Print | Recommend This Site


Dunhuang is a typical tourist city, clean and beautiful. Because of its splendid stone caves, tourism has...

Adventure > China

Dunhuang > Gansu > China


The national, historical city of Dunhuang is a renowned tourist city famous for the Mogao Caves. It is situated in the common boundary of Gansu province, Qinghai province and Xinjiang province. Dunhuang, long ago referred to as 'Sha Zhou' (beautiful desert oasis), was the hub of middle and eastern silk routes in ancient times. The city landmark is an attractive statue, the idea of which comes from the mural in Mogao Caves, a shrine to the culture and arts of Dunhuang. From Mt.Qilian in the south, Mt. Mazong in the north and desert from east to west, the landform of Dunhuang city is a declining basin-plain from west to northeast, high in the north and south, and low in the middle. The western cities of China, especially those in the desert, are known for their sandstorms, so tourists should protect themselves with glasses, hats and gauze kerchiefs, etc.

In ancient times, Dunhuang was the center of trade between China and its western neighbors. At that time, it was the most westerly frontier military garrison in China. With the flourishing of trade along the silk road, Dunhuang was prompted to become the most open area in international trade in Chinese history. It provided the only access westward for the chinese empire and eastward for western nationalities. Today, as a reminder of this historical area, we are left with the Mogao Caves, Yangguan Pass, Yumenguan Pass and many wonderful Chinese poems depicting the time. Although what remains of the two Passes are crumbling walls, one can still experience the atmosphere of that time while visiting in person.

Today, Dunhuang is a typical tourist city, clean and beautiful. Because of its splendid stone caves, tourism has become an indispensable industry to Dunhuang City. Surrounding establishments include various classes of hotels and restaurants for your choosing. As well, tourism personnel are knowledgeable and well trained these days. For a western city in China, it has become more accesible for people to come and go as they please. Transportation is much more efficient, ensuring that your wonderful trip runs smoothly. Dunhuang City, an obvious pearl on the Silk Road, opens her arms to welcome tourists from all over the world.

The first recorded history of Dunhuang, a vital station along the legendary Silk Road, was related by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220). However, modern archaeological findings trace the region's history as far back as the Xia Dynasty (21st – 16th century B.C.). During the Shang and Zhou Dynasties over the next 1,400 years, the area was inhabited by three nomadic tribes—the Qiang, Wusun and Yuezhi (Rouzhi). At the end of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.), the Yuezhi conquered the other two tribes and occupied the entire Hexi Corridor. This corridor (also called Gansu Corridor) was the primary segment of the ancient Silk Road. Later, the Hun (or Xiongnu) armies vanquished the Yuezhi and established dominance here during the early Han Dynasty. From the early seventh century B.C., Chinese kingdoms built walls along their northern frontiers to defend themselves against the warlike Huns. During the Han Dynasty, the most ambitious Great Wall project to date was begun with four systems of fortification spanning from Dunhuang in the west all the way to the Korean peninsula in the east.

Dunhuang's importance as a military fortress led to its becoming a prefecture in 177 B.C.. Concurrently, construction of the Yumenguan Pass and Yangguan Pass to the west of Dunhuang opened a new trade route between the central plains (Hexi) and the states in Xi Yu (literally the western regions, referring to most parts of Xinjiang and part of central Asia) namely the noted Silk Road. As more and more immigrants from the central plains settled here, Dunhuang gradually became a prosperous agricultural base as well as the key military installation on the Han's border frontier. For the next several centuries, Dunhuang served as one of China's most important military, political and economic centers.

Commercial development in the Han Dynasty was soon accompanied by the growth of religion. The arrival of Confucianism initially and later Taoism and Buddhism would play an important role in Dunhuang's development. During this period, however, political turbulence prevailed as five different regimes rules the region. At this time Buddhism began to gain a strong foothold and its earliest grottoes were built in the nearby Magao Caves. In the ensuing years, the silk road flourished as the popularity of Buddhism increased. More Buddhist writings and music were brought to Dunhuang with the encouragement of the Sui (561 – 618) and Tang (618 – 907) Dynasties, more and more local people began to embrace Buddhism.

