There were going to be some serious changes during the next couple of days, so we couldn’t just continue walking through the desert.
Even though we would have liked to very much.
We called up our favorite cab driver again (please please swallow) and devised a route that would take us to some places that were supposed to be fun to visit. (I marked them in the new Google Earth file.)
It was 30°C outside, and the first sight we went to was Dunhuang Film Set 敦煌影视城:
A Sino-Japanese joint venture had build this massive “old town” some years ago as a TV production set, and it had been in use ever since.
Today, it seemed as though folks could rent the place for bogus movie productions just for fun though:
Well, at least they didn’t look very professional:
But it seemed like everybody was having a lot of fun:
We hadn’t come here for movies, so we didn’t stay long.
Our next stop were the Four Thousand Buddha Grottoes 西千佛洞, another sister grotto complex to the Yulin Grottoes (please please swallow) and the Mogao Grottoes:
Though smaller than both the other grotto parks, this particular place was also very interesting and nice to look at.
We both figured we had seen about enough murals and Buddha statues by now though, so we quickly got back in the cab.
The temperature was rising.
The next thing we were about to see was the legendary Jade Gate Pass 玉门关, and we were pretty excited.
There was a ticket counter somewhere in the desert…
…and then we had to drive another 50km to the actual site.
Jade Gate Pass… sounds somewhat mesmerizing, doesn’t it?
Poems had been written about this place in ancient times, but now…
…it was just this.
So what is it all about?
Well, this used to be part of the Chinese western defense line for many centuries. It would serve as a kind of cork in the bottleneck of the Hexi Corridor, the system of valleys and oases cradled between high mountains and deserts that I have been following ever since Lanzhou (one would dream). This was in the first millennium, during which the empire was trying to shield itself off from the nomadic tribes of the western steppes.
Then, after the pax mongolica had appeared and disappeared in the 13th century, during the reign of the Ming-dynasty, these western defense lines were given up and pulled back to Jiayuguan – coffin nail).
I tried making a map about this:
Orange is the corridor, and purple are the two defense lines. The western defense line was given up eventually.
I think that this was among the reasons why the Buddhist grottoes in this area had been sleeping their forgotten slumber here for so many centuries – they had just been left outside of the Chinese conception of the “civilized world”.
Today, they are back though:
And Buddhism seems to be back on the rise too:
Everybody knows: no defense line is complete without a wall.
And in this case, it’s not just any wall, it’s the Great Wall itself that stretches to its most western extents in this area:
I remember telling you that I found the western end of the Great Wall near Jiayuguan (the cry-train).
Well, that was wrong.
In reality it’s probably here, some 380km more to the West.
Temperatures were way above 40°C in the afternoon, so we were happy about every bit of road that we could ride at high speeds with the windows rolled down.
We were going to see the last attraction for today, the Sun Pass 阳关:
Okay, another rock with some historical meaning attached to it…
…but this time it just wasn’t as easy to get to the damn thing:
We had to get a guide and navigate through a big old museum complex:
On the way, we found a place that rented costumes and took funny pictures of ourselves:
This was not a requirement in order to see the Sun Pass, but we liked to anyways:
Then, after what seemed like hours spent in a sightseeing frenzy, we were finally done, and there it was:
…another rock behind bars in the desert.
“Do I look like a real emperor or WHAT?”