Silk Road (3) – Dunghuang


Mogao Grottoes (莫高窟), also known as Thousand-Buddha Caves (千佛洞), are located  25 km southeast of Dunhuang (敦煌). The site is the best-preserved and richest treasures houses of Buddhists in the world.  Western culture has a close relationship to Christianity while Chinese culture has an inseparable tie to Buddhism.


In 366 BC, a traveling monk, LeZun was passing through the area and supposedly, spotted the extraordinarily brilliant light from the sky. He took it as a sign from the mighty Buddha to build his monastery site here and start his ministry. LeZun built the first cave and through the next thousand years of engineering and artistic creation, there are now 735 caves dug out of a 40 feet meter high cliff stretching 1700 meters long from north to south are still surviving today, from which 492 cells and cave sanctuaries are famous for their statues and wall paintings displaying 1000 years of Buddhist art. Mogao Grottoes has been listed as one of the World Heritage Sites since 1987.

Approximately 45,000 sqm of wall paintings, 2000 painted sculptures, and 5 wooden temple facades from the Tang and Song Dynasty.  A later discovery indicates Cave 17 was the Library of the Cave and stored over 50,000 artifacts that have important historical, artistic, scientific, and social value. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the caves.

To support the old structures and facilitate tourist visits, thousands of steps and stairs are built upon the original structure. I tried to avoid the add-on construction, but it is inevitable. I can imagine the hard labor involved to construct the site and the tough pilgrim life many have devoted here.


Each cave usually has statues and wall paintings filled to the ceiling. The figures are mostly religion related. There are also wealthy families who built the cave as their shrines.  To my amazement, each painted figure on the wall is different and represents a real person. The art on wall paintings not only illustrates Buddhism’s history but also portray the relationship between China and the western region as well as everyday life.

The figure shown on the left is the Buddhist version of the angle. They are in flying form and usually surround Buddha. Apparently, I knew very little about Buddhism even though I grew up in it.  Angles dwell in heaven and so is this ‘flying to the sky’ concept. I found it intriguing.

Dunghuang, enriched with history and culture, is one of my favorite cities on the Silk Road. I particularly enjoy the architecture and interior decorations. It is a nice change for me to walk out of the woods and get re-connected with my root culture.

Two young men were playing Chinese chess inside the hotel, I had the urge to invite myself… When did I last make the move on the chess board with my father or my brother? And, that classy sitting table, the brush pens and ink. I wanted to get myself a set and pick up brush pen again. That is the heritage of my father who can manipulate his brush pen like having a piece of cake. Nostalgia, nostalgia, on and on.

Even just the making of pulled noodles… It is nothing new, but I have not seen the demonstration since my childhood. It takes only 5 minutes from left step to right. And, in another 10 minutes, you will have freshly made noodle soup steaming in front of you. I have been getting my Asian food supplies from frozen counters. Can you imagine what treat is this for me?

I miss my culture, can you tell?

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