Are you having an idea for a trip to China and want to have a taste of their cultural heritage, make it a point to visit the Mogao Caves, which are located near the city of Dunhuang.
About the Caves
The Mogao Caves in China are a World Heritage Site. It is located in Dunhuang County, Gansu Province of China. These caves are also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas and consist of 492 temples that are built over five levels over a 1000 year long period. It is believed that the first work on the first caves was started in 366 AD, long before Buddhism came to be officially recognized as a religion in the region. The majority of the caves were sculpted between the 5th century and 14th century AD. Legend has it that a Buddhist monk had a vision of a thousand Buddhas at the site and this led him to construct the first cave. Gradually, other monks also joined him.
The most famous of the caves is the Library cave or Cave No. 17. It was discovered in 1900 by a monk by the name of Abbot Wang. The Library cave houses thousands of documents, some of which are more than 1000 years old. While most of the documents are in Chinese, there are also a large number of documents in other languages, pointing perhaps to the inter mingling of different cultures and languages that the region saw. The caves are a treasure trove of murals and paintings that depict various historical and religious events of those times.
A painting on silk found in the Library Cave A Mural Painting
Out of the 492 caves, only a few are today open to the general public. There is no artificial lighting within the caves; hence tourists are advised to visit the caves in the morning or early afternoon. It is also recommended to carry a flashlight in your luggage in case the natural light is not good enough. Photography is not allowed within the caves.
How to get there
The nearest town/ city to the Mogao caves is Dunhuang. From Dunhuang, one can take a direct taxi or a mini-bus to take you to the caves. The caves are usually open throughout the year and the visiting times are from 8AM – 6PM.
One may come into Dunhuang by air from Beijing or Lanzhou. The city airport does not have a proper taxi stand and tourists have to avail of public buses, which are few and usually crowded. Alternatively, one may walk down to the railway station which is only 10 mins walk from the airport and avail city buses from there to the city. A few China Private Tours organizers (like www.chinatourstailor.com) also arrange for airport pick up and guided tours to the caves.