This 80 ft image of Maitreya (the future Buddha) Is the largest at Binglingsi.



We visited the superb museum in Lanzhou. The most famous item in the museum became the symbol of China’s tourism: a flying horse from the tomb of a 200 BCE general. The horse and the army below are made of bronze (not terracotta as in the famous Xian tomb).






Another stunning piece in the museum is this painted pottery vase dating from around 4500 BCE!


Lanzhou is mostly a brand new modern city. Our very charming guide Kiki told us that we were her office’s first tourists this year (it was May). She took us to the White Pagoda Mountain across the Yellow River were some of the old architecture is still preserved.


Below we have “Muslim tea” with Kiki on an old balcony. This delicious local delicacy is made from a wonderful mixture of dried longans, rosebuds, candy tea, and red fruit that looks like red pepper.







Here we are with Kiki in a local restaurant enjoying wonderful

Chinese food. When eating local in China we often paid only $1-2/person which included booze.


The next day we visited the Water Wheel Park with irrigation wheels “invented” in 1560 (below). We saw similar water-lifting wheels in Hama, Syria.


As interesting are the goat-skin rafts below right. This is how Alexander the Great and other conquerors got their armies across rivers. These rafts are still made today by Muslims and they are still mouth-blown to fill with air. They were used to cross the Yellow River until the bridge was constructed the some 100 years ago.







Some 40 mi southwest of Lanzhou are the Binglingsi Caves (Chinese corruption of Tibetan for “Caves of the thousand Buddhas”). The earliest date from 420 CE. Additions continued for 1500 years. On the left and below are examples with some of them still showing the original colors. Nearly 700 stone statues and 82 stucco ones have survived.


Our guide pointed out the “sexy” poses of the female in the pictures to the right and below. The female is the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who morphed into the female Quan Yin in China (satisfying the Chinese emphasis on family). In Vietnam she became Quan Am (see our Vietnam site). She already carries the downward-pointed vase (pours out compassion) so typical in Vietnamese iconography.












The largest of all the statues is an 80 ft straw and stucco statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha whose coming will also signal the end of the world).




We hired this jeep and drove up a gully to the upper monastery where Tibetan monks are still active.



We found this colorful mandala in the upper monastery.





Nearby is a cave with an ornate entrance structure.


The cave houses a wonderful Tang-dynasty (618-907 CE) Buddha holding the wheel of life.





We had a delicious local dinner with Kiki and watched the hand-pulling of noodles (quite commonly done).


Right after dinner, we boarded the night train in Lanzhou and, after some 500 miles in a sleeping compartment for just the two of us, got off in Jiayuguan where we were met by April, our new local guide.




The fort on the left side is the Jiayuguan “Pass” which is the only place for hundreds of miles where travelers on the Silk Road could cross the Great Wall into old China.





Those travelers on the Silk Road we studied all went through this pass (passing point) in the Great Wall.




We visited a steep portion near the end of the Great Wall and climbed some 700 ft in 30 minutes. The Chinese have made this place into a nice tourist site with gardens and sculptures depicting scenes from the Silk Road past (below left). We were the only tourists present.


Who says the Chinese are not romantic! We found these love symbols below right on top the mountain.






From Jiayuguan we drove over 500 miles to Dunhuang. We stopped at the ancient city of Qiaowans which was a military supply station and not much more than mud foundations are left (visible in the background). The old knurly stump however was quite a sight. Touching it brings good luck!


We stopped in Anxi for lunch in a tiny 4-table restaurant with April and our driver. The kitchen and the cook were visible from where we sat.







At night, we went to a “culture show.” Some of the presentations bordered on kitsch but were nevertheless interesting. Below are a few shots under different illuminations of many-armed deities often depicted in Hindu/Buddhist traditions. We’re always fascinated with the fluid grace of moving arms and hands by Asian performers








The next morning we went to the Mingsha Hill and Crescent Moon Lake located within large sand-dunes. We rented red cotton knee-high booties to go over our shoes for walking in the sand dunes. We rode camels a short way and then walked to the Crescent moon Lake. These 800’ sand dunes are right on the edge of Dunhuang. We were told the sand storms are miserable.


The beauty on the right was the maverick of the lot. Her name was Sa-La Pei-Lin. We were told she had very expensive outfits and thought she could see Mongolia from top of the dunes.



