Home China Chasing the Buddha: Our Silk Road Journey- Mogao Caves

Chasing the Buddha: Our Silk Road Journey- Mogao Caves

written by Traipsing Terra January 23, 2016

There are many historic Buddisht grottos located all along the ancient Silk Road in China. During the summer of 2014 I had the luxury of having a very long summer vacation. My husband and I created an itinerary that would take us to a few different grottos and key cities along the Silk Road. Gansu is packed full of these ancient cave systems and I was lucky enough to see three different ones while traveling in through the area. There are many more scattered throughout the province, but we only had time for these three: Magishan Caves in Tianshui, Bingling Caves in Lanzhou, and Mogao Caves in Dunhuang.


Looking at one of the covering for the tallest Buddha statue at Mogao.

Dunhuang was our second grotto after spending a few days in Tianshui. We took an overnight train from Tianshui and got off the train around 11am. We had arranged to be picked up through the hostel, but as we walked out of the train station we were instantly bombarded by people asking if we needed a taxi. As we moved away from the crowd trying to sell us a cab we got a phone call from our driver, but he couldn’t speak any English. Finally, after a lot of terrible Chinese on our part, we found our driver and he took us to the hostel. During the drive, the driver really wanted to talk to us, but with our limited Chinese we were unable to communicate much.

Our room wasn’t ready, so we stored our stuff at the front office and decided to head to Mogao Caves. This cave system is one of the most famous because of a hidden library that contained a bunch of ancient Buddhist texts, though the texts have been removed and are now mostly in European museums.


The outside of the caves

Before we went out to the caves the driver took us to breakfast. It was a little diner that served very cheap, but very filling, Chinese breakfast. We got a bowl of porridge and a piece of fried bread to start, then two fried eggs, a hot dog on a stick, and some steamed buns. Once we finished with breakfast we were off again. First the driver went to pick up a friend who spoke English to be our translator. We then found out that our driver was a physics teacher, and his friend was a Chinese teacher, but had studied English at university.


Chinese breakfast was dumplings, fried eggs, and a porridge with fried bread. It was delicious, and super cheap.

Once at the caves it was nice to have the guide to show us where to get tickets and where the entrance was. Sadly, on the day we went there were no English guides so we just walked along with the other tourists and listened to Chinese tour guides giving information about each cave. Obviously, this didn’t help us out much but it didn’t really matter because the imagery in each cave was so beautiful.

Despite being very old the images are in relatively good condition. The colors were obviously faded, but still incredibly vibrant considering how much time has passed. Entire empires have risen and fallen since they were originally painted, and these caves are still in good shape. Its quite interesting to think that thousands of years ago people paid for these amazing pieces of art to be created, and that I was lucky enough to be standing and looking at this amazing work.

Although it was a really hot day, and there were so many people there, the caves were beautiful, and were also cool inside, which made for a nice retreat from the heat. There are about 100 different caves with paintings and statues, but only about ten were open to the public. Although I would love to see all of them, it’s probably best that most are off-limits. Also, you aren’t supposed to take pictures inside the caves. I’m not sure whether that is to preserve the images, or because they don’t want to entice people to visit on their own, or because they can make more money from selling the images at the gift shop.


After our “tour” of the caves we met up with our English translator and driver. They decided to show us around a little more before taking us back to the hostel. We went to a night market that was just barely starting to set up, and then to a restaurant for Dunhuang noodles, one of the popular noodle dishes of the area. (Donkey noodles are the other popular noodle dish, but we didn’t try them, and yes it really has donkey in it.)


Dunhuang noodles

Dunhuang noodles are pretty fun. You get a plate of noodles and three different sides (all vegetarian). You then mix all the sides into the noodles and eat. It was delicious, and if I ever make it back to Dunhuang, I would definitely eat them again. After a long hot day in the sun it was very energizing. We even had a little entertainment while eating, as a cute little girl stopped by to play with her friend outside the restaurant. They were playing with a chicken on a string that was tied to a scooter in front of the restaurant. The image of the girl was one of my favorites from my summer trip in China. I don’t know why, I just loved how entertained these kids were with the chicken.


Kids don’t really need video games and movies when they have a chicken to play with

Have you ever been to Dunhuang and visited the Mogao Caves? What was your experince like? Did you have and English guide?








Have you ever been to Dunhuang and visited the Mogao Caves? What was your experince like? Did you have and English guide?

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Harold Tice January 23, 2016 at 11:35 am

The light from the camera can affect algal growth, which would hasten decay. If the caves are lighted it is probably to make money.

Traipsing Terra January 23, 2016 at 11:50 am

I never thought of that. The caves are not lit inside, the tour guides had flashlights, but most light comes in from the entrance to each cave.

sdf January 30, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Hi there! I know this is kind of off-topic but I had to ask.
Does operating a well-established blog like yours take a large amount of work?
I’m brand new to blogging however I do write in my diary daily.
I’d like to start a blog so I can easily share my
own experience and feelings online. Please let me know if you have any kind of ideas or tips for new aspiring bloggers.
Appreciate it!

Traipsing Terra January 31, 2016 at 11:05 pm

First of all, I am flattered that you view my site as well established. That being said, I too am fairly new to blogging. It does take a bit a work, and I am still learning as I go. Setting up the blog and creating the look I wanted was the most challenging part. But after that, it’s just a matter of writing and getting posts out there. There are so many resources out there that can help you get started. Linked at the bottom are a couple that have helped me. Good luck, and I hope that you will continue to read my blog! (http://www.goatsontheroad.com/how-to-start-a-travel-blog/, http://www.adventurouskate.com/how-to-start-a-travel-blog/)

Chasing the Buddha: Our Silk Road Journey- Luoyang Longmen Grottos July 22, 2016 at 10:33 am

[…] You can read the first part of the series about Bingling Grottos, and the second part about Mogao Caves. I will continue to add a post each Friday for the next month or so. So, if you would like to know […]


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