China Blog 2011

Ancient China: Magao Caves and Hechang Ruins

I got to spend two full mornings with an excellent guide, Betty (Western name), who helped me delve into this place I had so loved in 1987. NO changes here in the caves themselves, thank goodness. But I may be among the last visitors in the coming years to actually get inside. Right now, they open about 20 caves at a time. You have to be escorted by a guide with a key and a flashlight, and you can only stay in side about 5 minutes in each. And I say, BRAVO to that! These cave paintings and sculptures are priceless and incredibly in great condition considering they've undergone 500 years of being buried in sand and falling into disrepai?, "rediscovery" in 1900 by a farmer who sold off hundreds of priceless documents found in the sealed "library" cave--to English, French, Harvard...of course. And then survived an earthquake, Russians held prisioners there (another story), and now modern human tourists.

I got to see 16 caves in all, including the 9-story, 35 meter high standing Buddha statue and a 26 meter long huge recling Buddha surrounded by 72 statues of disciples. Statues are made from sticks, covered in mud and thatch, plastered and shaped, and painted--in 400 to 1400 AD no less! Also hundreds of wall murals and faces of Buddha. Even ceilings intricately decorated. Most caves were the work of Buddhist monks who settled here to create cave after cave after cave when Dunhuang was along the Silk Road, and wealthy folks wanted to buy their way into heaven while impressing the neighbors! They sure impressed me!

The Exhibition Hall there is also great--I loved learning more detailed history of how caves were built and handled over time. Great research at Dunhuang Academy since 1940s protect and study everything. They are now building a center with 3D versions of caves--that's what you'll see24 years from now, when the caves are shut.... I'm so blessed!

Hechang Ancient City--same era, huge remains that soothe a photographer's soul!

Guide Adam offered this extra tour. At $126 for the afternoon, I thought twice, but am so glad I took him up on it. An hour's drive out of Dunhuang through the desert (flat as can be) and we go through a gate and drive a few more miles and WOW! Hechang City was a major city along the Shule River of the Silk Road. The remains, which I've never heard of are huge! Active since 111 BC, this city was important in commerce and war. I just melted into the golden-sun drenched walls with excellent shadows (sun low in the west), used the polarizer to get the first Blue Skies since I've been in China. I can't wait to share photos of this golden sunlit setting.

Also loved the nearby Jade Gate and the most Western parts of the Great Wall?Not really a GREAT wall out here, but impressive to imagine life here in 111 BC!

I'm off to a peanut butter sandwich for dinner, and a BUD! Yep, found one in the hotel bar (ok, maybe 2) to take up to my room....??????????????!