We climbed the dunes and went down on a sled. It was fun and fast and we enjoyed it.







The Crescent Moon Lake is a stunning sight in the middle of the sand dunes.






One wouldn’t think there is much life in the dunes. Yvonne (on the left) found a lizard who – like many lizards we encountered in other regions – liked to pose for the camera.


He seemed to say: I’ve protected these dunes for a long time and I have the scars to prove it.


Dunes first.






The Mingsha Hills are a little touristy but nice. The vast majority of the tourists are Chinese.


16 miles south of Dunhuang are the Mogao Caves considered the world’s richest treasure trove of Buddhist manuscripts, wall paintings and statues. Hewn over a millennium spanning 9 dynasties from the 4th to the 14th centuries they mark the height of Buddhist art. Unfortunately, the mandatory site guide spoke hard-to-understand English, the group was too large for the small rooms and it was too dark inside to see anything meaningful. Disappointing. On the right are some of the cave entrances with their modern protection.




Our driver took us to a little eating place in the middle of the market that specializes in donkey meat. It was delicious. We had two pieces each the size that is in the chopsticks. This large bottle of beer was served at room temperature with a little shot glass.


Only later, when our Muslim guides in Xinjiang told us, did we learn that donkey meat is a no-no in Islam (just like pork).

So is booze. Several Islamic demerits for Juergen.






Our second over-night sleeper train took us from Dunhuang to Turpan. The remainder of trip from Turpan to Islamabad was by car.


An earlier name for Turpan is Huozhou which means “land of fire.” Summer temperatures are over 100 F. Turpan is located in a depression at an elevation of 260 ft below sea level. The nearby moon lake is 505 ft below sea level and is the second lowest continental point in the world after the Dead Sea. Turpan is famous for its grapes.


Above and right are the remains of the ancient city of Jiaohe which was the capital of one of the kingdoms under the Han dynasty in 200 BCE). It reached its cultural peak under the Uyghurs   in the 9th c. and was destroyed by the Mongols. The remains are from the Tang dynasty (619-907 CE). The city streets and courtyards were dug below the surface. On the right are the remains of a Buddhist monastery complex.




The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves are located 35 mi NE of Turpan. There are 67 caves dating from 317-1386 CE. Bezeklik means in Uyghur “Place with many paintings.” The Germans von Le Coq and Grünwedel found and excavated the site (early 20th c.) and removed as many murals as possible(sawing through the stucco and straw surfaces) and took them to Berlin (a few are in St. Petersburg).

Probably not a bad idea since the local Muslims defaced most of the remaining ones. Even what’s left is still superb. Taking pictures is not allowed.


50 mi SE of Turpan are the ruins of the ancient city of Gaochang dating from 200CE. It was destroyed in the 14th c.

Gaochang is a vast area and tourists usually take a donkey cart. We were the only tourists (temperatures were in the 90s) and only local school children used the carts. We walked the entire area.




Much of Gaochang has been destroyed by locals. The soil of the old walls is rich and peasants have carried off large quantities over the centuries to fertilize their fields.


The Emin minaret just outside of Turpan is considered one of the architectural gems of the Silk Road. It dates from 1778 and is 144 ft high. It’s constructed from plain sun-dried bricks.




On the left are vineyards and  above them buildings for drying grapes into raisins.


Here are some examples of raisins from Turpan. A few varieties are quite elongated and are called horse nipples. They’re very flavorful and incredibly sweet.





We drove 400 miles from Turpan to Kuqa. We visited the Kizil 1000 Buddha caves 40 mi NW of Kuqa which contain some of the best fresco fragments in Xinjiang. Of the 80 caves still containing fragments of paintings, nine are open to visitors. They contain superb examples of Gandharan art.


A means of rapid communications was through  beacon towers. On the right are the remains of a 3rd c. CE tower.




The beacon tower is located close to a huge wash that also serves as a major road as long as it is dry.


In the old part of Kuqa we visited a mosque where we were allowed to see the sharia court. Half of the floor is raised and the judge sits on it behind a table that is covered with red velvet. On it were instruments for corporal punishment: two 3” leather straps each filled with sand and two more usual whips. We lifted them and they were all heavy.




In the mosque garden we had our first fresh mulberries (we had them from then on) and they tasted delicious.


A common sight is the shoeing of donkeys or horses directly on the street. The animal is immobilized and practically hanging in the air but seems to be comfortable.