Dunhuang: Sand, Camels, and Grottoes

The oasis town of Dunhuang is one of the most important stops on the Silk Road. It is the place where the road splits into the Northern Silk Road and the Southern Silk Road. It is also the first (or last, depending on your direction) major stop for ancient merchants.

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Camel Caravan at Minsha Shan

The above photo is from Minsha Shan, a sand dune park-type area in Dunhuang. Visitors can ride on camels, sled down the sand dunes, and visit the fascinating Crescent Moon Springs, which is a small oasis in the middle of this desert. The spring has been providing water for the town for hundreds of years.

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The Crescent Moon Springs

But what Dunhuang is most famous for are the Mogao Grottoes, a series of caves that houses thousands of Buddhist art and sculpture. Photography is not allowed inside, so the most famous image of the grottoes is the facade.

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The Mogao Grottoes

Visitors are given a guide with the entrance fee, who takes them to visit around 8 caves. Be prepared for crowds, as this is the biggest attraction in Dunhuang. Also, since it’s outdoors, make sure to bring some sunblock and hat, as the sun is pretty strong. And since you’re in the middle of the Gobi Desert, it’s also hot and dry.

If anyone is interested in the Silk Road, Dunhuang is a must see.

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Xinjiang’s Tianchi (Heavenly Lake)

Xinjiang’s Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) is quite heavenly don’t you think?

Tianchi, or “Heavenly Lake”

The lake is about 28 miles outside of Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Province. For those who don’t know where that is, imagine China’s shape as a giant rooster. Xinjiang would be the rooster’s backside. It’s the largest province in China, and was the entry point for the Silk Road for Eurasians.

Tianchi is surrounded by the Tian Shan (Heavenly Mountain) mountain range. That’s the mountains in the back. The lake is 6000 ft above sea level and about 1.9 square miles. You can take a boat cruise around the lake, and there’s even a monastery on it’s banks.

Damuo Monastery on the banks of Tianchi

Our 14 and 16 day Silk Road tours take you to see this beautiful lake, along with a plethora of other places. For more pictures of what you’d see, visit our Facebook.

Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

Today is a special holiday in China, where families gather together to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a  scholar  and government official from China’s Warring States Period. He was an influential figure but ultimately was banished by the king of Chu because other officials were jealous of  Qu Yuan’s influence, and so slandered the man’s good name.

Qu Yuan returned to his hometown, depressed about his fall from grace. He spent this time writing poetry and was well loved by the people in his village. When Qu Yuan heard about the capture of his country’s capital, he committed suicide by jumping into a river, as a form of protest against government corruption.

In order to keep the fish from eating his body, the people in the village threw balls of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river, hoping that the fish would eat the rice instead. They also launched boats into the river in a race to find Qu Yuan’s body.

And so, these two acts, eating the rice balls, called zongzi, and racing dragon boats, became the way to celebrate the life and death of Qu Yuan. Called Duanwu Jie (端午節) in Chinese, this day is the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calender.

Zongzi can be found in any Chinese supermarket at this time. Just look for a triangular shaped object wrapped in bamboo leaves. There are many different kinds of fillings in the zongzi: the most popular are mung bean, red bean, or pork.

Red Bean Zongzi

In the parts of China and Taiwan with access to rivers or oceans, people re-enact the search for Qu Yuan’s body by racing dragon boats. These boats are powered by a crew of rowers, each equipped with a paddle to maneuver the boat. There is a drummer on board who beats out the rhythm to row to and a steerer in the back.

Dragon Boat

Dragon Boat Racing has gained popularity all over the world, and now there are competitions held all over the world.

So celebrate the life of a man who protested government corruption. Or just gather together with family and dig into some zongzi.

Have you had zongzi or seen a dragon boat race before? Let us know in the comments!