Dunhuang: The gorgeous edge of the Gobi

Dunhuang desert The sand dunes of Dunhuang were one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen in my life. Where is Dunhuang, you ask? Dunhuang is a town in the north west of Gansu province, 15 hours by train from Lanzhou. It’s definitely quite a trek out to Dunhuang, and once there, even further trekking is inevitable. But the views and experiences are irreplaceable and definitely worth the journey to the west of China. In such a remote area, what can one do? Well, I ended up riding a camel, climbing hundred-foot-tall sand dunes, having a bonfire with friends under starry desert skies, and marvelling at the millennia-old Mogao Caves. Read on after the jump for more pictures and details! I was traveling to Gansu with a group of classmates from New York University’s Shanghai study abroad program.

A Crescent Moon Lake Park sunsetMy intrepid fellow students and I were incredibly excited about going camping and riding camels in the Gobi Desert, and the experience definitely lived up to my expectations. We mounted camels (my trusty steed was named Seabiscuit because he kept charging ahead of the other camels) and marched out into the wilderness for three and a half hours. Once we came to our camping spot, which was located in Crescent Moon Lake Park, we enjoyed the sunset. Just that view was worth the long train from Lanzhou. The dunes were barely lit by the fading sun, which cast a rosy glow over the dun-colored hills. In Crescent Moon Lake Park, there are many activities available for a relatively small fee. Among these are riding in a small hang-gliding plane, riding camels, driving ATVs, and driving Jeeps up and down the dunes, which I opted for. Maneuvering a stick shift car in the sandy hills was unbelievably tricky and even more fun, and it only cost about 70 RMB once I split the cost with a few friends who rode with me.

We also visited the incredible Mogao Caves. Unfortunately, no photography is permitted inside, but the caves hold the third-largest Buddha in the world and are host to many caves containing 1500-year-old paintings and statues. The grottos, as they are often called, are awe-inspiring and beautiful, with art influences from as far away as Greece and India thanks to Dunhuang’s role on the Silk Road. Though they have only been open to the public since the late 1960s, the caves are already experiencing damage from tourists, so visit sooner rather than later (and, when you go, try not to do any damage yourself!). Getting to Dunhuang is no easy feat, but the effort my group and I exerted to arrive was nothing compared to the unforgettable sights in the area. I returned from my trip in awe and definitely a little changed by the beauty I experienced there.

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