Dunyuang is famous for two things really , the fantastic series of 2000 year Buddhist caves lying along side a dried up river bed about 24 k ms outside town and a clump of truly impressive sand dunes over 1000 ft high. Dunyuang is a desert farming town relying on spring melt water to grow sweet potatoes, vines for raisins and loads of beans and lentils. This water comes from mountains 400 k ms away and the fact that the water is drying up has prompted the town to do some quick thinking and they have come up with tourism! Although that still doesn’t solve the long term water problem. Dunyuang’s own Dell Boy has bought in a thousand camels and plies them up and down the dunes for the tourists from an oasis where the water is also about the disappear. With regard to the absolutely stunning Buddhist Caves which I got a chance to see by myself today- most of the moveable relics appear to have been preserved elsewhere- not far from the home countries of those who pilfered them namely UK , USA and France , a well known and industrious example being Mr Aural Stein Esq. The caves remain and they contain the most fabulous Buddhas and wall paintings as Dave described but they are now so fragile and sensitive to light that a large virtual 3D digital holographic representation of the caves is to be built quite close to town and the caves will eventually be closed to the public.
When I return from the Caves we get warning that a dust storm is on its way and decide that for our last afternoon we will go down to the Dunes and see the famous oasis.
Right on queue we get to the tourist gate to the Dunes (!!) and decide that £20 to walk on the sand in the storm is too much and we opt to gorp over the barrier!!!
All tourists are supplied with orange Dune boots! Just before the visibility completely disappears we see a line of camels coming back from a dune waddle and you can see that the height of these sand piles would impress even Lawrence of Arabia.
Gansu Provence is a long thin sausage shaped area wrapped in very high mountains on each of its long sides. Although the central sausage has only 33mm of rainfall a year ( about 1”) the mountains generate considerable precipitation mostly in the form of snow which melts gradually throughout the spring and summer. The water seeps or is guided by channels literally hundreds of miles towards the most dependent part of the sausage where the majority of the population lives. That seepage of water although fairly regular throughout the year is dwindling and that will cause a big challenge especially as the population grows. This gradual release of water is a relatively controlled phenomenon quite unlike what happens should it rain. The watershed on either side of the valley is perhaps a hundred miles wide and surprisingly the desert is not at all absorbent . Rain waters rapidly gather into flash floods destroying roads, irrigation systems , flood culverts and even last year the Dunhuang’s new railway station got flooded and the main road to the Caves completely washed away.
The camels normally kept in the dunes are brought down to the shelter of the town
We decide to have supper in town and then walk through the elegantly lit streets.
and then its starts to rain