Best Time to Visit Dunhuang:

May to September

Dunhuang Travel Attractions:

Mogao Caves, Western Thousand Buddhas Cave, Echoing Sand Mountain, Yumen Pass (Jade Gate Pass), Crescent Lake, White Horse Dagoba, Dunhuang Museum

Dunhuang Travel Attractions:

Mogao Caves: The Mogao Caves (aka Mogao Grottoes, Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, or Caves of Dunhuang) are a system of Buddhist cave temples near the city of Dunhuang in Gansu province. They were a center of culture on the silk road from the 4th to the 14th centuries and contain a religious artworks spanning that entire period. There are about 600 surviving cave temples, of which 30 are open to the public.

Before the arrival of Buddhism from India, temples in China (Taoist and Confucian) were made of wood, which was well adapted to most Chinese conditions. The tradition of cave temples originated in India, where poverty, lack of building material and intense heat had necessitated finding alternative methods to temple buildings. The complex of cave temples emerged at Mogao in the 4th century, as pilgrims, monks and scholars passing on the silk road settled here to meditate and translate sutras. Merchants and nobles stopped here too, endowing temples to ensure the success of their business or to benefit their souls.

Western Thousand Buddhas Cave: The Western Thousand-Buddha Cave, which is situated to the west of Mogao Caves, is set into a cliff on the bank of the Dang River, 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) from Dunhuang city. Because the frescos in this cave are similar in structure and artistic style to those found in Mogao Caves, the Western Thousand-Buddha Cave is considered Duahuang Buddhist art.

Although the exact ages of the caves are not known, there is speculation that this cave may have emerged earlier than the Mogao Caves did. There are 16 caverns, over 800 square meters (about 8,611 square feet) of murals and 34 painted clay statues. Some of the caverns were made in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) and others in the Wei Dynasty (386 - 534). Unfortunately, some of the caverns have collapsed, but ten of them are open to tourists.

Echoing Sand Mountain: Have you ever heard of a mountain that echoes to the sound of sand as you slide down its slopes? Can you image a perennially limpid lake in an area of desert sand? Here in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, you will have the chance to enjoy the wonderful spectacle of the Echoing-Sand Mountain. The mountain is five kilometers (about three miles) away from the city of Dunhuang. Seen from afar, the mountain is just like a golden dragon winding its way over the horizon.

On days when a strong wind blows, the fast shifting sand roars; but when the wind is little more than a light breeze, the sand produces gentle, dulcet sounds akin to music. It is the same when you are sliding down the mountainside. At first, the sand under your feet just whispers; but the further you slide, the louder the sound until it reaches a crescendo like thunder or a drum beat.

Yumen Pass (Jade Gate Pass): The Jade Gate Pass, situated 75 km northwest of Dunhuang, was a strategic pass on the ancient Silk Road. It was the ancient equivalent of the last gas station in the Han Dynasty before a long stretch of road. It was named because of the jade that was transported through this pass to central China.

Little square city is another name for this city which comes from a rare square piece of jade that was sent from the west to the Han emperor in the east. Today, there are two yellow clay gates at the western and northern sides of the pass. Unfortunately, some parts of the walls have collapsed due to erosion, forming huge holes.

Crescent Lake: Just as oil and water don't mix, so do springs and deserts. But Crescent Spring is an exception. About 6 kilometers (3.73 miles) south of Dunhuang city, and surrounded by the Echoing-Sand Mountain, Crescent Spring can be called a natural wonder in the Gobi Desert. Some say it reminds them of the eye of a beautiful woman, lucid, beautiful and amorous. Some say it looks like the mysterious, gentle and seductive lips of a pretty woman, or a slice of lush, sweet and crystal cantaloupe.

Actually, it resembles a crescent fallen down into this desert. Having been lying among these sand dunes for thousands of years, although given many surprise attacks by sandstorms, Crescent Spring still gurgles clear, and still remains worthy as the first spring in the desert. You may be wondering how this desert wonder formed. Research has discovered that in this special crescent landform the wind created this depression, as the cross-ventilated theory states, the falling sands from the surrounding mountains would be sent back to the other side of nearby Echoing-Sand Mountains.

