The Mogao Grottoes, commonly named Thousand-Buddha Caves, and praised as "a glittering pearl that adorns the Silk Road", are the most famous grottoes in China. Located 25km southeast of Dunhuang County, these caves are carved out of the sandstone cliffs of Mingsha Mountain, extending some 1600m from south to north. Constructed in 10 dynasties from the fourth to the 14th century, its 45000 square meters of mural paintings and more than 2000 color statues are regarded as the greatest treasure-house of Buddhist art existing in the world.
The grotto was first chiseled in 366 AD. According to legend, this area was marshland over 1000 years ago. A monk called Yue Zun dreamed of 1000 golden Buddhas when he was traveling home across this region and he decided to turned his dream into reality.
Over the next 1000 years, 16 dynasties rose and fell; artists
of each period contributed. The construction work was completed
during the Yuan dynasty and since ever, the grottos have stood
there through natural erosion and war flames for hundreds of
years. Today, 492 caves are still standing. Altogether there
are 2,000 statues and over 45,000 separate murals.
Mingsha Sand Dune
has a spectacular natural scene: Mingsha (Sighing) Sand Dune.
The dune, a sand crusted hill of dozens of meters high, is
40km east to west, and 20km south to north. In fine days,
sand roars like thunder which can be heard in the city, hence
the name. when visitors climb up to the dunes and slide downward
from the summit, the sand can collapse with them and give
out a pearl of loud sound.
How the Mingsha Sand Dunes were formed and what has brought about the phenomenon singing sand? So far, no body has provided a satisfactory answer. According to some Japanese experts, there are probably ancient palaces under the duns while the Russians deem that quartz content in the sand is the main reason. Chinese scientists have carried out the study on the cause of the singing of sand for years and they believe that it is a phenomenon of resonance.
Legend has it that this area was a heavily sheltered, flourishing mountain called Qingshi Mountain(Bluestone Mountain) in ancient time. At the foot of the mountain beside the Crescent Lake clustered many sacred temples. Operas were shown to worship the Temple God on each temple fair. However, the deafening sounds of celebration one year annoying the sleeping Yellow Dragon Prince in a nearby desert. The prince was cruel, cranky and powerful. He used his magical power removed one huge sand dunes into this area and buried all the people underground. Those souls often cry, beat drums and hit gong to complain their mishap. Since then the Mingsha Sang Dunes became into being and the sand was made by the spirits.
Situated 75km northwest of Dunhuang, the Jade Gate Pass was a strategic pass on the ancient Silk Road. It was so named because the jade of Honan in what is now Xinjiang region was transported to central China through this pass. In his poem Go North of Great Wall, the Tang Dynasty poet Wang Zhihuan had the famous line, " Beyond the Yumen Pass the breath of Sring has never crossed". The mention of Yumen in the poem has made the pass all the more famous.
Yangguan Pass is at 70 kilometers southwest of Dunhuang. Yangguan was named for its location south of the Yumen Pass. It was a gateway to the Western Region and an important pass on the Silk Road. The famed poet of Tang Dynasty, wangwei has made the site an everlasting attraction. When He set off one of his best friends here, Wang wrote:
In the central town Weicheng, it rains lightly in the morning. All the houses and the willows look fresh after the rain. I suggest you have another cup of wine, as soon as you go out of the Yangguan Pass, there are no friends."
The spring lies at the foot of the Mingsha Sand Dune and is named for its shape. It is about 100m long and 25m wide, and has fish and water weeds that are said to be good for the health. The area is often hit by windstorm, which drives up sand to shut out sun-light. Interestingly enough, however, for hundreds of years people have never seen the spring filled up with or covered by sand.
Baima Pagoda ( White Horse Pagoda)
Pagoda is within a small village called Baima Village, some
2 kilometers away from Dunhuang City. It was believed to be
constructed in 382 AD by a great general to commemorate hisbeloved horse.
The 9 storeyed building is 12 meters high with a diameter of 7 meters. Every storey has its own feature and charm.