Dunhuang in Gansu Province is a small oasis city, surrounded by desert and located at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road. It was from here that the Silk Road divided into its northern and southern routes and Dunhuang was an important trade route. During the first century BC, Dunhuang was the most westernmost outpost of China and the great wall was extended to here.
Dunhuang¡¯s fame however is largely due to the Mogao Grottoes, which are the world¡¯s richest treasure trove of Buddhist manuscripts, wall paintings and statues. Work on the grottoes, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas was begun in 336 AD, with more caves being hewn out of the cliffs until the 14th century. Many of these were paid for by pious travellers facing the perilous journey across the vast desert or as thanks upon their safe return to Dunhuang. The caves vary enormously in size, from tiny single-room cells that served as living quarters for individual monks to huge, cavernous worship halls housing monumental sculptures and murals. The caves honeycomb a 1,600-meter-long cliff face running north and south, and contain some 2,000 clay sculptures and more than 45,000 square metres of mural paintings. It has been called a ¡°great art gallery in the desert¡±.
Sand dunes Dunhuang. In 1900 the discovery of a sealed-up library of manuscripts and painted scrolls brought European orientalists flocking to Dunhuang and they promptly emptied the library and caves of all moveable art, much of which has ended up in the British Museum and other museums in Paris, St. Petersburg and New Delhi. The paintings and statues of the Mogao Grottoes illuminate the complex cultural interactions of ancient Central Asia, reflecting Indian, Asian and Chinese elements. The colours have remained lively due to the extremely dry climate, but natural and electric light and the humidity caused by the breath of thousands of visitors is slowly fading the precious art so some of the caves are periodically closed. About 25-40 caves are open to the public at any one time and guides carry a flashlight. It is also a good idea to take yo