Dunhuang is our final stop before we visit the towns of Turpan and Kashgar in the autonomous Uygur region in Xinjiang province. The largest and flattest province(150 feet below sea level in Turpan) Also the hottest place in China. Three times the size of Western Europe and home to the Uygur minority.
The Dunhuang caves were used by a Buddhist community between 600 and 1200 AD. Four hundred grottoes house the largest collection of Buddhist statues and art in China on a sandstone cliff wall. They were largely forgotten and covered in sand until the early 1900’s when they were excavated and renovated and are now one of the no. 5 tourist attractions ( best) in China. Wooden doors cover each of the grottoes to prevent oxidation of the paintwork. As recently as 1930 White Russian soldiers were interned there and broke off the doors for firewood and amputated the arms of some of the statues but the painted ceilings and walls and hundreds of Buddhas are in amazing condition for their age. You’ll have to take my word for it as photography inside the grottoes was totally forbidden.
The adventurous also got to ride camels and climb to the top of the sandunes in a huge sand dune region where the temperature was in the mid 30’s, followed by dinner at the night market.
An early morning walk took us along the river where the Dunhuang gym is located. There is a wide range of gym equipment including massage, load bearing and stretching and many older residents making the most of it. A gym with a view. We have been doing a lot of walking, train and bus confinement and slept in a lot of beds very different to our own. I could really do with a Chinese massage but where are they? All gone to Australia it seems. Also along the riverbank were other early morning exercisers seen all over China, the fan dancers, the whip crackers, the tai cheers and the sword dancers.
A two hour bus journey took us to the bullet train station. Roadworks were under way but no worries. We were just directed to drive right over the unmade desert surface. The bullet train station was literally in the middle of no where rising from the desert. An important line we were told which would connect all the way to Rotterdam for those wishing to really torture themselves. As well as our group of 12 there were three other large tour groups, two from Hong Kong and one from Japan. Small people with incredibly large suitcases. Once we boarded the train we found those large suit cases occupying our overhead racks. This trip has certainly taught us that the older you get the smaller your luggage must get. Our carry ons are tiny compared with what most others have and are easily hoisted onto overhead racks and carried up station flights of stairs(some of which are very long). We have packed everything we need even though our clothes are on high rotation. The bun fight that ensued when we reached Turpan and all got off together was something to behold. The train only stops for three minutes and everyone must get on and off in that time.