Gansu was, to me, the best part of our adventure along the Silk Road. Lying between the Tibetan and the Huangtu plateau, Gansu is incredibly dry (so bring lotion!) yet contains so many treasures that attest to the power, beauty and reputation of China during the days of the Silk Road. Therefore, I’ll have to break this post up into two — there’s just too much information and photos! 🙂
After leaving Qinghai, we headed straight for the rainbow mountains (part of the danxia landforms) near Zhangye. The colors are formed by different colored sandstone and minerals that were pressed together over millions of years; of course, the colors are much more distinct when the sun shines down on the mountains. Also in Zhangye is the Giant Buddha Temple built almost 1000 years ago, which features the largest sleeping Buddha in Asia. The temple also secretly housed among the most complete set of ancient religious scripture, all of which a nun hid behind a false wall in her room to prevent it from being seized by the government.
In the city of Jiayuguan lies Jiayu Pass, the last gate and ending point of the Great Wall. Standing on this pass, you’ll see the Gobi desert on all sides of the pass and the remains of the majestic Great Wall slithering through. On one of the arches inside the gate lies a single brick. Legend has it that the architect for the pass calculated that he would need exactly 999,999 bricks, but the manager doubted his accuracy and added one more brick. After the construction, there was indeed one extra brick left, and to this day that brick remains on the arch.
Before we get too close to Dunhuang (which I’ll talk about in the second post of this series), we’ll first past through the Mogao Grottos. This site is located at the cultural and religious crosspoints on the Silk Road, where thousands of travelers passed by for hundreds of years. Built over a span of a thousand years and dynasties, Mogao Grottos contains over 700 caves built into a sand cliff, with each cave containing murals, frescoes, scripture and sculptures — some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Currently, only 478 of them have been excavated, and even fewer are open to the public, but the caves and the art within are absolutely fascinating. Each cave is sponsored by various donors who would dictate the type of art to be included in the specific cave. For example, Empress Wu Ze Tian built an enormous statue of the Buddha in her likeness in one of the biggest caves in the grotto. The caves are dark and unlit (to preserve the art), but a tour guide will lead you through the caves. Let me tell you, this is 100% worth visiting…on my Silk Road journey, the Mogao Grottos were, hands down, my favorite.