EXPLORING THE SILK ROAD

Yikes, it's been over a month since my last post. Lately both work and downtime have been busy. Last week we spent hosting a close university friend of mine, touring the best bits of Shanghai.  So, David and I headed to the northwest corner of China to exchange tromping city streets for hiking mountains and sleeper trains across Gansu province. 

There are two landform parks in Zhangye. The rainbow mountains get all the attention, but while you're visiting a stop at neighboring Binggou Park (冰沟公园). The landforms are steep red rock formations that tower into the sky. Travel to both parks is easily navigated via public transport. 

We opted to visit the Danxia Landforms (丹霞地貌公园) in the afternoon, hoping for better sunlight to reflect the colors of the rocks. Before the trip I had google image searched the rainbow mountains and was prepared for disappointment. I admit I was worried that most photos of the landforms were photoshopped. However, once we arrived in the late afternoon the prominent stripes of color were amazing. Our photos probably don't do the scenery justice, after all the optimal viewing is during a summer sunrise or sunset. 

After Zhangye we took a late night train to Dunhuang (敦煌). The two main sites to see are the Singing Sand Mountains (鸣沙山) and Mogao Grottoes (莫高窟). Dunhuang as a town is quaint by China standards, though in September 2016 underwent a massive renovation to host a cultural expo. The streets are newly paved, clean, and easy to navigate with no lack of signposting - Chinese and English! Similar to Zhangye, public transport is the best option for getting around though taxis can be hailed or negotiated to hire for the day. 

The sand dunes are only 3 kilometers from the city which offer a magnificent view. Once at the park you can hire a camel to explore the dunes. For an extra twenty yuan, the camel lead will serve as a personal photographer throughout the route - she comes armed with her own catalog of poses. 

The Mogao Caves are also known as the Thousand-Buddha Caves and is one of the best known Chinese Buddhist grotto systems in China, along with Longmen Caves (which we visited in 2012) and Yulin Caves (on the list to see). No photos are allowed within the caves so I don't have much to share. The wall paintings alone are worth the trip. Here is an article on the reverse pipa, a national symbol of China, which visitors can see in one of the cave's murals. 

While in Dunhuang I advise travelers to make a stop by the town night market. There are many local specialities to try which differ from other regional Chinese cuisines along with dried fruits and nuts. Near the night market there are a string of cafes, offering milk tea and wifi with soft sofas for sinking into after walking all day.