way to view the caves is on a tour, the English tour the day I visited consisted of just me and my guide. You get to visit 10 caves which were all quite amazing and the guide gave a great commentary on all of them.

I spent a few hours here and after the tour checked out the museum which has some replica caves and artefacts on display. I also went for a walk into the desert from where you can see the whole expanse of the caves which extended for hundreds of meters along a currently frozen river.

I also headed out to the Western Thousand Buddha Caves that are about 35km from town. These weren’t as impressive but were still good to see. I was the only tourist at this place and I actually had to climb the gate to find the staff to take me on a tour which again is the only way to see the caves as they are each individually gated. The setting here was stunning with these caves in the walls of a huge gorge and the desert dunes visible in the distance.

From here it was onto Turpan.

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