Saturday, September 24, 2016

Mogao Caves.

The Fab Four at Mogao.

Mal and I managed to drag ourselves out of bed bright and early.  Mal had our vouchers for breakfast. The hotel itself did not have a restaurant so we had to go to a local restaurant that was located pretty much next door to the hotel.  Our voucher entitled us to some noodles and an egg.  I wasn't all that hungry so it was easy for me to pass up on the noodles.  Mal was not enticed  either. Very sad breakfast even by my budget travel standards and this is supposedly a 4 star hotel we're staying in.

We simply took the eggs which we ate in our hotel room. Sitting on the edge of our beds, facing each other, we toasted each other with our eggs.  A new tradition?  No....just another silly moment between the two of us.  Considering we had never met each other until that first moment in the hotel in Xi'an, Mal and I are now as close as two peas in a pod.  She makes me laugh at every turn and I have become her daily reminder for all sorts of things on her daily to-do list.  She also has given herself a new nickname - Shiongmao (or more properly in Chinese - 熊猫 (Xióngmāo) which means panda in Chinese. Very befitting if you ask me.  I will so badly miss her when this trip is over.

Before meeting back up with Cathy at 8a, we all checked out of the hotel.  Later today, we will be checking into another hotel that is located in the heart of the city center.  That will be nice as it will give us better opportunity to see the city.  Today's itinerary with Cathy only hadone thing on it - a visit to Mogao Caves.

We began with a short drive back to the modern looking globe topped building located next to the Aqua Blue Theater where we were last night to see the performance of Encore Dunhuang.


The thoroughly modern building houses the Dunhuang Digital Exhbition Center aka the Mogao Caves Visitor Center.  We were here to see two IMAX movies, one titled "Thousand-Year Mogao" which provides a historical introduction of the Mogao Caves in 20 minutes.


The second movie is the “Dream Buddhist Land” which presents views of some of most outstanding caves which are usually off limits to the public. Both movies were projected against a large dome screen.  That was the interior of globe like structure that I saw from afar.

Image from China Discovery

Cathy did not join us inside for the movies.  I'm sure she's seen them 1,000 times.  Afterwards, we stopped briefly, in front of a very large map, marked up with the routes of the Silk Road.  In my dreams, I will one day visit all the places on the all the routes.


Next, we had to board a bus that shuttled us over to the caves.  I think it's good that they restrict traffic.  I wish they would do that more in US parks to better help preserve the landscape.



The moment I saw the grottoes cut into the side of the cliff wall, I knew it was Mogao. 


The bus stopped in a dusty parking lot and we followed the path to a bridge that crossed over what I would describe as a dry river bed.


On the other side of the bridge, the walkway ran alongside the cliff wall.


An edifice had been constructed to enable people to visit the caves at the same time protecting the cliff face and the caves.


The walkway ended in a nice tree filled square.


Statue of an apsara.

Located in one part of the square is the gift shop which we went to at the end of our visit to the caves.



But the most important structure that the square fronts is the famous nine story temple aka Cave 96 which houses a colossal Tang dynasty Buddha statue that stands 33 meters (108 feet) tall.  Just so happens that 108 is a very symbolic number to both Chinese and Buddhists so perhaps it's no coincidence that the Buddha stands this tall.

Photography is not allowed inside any of the caves and so it's very popular to take photos of this very tall structure.  Google "Mogao" and you'll see what I  mean. :-)


Cathy had arranged for us to have an English speaking guide tour us around so we had to wait for a bit for her to show up.

The guides are very nattily dressed :-)

When our guide finally showed up, the first thing she did was pass around headsets.  I don't particularly like wearing them but in this sort of a case, you really don't have much choice.Mogao is extremely popular with tourists so I was already anticipating that the caves would be crowded and therefore, it would be hard to hear the guide speak if not for the headpsets. 

Yeah....that's the mug of someone who is protesting having her photo taken but you can see how seriously I took it  :-)

We followed the guide to see the caves and indeed they are magnificent.  No point my trying to even describe them because my limited vocabulary when it comes to describing such things is too limited to them justice.  Just Google Mogao and look at images for yourself.  I have to say though that while I thought the sculptures that I saw here were far better than the ones at Yulin, I thought the murals at Yulin were much nicer in terms of detail and color.  Also, there was no secular art here - it's all about Buddha.

As we walked between the caves, I was able to take photos of several murals.  While the colors are a bit faded, you can still get a good glimpse of the underlying art work. 






Each cave was just marked with a simple door and we only went in to the few that are open to the public.


I made sure to peek into every grotto, even the ones above my head.  Without exception, they were all decorated.




Here are more photos taking on our visit to Mogao.  We had to go up and down the steps to go between various sections of caves hence the photos that were obviously shot at ground level.








All in all, we spent about an hour walking through the caves.  I found it interesting though admittedly, I don't remember anything of what the guide told me.  Long ago, I realized that for me, doing pre-trip reading is much and then blogging about it is a much better way for me to retain information than hearing it from a guide.

We met back up with Cathy and then spent a good amount of time inside the gift shop.  There were some nice paintings there and for a few minutes, I was tempted to get something but at this point, I really have plenty of souvenirs so I opted to just to leave the store empty handed.

We exited the complex from a different location.  


But we did have to cross over the same dry river bed.  This time, we had a view of some ancient stupas or at least I think they're ancient stupas.


Next, we paid a short visit to Mogaoku Museum which was built in 1920 by the Japanese. From the outside, it doesn't look like much.  On the inside, the museum is partly underground.

The museum's small collection consists of discovered artifacts, ancient silk and other relics.  I really enjoyed my time here.  I found the items to be well displayed and described.






The museum also had a few displays that described the discovery of the caves and the ongoing excavation, preservation and research efforts.  It was nice to see the hardworking archaeologists and historians getting their due credit.



Across the main hallway from the main exhibition hall were several rooms where 8 life sized caves were fully reproduced down to the decorations, sculptures and murals.  It's in these caves that you can linger and fully appreciate the incomparable beauty.  Sadly, photos were not allowed inside any of the rooms.

But my favorite exhibit was the one that lined the hallway.  Displays had been set up showing you exactly how the original artists created their works of art.  They literally started with sticks and straw as the skeletons and then added the plaster and paint to create the final piece.  Incredible!




There was a display of the different minerals that the ancient Chinese used to generate the colors for the paint they used.  It's easy to forget that the paint did not come from a can! :-)


It was fascinating learning about how the caves themselves were cut out of the rock and decorated.  This was no easy feat and given the number of caves at Mogao, mind boggling how this was all accomplished.


From the museum, we headed back to the city.  Cathy got us checked into our new hotel digs before leaving us for the day.  It's a beautiful day today to explore the city!