Tag Archives: Dunhuang

Dunhuang to Lanzhou, China

3/3 – I’ve really enjoyed our few days in this pretty town.  The New Year’s celebrations are still winding down, and we hear lots of firecrackers going off in the streets.  It is the Year of the Ram.

After our day of sightseeing, we relaxed, ate noodles and beef in little restaurants (Jim asked repeatedly where we could sample some donkey meat, but the Donkey and Yellow Noodle Restaurant seemed to be the only place in town, and it was closed), and bought our train tickets for the next leg of our journey.  

We found an open-air market with all kinds of produce for sale.

I even found some wall art, showing the areas this town is known for – the Magao Caves, the Gobi Desert, the White Pagoda.

We also checked out the local supermarkets, and brought home some samples to try (with mixed results). The food here is VERY salty, but the beer is fine! (Note the old-fashioned pop tops!). We have been looking for several weeks for dental floss, which we have determined is just not used in this part of the world.

Wherever we go, people are surprised or amused to see westerners, and ask to take our picture.  We are the only non-Asian people in this town, as far as we can tell, and even at the big hotels, not a word of English is known.  Very few people – western or Asian – try to cross China overland, especially in winter. 

We are becoming experts in pantomime and planning – Jim looks up and copies out key words in Chinese into his notebook to show people what we want, before we leave the hotel.  At restaurants, we walk around to see what others are eating, and point to things that look good. At stores, we look at the register display, or the shopkeeper shows us western numbers on a calculator, to see what we owe.  This has worked pretty well so far.  

These little girls followed us down the street, shouting giggly Hellos! at us.  When I responded Nie Hao!, they just roared with laughter.  I don’t think my pronunciation is very good…

We left our hotel at 6pm to catch a taxi for our 8pm train.  The station is about 10 miles out of town, and is quite impressive.

We had a four berth compartment to ourselves for our overnight ride  – in fact, there were only three other people in the whole car!  This must really be the off-season in China.  

Arrived on time at 7:30am, and walked across the street to the bus station to purchase our tickets for tomorrow.  Was informed by the nice Information Lady that tickets to Xiahe can only be bought at the South Bus Station, 10 km away.  Okay, time for a morning taxi ride across town!

Lanzhou is a big, dirty city, that either has many abandoned buildings, or ones that were never finished.  People walk on dirt right along the main road – no sidewalks.  

In 20 minutes we were at the South Bus Station, and asked for tickets on tomorrow’s bus.  The ticket lady informed us that tickets could only be purchased for today’s bus, and to come back in the morning.  Agghhh!   Our online blog advisors had specifically warned that these tickets sould be purchased in advance.  Oh well – at least we now know that the bus leaves at 9:30am. 

Another taxi ride all the way back to the train station, where Jm had booked a conveniently close hotel.  Best laid plans and all that…  So now we are in our kinda dumpy hotel in a smoggy city, and will rest up for our long bus ride to Xiahe tomorrow.

Saturday in Dunhuang

2/28 – We met with our new Chinese friends in the hotel lobby at 10am. I wish I could tell you their names, but after we were introduced, the names just leaked right out of my brain. We piled into a van, and headed to the Mogao Grottoes, an ancient collection of over 2000 Buddhist statues and murals as old as the 3rd century, hidden until the early 1900s in caves dug out of the mountains.imageimageimage

As usual, the Brits got there first, and carted most of the best stuff back to London. Visitors must take a guided tour, and ours was only in Chinese, so I can’t tell you much. Photos were not permitted, but after watching the other visitors snapping away with their phones, we did the same.image

The grottoes are kept dark so that light does not degrade the relics. In most of the caves the guide’s flashlight was the only illumination.




There were many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas depicted, in the different styles of the ethnicities who traveled through Dunhuang on the ancient Silk Road. My favorite was a great big Buddha. Here is his enormous foot:image

And way up there is his head:image

A young student heard us speaking English, and asked if we would pose with his family.image

Outside the caves were stupas, tombs of famous monks and other stuff.



One of the tombs contained a statue with its head removed, probably during the Cultural Revolution. The fact that these grottoes were not destroyed during that period is a testament to their importance.image

Here are our new friends.image

We had lunch together at a small restaurant run by a Uyghur couple.image
I made the mistake of ordering a chicken dish. The nice man went back into the kitchen and hacked up some chicken with a hatchet, and served it with pieces of bone in every bite. No horse, no chicken – I’m becoming a picky eater! The specialty in this town is donkey – do you think I will try it?

After lunch we went to the museum and saw more stuff.

Our last stop of the day was the big sand dunes of the Gobi Desert where they have camel races every year. image

This is a poster of the camel races.

We opted not to take a camel ride, but as we turned for home, one came right down the street!imageimage

What a day!

Urumqi to LiuYuan to Dunhuang, China

2/27 – Back to the Urumqi train station we go! Our train to LiuYuan departs at 9:27am so we left the hotel before 8 to make sure we got a taxi and got through the security check points at the station. Once again, we were asked to step aside for a thorough search after our packs went through the scanner. Profiling! Again, they were interested in our canteens, but rather than confiscating the water bottles like in the US, they just make you take a drink. If you don’t die immediately, they let you pass.

We entered a huge waiting area totally packed with people – think Grand Central Station, and then some. I watched the board that included our train, and assumed that all these people were waiting for different trains. When our train was announced, EVERYBODY started moving – all these people were getting on the same train!image

We found car 14, which was an open sleeper with 6 berths per compartment, but the compartments had no doors. We were the only ones in our section,N which was good, because I didn’t know how I would climb into an upper berth with my arm in a sling.

Lots of brown desert, and brown mountains. All day. Once we far enough from the city, the sky actually turned blue!image


The conductor stopped by with his camera and a friend who wanted his picture taken with us. The novelty of being a westerner! We were happy to oblige. The nice conductor let us know when we were approaching our stop, and we were ready to get off by 6pm. LiuYuan is a one road town that depends on the train station for its livelihood. It has no hotels, so even though it was late in the day, we had to press on to Dunhuang. As we had read, there were taxis and a minibus waiting outside the train station. We jumped onto the minibus for the 128km /80 mile ride to Dunhuang.

Sharing the ride with us were three young Chinese women on holiday. One had a bit of English, and asked if we were going to see the sights of Dunhuang tomorrow. When we replied yes, she suggested that we go together and share the taxi fare. Deal!

Here’s a funny thing. The minibus had to stop for gas. As soon as the bus stopped, everybody got off, and walked briskly to the edge of the road, as far from the natural gas pumps as possible. There we stood, shivering in sub-zero temperatures, as the attendant filled the tank. Do buses explode often here?

The road to Dunhuang is an absolutely straight two lanes, rutted and potholed, through absolutely flat, featureless desert. The most interesting thing was watching for the kilometer markers as we bounced along (my arm aching with every bounce). After the sun set, the ride became more interesting, as our driver expertly maneuvered around bicycles, pedestrians, and three wheeled carts with no lights at all. By 8:30pm we were in Dunhuang, a brightly lit, friendly looking town. The bus driver took us right to our hotel, and the three young women decided to stay at the same hotel too.

Dunhuang was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. Tomorrow, the sights!