White Horse Dagoba: White Horse Dagoba is located in Baima (White Horse) Village, Danghe Town, 1 km (0.62 mile) west of Dunhuang City, Gansu Province. The dagoba has 9 stories, is 12 meters (39.4 feet) in height with an octagonal foundation. Structures resembling up-turned lotus petals surround its central body. On each of the angles of its hexagonal roof hang bells which chime in a breeze.

The dagoba is of the lama dagoba style of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is evident from the characters engraved on two stones and on a block in the middle of the second story that the White Horse Dagoba was repaired many times by later generations. Even after 1000 years, the White Horse Dagoba set off by surrounding green trees and cyan tiles is still straight and majestic, a treasure of Dunhuang City.

Dunhuang Museum: The Dunhuang Museum is located in the downtown area of Dunhuang City. It is situated in a three storey building which covers an area of 2,400 square meters (about 25,834 square feet). In front of the museum stand a group of carved figures depicting people leading their camels as they travel along the Silk Road. Generally speaking, all of the exhibits in the museum are displayed in three sections. In the first section the written sutras from the No.17 cave of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang are shown.

The written sutras are real evidence of Buddhist activities in Chinese history. In the second section next to the sutras a selection of the relics excavated from the graves in the Han Dynasty (206B.C.-220), Jin Dynasty (265-420), Sui Dynasty (581-618), and Tang Dynasty (618-907) are displayed.

How to reach Dunhuang:

By Air
Situated east of Dunhuang City, Dunhuang Airport is about 13 kilometers (about 8 miles) from the downtown area. The Mogao Caves are closer to the airport than to the downtown area. If you are pressed for time, you can go to the Mogao Caves directly from the airport. Dunhuang Airport (DNH), a small airport that offers only a domestic service. Established in 1982, Dunhuang Airport now has a 2,800-meter (about 1.73-mile) runway, a 4C flight area, five gate positions and a 12-thousand-square-meter (about 14,352 square yards) Terminal Building. It serves about 38 domestic flights weekly to destinations such as Beijing, Xian, Lanzhou, Urumqi and Jiayuguan, etc. In the peak season, the airport offers many more charter-flights than in the off-season.

By Train
There are now two railway stations available for your trip to and from Dunhuang: the Dunhuang Railway Station and the Liuyuan Railway Station. Dunhuang Railway Station is located 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) away form the city center. At present, trains connecting Dunhuang with Jiayuguan, Xian, Lanzhou, and Yinchuan leave from the station. In front of the station's square, there are many taxies and minibuses heading for downtown Dunhuang. The minibus fare is about CNY3 and the journey to the city center is no more than 20 minutes. Moreover, buses heading for Mogao Caves coming from the Dunhuang Hotel in the downtown area stop in front of the railway station every half hour. You can take these buses to get to the Mogao Caves directly.

By Bus
There are two main bus stations for long-distance passenger transport in Dunhuang: Dunhuang Bus Station and Dunhuang Passenger Transport Center. Dunhuang Bus Station is located at No.24 Mingshan Road, Shazhou Town, opposite Feitian Hotel. There are bus routes to Xining, Hami, Turpan, Urumqi and Golmud, etc. If you want to visit Tibet from Dunhuang City, you can first take the bus to Golmud, and then transfer to the bus for Lhasa. In addition to buses to Golmud, there are also some inter-provincial routes to Xining, Hami and Urumqi, as well as many inner-provincial routes to Akesai, Anxi, Yumen, Jiayuguan, Jiuquan, Zhangye, Wuwei and Lanzhou.

Dunhuang Passenger Transport Center is located at No.25 Mingshan Road,offers local services between Dunhuang and other cities or regions inside GansuProvince, including Lanzhou, Jiayuguan, Zhangye, Jiuquan and Wuwei, etc.

Where to stay in Dunhuang:

Dunhuang Dasha, Dunhuang Shanzhuang, Jinye Binguan, Feitian Binguan, Dunhuang Guoji Dajiudian, The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel


China, Mogao Caves, White Horse Dagoba, Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang Museum, Silk Road, Yumen Pass, Jade Gate Pass, Echoing Sand Mountain, Crescent Lake, Gobi Desert, Buddhist Cave Temples, Western Thousand Buddhas Cave