Dunhuang and Mogao Caves

2009/04/12: In Dunhuang
We spent much of our first day here recovering from three hard days. The “Western” breakfast involved the addition of coffee and of a knife and fork to the Chinese buffet breakfast, which was fine. We researched the route ahead and pottered about.

2009/04/13: Mogao Caves
Today we took a public mini-bus to the Mogao Caves. Once there, we joined a group of English speakers and were accompanied by an excellent guide. The art that we saw showed irrefutable evidence of Greek, Persian, and Indian influence in China from the fifth century onward. With many important artifacts having been removed in the early 1900s by Aurel Stein and others, they are careful to conserve what remains. Carbon dioxide levels are monitored in each cave, and we were lucky to be able to enter some that could only be visited during the low season, with lower visitor numbers. Photography was not allowed in the caves, so we only have few outdoor photos which show exterior views such as the sandstone cliff into which the caves were dug.

Cave covering world’s 3rd largest Buddha
Side view of cave covering world’s 3rd largest Buddha
Ancient dwellings of monks of the 1,000 Buddha caves

In stark contrast to the consistent honesty we’ve experienced in China and SE Asia for three months, we were the targets of an unpleasant attempted scam when, in the afternoon, I decided to get shorter haircut for hot desert cycling. I sat in the hairdresser’s chair and explained I wanted it short and thinned to a lad who seemed pleasant at first. In hindsight I should have inquired about price beforehand, but we didn’t feel the need, having been charged 10 Yuan for two haircuts in Fenxian. The only other possible incident of overcharging was a taxi driver in Jiayuguan who asked for 30 yuan for what should have been a 10 yuan ride. We are learning that the Silk Road towns are clearly part of a Lonely Planet Trail that requires more wariness.

In ten to fifteen minutes he’d done a good job (cut only) and I inquired how much I owed. He whispered to his partner, and we became suspicious. He typed “300” onto a calculator, and showed it to me with sly smile. This amount was twelve times what we’d previously paid here. In real terms it was as if were being asked to pay $300CDN at home. I protested, and he lowered the price to 240. I pointed to the word “joke” in my dictionary. Chris and I passed over 20 Yuan and quietly left. The 20 was likely twice what a local would have paid. We left feeling annoyed. It isn’t just about us; it’s about not wanting to contribute to creating a culture where tourists are viewed as easy targets for scams, and about having been treated as some sort of sub-human cash cow.

The pendulum always swings. We’ve just pleasant evening in the night market, buying a book in good English translation from a cultured 73 year-old gentleman who spoke fluent English and German. We talked to young people from Hong Kong who had studied in Australia and the US, who were looking for the local specialty of donkey meat. We shared a table at a wonton stand with friendly locals who offered to share their food. Ahhh ….the ups and the downs.


2 responses to “Dunhuang and Mogao Caves

  1. Hi guys,
    Really enjoying your trip & pictures. It's beginning to look like, a few recalcitrant visa/permit issues aside, I'll be in Dushanbe early June for a run on the Pamir HW (and then some more time in the Tian Shans). From the Kyrgyz border, I'll head either east to Kashgar or north to Bishkek.
    Keep on truckin. Gregg

  2. Hi Greg,
    We will probably be leaving Sari-Tash for the Tajikistan portion of the Pamir Highway around June 4th (our Tajik visa starts June 4th). If you can join us that would be great. Otherwise we looked forward to our paths crossing as you go east and we go west.
    Chris and Margo

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