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Day Thirteen - by Zali Fung

The Gobi desert and Mogao caves 4.30am, the phone rings. Time to wake up! The sky is still pitch black when we get on the bus, half-asleep but excited for our camel ride into the Gobi desert, where the ancient Chinese were exiled as the ultimate punishment for a crime. Darkness recedes as we ride our camels across the vast desert plains. As we begin to climb the magnificent sand dunes, the sun peeps it’s head over the horizon, a bright red inferno. The mountains of sand become steeper, so we leave our camels behind and climb up and up the dunes to watch the sun rise.  The smooth contours of sand stretched into the horizon, surrounded by desolate desert plains stamped with the occasional green oasis. The cool of night was replaced by the desert sun as we jumped around the dunes like children. I don’t think I have ever screamed/sworn as much as I did as I spun and sped down the monstrous sand dune in a donut-shaped tabogin.  After a 2 hour break, we were on the road again bound for the Mogao grottoes, over 490 caves filled with art and sculptures that are over 2000 years old, created over a myriad of dynasties by Buddhist and Taoist monks. We pushed through the crowds and heat to see the ‘thousand Buddha murals’, ancient carvings and the second biggest Buddha in the world, around 33 metres tall. For me,Cave 17 was the highlight, the place where the oldest writings in the world were found -ancient Buddhist scriptures. By night fall were were exhausted, but still managed to make it to the Dunhuang night markets after dinner in the countryside.  See you tomorrow Australia!

Day Ten - by Chris

The last day in Lanzhou - this would be considered by some to be one of the best days of the tour so far as it signalled the long awaited tour in Dunhuang and Jiayuguan.

There’s not much to say about this particular day. We went to a mosque (but no one went in), we revisited the museum from yesterday. In the evening we made dumplings (northerner style) before proceeding in the “closing ceremony” and meeting the Georgians from their Confucius Institute. The closing ceremony included a series of group games most of us partook in and a few impromptu performances from each side.

Anyways by 7 pm we were out of there and on the way to the train station.

Now, previously I’d heard bad things about the notorious Chinese inter-provincial train system, notoriously known as “hard sleepers”. So picture this, one carriage, 25x4 m2 in area, split into 10 space. Each space with 6 beds or two sets of 3 suite bunks. One toilet on each side and smoking area just outside our space. For unknown reasons, the booking of tickets was made that we all had middle beds (instead of the top or bottom) and this meant that for some we were squished between a random person on the top and below our bunks. Somewhat unnerving to say the least. Honestly, most of us would’ve preferred to pay extra and get soft sleepers. But as the saying goes “all’s well ends well” and it did, so I haven’t got any complaints.

We arrived at JiaYuGuan early next morning. But that’s another story.

Day Thirteen - by Zali

The Gobi desert and Mogao caves

4.30am, the phone rings. Time to wake up! The sky is still pitch black when we get on the bus, half-asleep but excited for our camel ride into the Gobi desert, where the ancient Chinese were exiled as the ultimate punishment for a crime.

Darkness recedes as we ride our camels across the vast desert plains. As we begin to climb the magnificent sand dunes, the sun peeps it’s head over the horizon, a bright red inferno. The mountains of sand become steeper, so we leave our camels behind and climb up and up the dunes to watch the sun rise.  The smooth contours of sand stretched into the horizon, surrounded by desolate desert plains stamped with the occasional green oasis. The cool of night was replaced by the desert sun as we jumped around the dunes like children. I don’t think I have ever screamed/sworn as much as I did as I spun and sped down the monstrous sand dune in a donut-shaped tabogin. 

After a 2 hour break, we were on the road again bound for the Mogao grottoes, over 490 caves filled with art and sculptures that are over 2000 years old, created over a myriad of dynasties by Buddhist and Taoist monks. We pushed through the crowds and heat to see the ‘thousand Buddha murals’, ancient carvings and the second biggest Buddha in the world, around 33 metres tall. For me,Cave 17 was the highlight, the place where the oldest writings in the world were found -ancient Buddhist scriptures.

By night fall were were exhausted, but still managed to make it to the Dunhuang night markets after dinner in the countryside. 
See you tomorrow Australia!

Day 9 - by Jenny

As we get closer to the time that we have to pack up our bags and head off to Dunhuang, I begin to feel the familiarity of certain parts of the Lanzhou despite it’s vastness. Although I would not consider it a tourist destination in terms of comfort and weather, Lanzhou has a certain appeal to it. The surrounding mountains caters for nature lovers, buildings such as museums details the history and development, and the stores and markets are a place to grab your “made in China” products.

We were given a overview of the importance of the Silk Road and it’s ability to connect the eastern part of China to the west and bring about trade and spread religion. The grottoes of Dunhuang were used by Monks for meditation and were then later opened to the public. These are located away from the city and away from the distractions of ordinary life. This is something I cannot begin to fathom especially coming from a world where everyone is connected via technologies and there is a constant need to be up-to-date.

The part I found most interesting was the interpretations of the Buddhist artworks. The various elements that make up the picture serve to tell stories and morals. Our imaginations were stretched by the pictures of flying angels (heavenly musicians) who are drawn without wings. Instead they use a scarf or have flowing sleeves as their way of soaring above amongst the clouds. The many depictions of Buddha were also fascinating to see. It seems that the image of Buddha is open to interpretation. I am now armed with knowledge to have an informed view of the artwork. I can’t wait to see them in real life!

It is nearly time to leave the comforts of our hotel rooms which we have used to escape the dusty streets. As we say our farewell to Lanzhou, we are ready to be fascinated by the wonders of Dunhuang as we embark on our next part of the journey.

The flying horse leads the way.

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