Now that I think about it, I am occupied with all these questions, is protecting the paintings from further damage more important that protecting the caves themselves with all their eroded beauty. And even if renovation was inevitable for the protection of the paintings, did we have to make them accessible to everybody? and therefore destroy the natural beauty of the exterior completely. I could imagine Indiana Jones type sequences when he has to really physically and mentally endure the ruins and the various traps laid to protect a treasure which is truly worth seeing and experiencing.. the community who it belonged to, lay every trap to ensure only a person worthy enough gets to see it. And then I woke up from my thoughts to the memory of the large Chinese tourist group piling into a cave we were already in, like a wave that could drown you inside that cave! The treasure was still there, but making it easy to get to has destroyed half the thrill. Every coin has two sides. How much is too much ?
Nancy took us to a cave of Mogao Cave (the best attaction in China for China vacation deals) with a 15 meter statue of Buddha lying on the ground while he attained nirvana. There stood 72 people behind him witness to this. She explained that these people were actually put in later at a certain time in history when Buddha and Confucius were actually considered to be one person! And the 72 people were actually the famed 72 disciples of Confucius !
Not only this, there was even a time when unlike the stories I'd heard of the Taoists resisting the Buddhist monks with all their might, Taoist mythical characters actually helped Buddha. What a beautiful coming together of thoughts, ideas and stories. Nancy showed us paintings of the four Taoist gods of fire, water, rain and lightning alongside the Asura with four hands standing guard to statues of Buddha. I was wondering about how rare this cave might actually be and the beauty of it. Maybe this was just out of one artist's imagination who had been drawing Taoist images all his life and had now been commissioned to a Buddhist cave. But how beautiful the thought was, as against the fighting and bloodshed usually associated with Buddhism sweeping over Taoism through the middle kingdom.
The final cave we saw housed the second largest Buddha, about 35 m tall! This being second largest in the area was less popular and therefore in a much better state than the largest. (Unfortunately the largest was closed for renovation, the one I had seen a picture of, because of which I'd decided to come here in the first place!!) As we entered the cave, the darkness slowly revealed two large feet. As I looked up to see the rest of the statue, I was awed by its monumentality. You can only see the statue while standing near Buddha's feet. You look up to see Buddha's gigantic body and hands and face. The statue has been carved out of the cliff and then layers of clay reinforced with reeds give curves, textures of clothes, details of dress and features.
Slowly as, we got over its size, we realized how stunning the patterns of the roof and walls of this cave were! There were appropriately large paintings of bodhisattvas in elegant postures and rich colours on either of the two sides.
We ended our China trip to the Magao caves with three bottles of delicious sweet yoghurt each. The cold delicious curd is really a life saver in the harsh landscape and it comes in a smart little glass bottle too.
As we left the caves behind, I realised we have just enough time to see the Crescent Lake! The lonely planet description talks of one of the most picturesque dunes in the area!
Even though we were tired and hadn't had a proper meal for more than 24 hours, we told the cabdriver to turn towards the lake.
The dunes here, are the tallest in this part of the world. Panting and battling the urge to sit down, looking back again and again to see how far up we'd come, we climbed up to the top of a dune! On one side was the entire oasis of Dunhuang (must-see destination for Silk Road tours). On the other, the dunes and valleys of fine sand stretched as far as we could see. The forbidding, lifeless, engulfing desert. The idea of getting lost in that sea of sand where the dunes towered hundreds of metres above you, made me shiver! I cannot imagine how people travel across these for days on end. And I wish I knew what joy they would get when finally arriving at this point where you stand at the threshold of the oasis. On one side the fatal desert and on the other the life giving Oasis! Oh And I must not forget to mention the lake itself. A small, curiously crescent shaped lake partially hidden by the Chinese building made to highlight it!
We almost rambled down the dune on our way back. Taking a fraction of the time we took to climb up but ended up with shoes splitting with sand ! As we sat pouring out the sand from our shoes one by one, the true nature of its fine grains shown through.
It was time to go back to Urumqi. First to Dunhuang, a quick meal of rice, chicken and that delicious yoghurt, then the ride back to Liu Yuan and the overnight train to Urumqi. What a longgg, mind blowing day!
While looking for places to visit around Urumqi, the place that struck me most was the Mogao caves near Dunhuang. Although mentioned as a 2 to 3 day trip included in popular China travel package , I figured if we go by the overnight train we should have the good part of one day enough to be able to see the caves.
Welcome to FC2!