China 2009 - Dunhuang, Ancient Walled City

Beijing to Dunhuang, China
Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Already feeling burdened by all of our shopping packages and a week’s worth of well-worn clothes, we arranged with our Beijing hotel to leave many of our bags and suitcases with them until we returned to Beijing in the latter part of the week.

The flight to Dunhuang in Gansu Province in western China was at 8 am, so we had to depart from the hotel at around 5:30 am. Our flight from Beijing to Dunhuang took about 3 hours and took us from the Dunhuang Airport metropolises of China’s east coast to the Gobi desert region of western China. From the plane’s window, we saw the gray concrete of Beijing give way to the green farmlands and trees of the Yellow River region and then give way to the tans and browns of the Gobi desert and surrounding sand dunes and mountain ranges.

Dunhuang is an ancient walled city located along the historic Silk Road. Travelers on the ancient Silk Road viewed Dunhuang as one of the last western outposts in China before leaving China on their journey to India, Arabia, Persia, the Mediterranean area, and Europe. We were told that a one-way journey along the ancient Silk Road from China to points west could take up to seven months, via camel economy class. Today, Dunhuang is a dusty, low-rise city of about 180,000 people with a very visible mix of Chinese, Indian and Arabic cultures. At the airport, our arriving plane was the only plane on the tarmac.

At the Dunhuang airport, a local tour guide, Vivian, English name, greeted us. She shared with us some of the local history and culture and after checking in at our hotel, she toured us around the downtown city area and we had lunch. Again, Dunhuang is a small city, so we were able to walk around most of the downtown area’s shops, street vendors, and a trip to the city’s museum. This museum featured the history of the ancient Silk Road, the Great Wall, and the people who occupied the city during this time.

As is customary on organized tours, we were lead to a government sponsored factory showroom displaying local crafts. This showroom was of Chinese silk rugs and carpets. Using a good marketing technique, they greeted us with a glass of local red wine. This set the stage for some in our group (Marion & me) to be swayed by the Chinese silkworm saga, months of rug weaving technique, beautiful design techniques, natural dye colors, 400 hand-knots, and Mogao Cave patterns. After much bargaining, Marion and I were the proud owners of own very own Dunhuang silk rugs.

The rest of the afternoon involved more shopping. Judy and Ellen found beautiful silk scarves and most bought some of the local produce of fresh dates, apricots, and almonds.

Vivian offered us the opportunity to attend a local presentation of various folk dances of the region. The mostly youthful ensemble was very talented, had learned numerous dance routines, and was amazing in their quick costume changes. The costumes were beautiful, ornate, and colorful.

Our New Orleans group, was taken aback by the unexpected reincarnation of a New Orleans area deceased sheriff, Sherriff Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish. Sheriff Lee, while being of Chinese descent, was also firmly rooted in the New Orleans and Louisiana Cajun traditions. In fact, he dressed like a Chinese-Cajun cowboy—think about that for a minute. The reincarnated Sheriff Lee on stage was also dressed as a Chinese cowboy, with boots, cowboy hat, and holster around his waist but donning a royal blue Chinese silk robe instead of the police blue uniform. He belted out a Chinese ballad, that we are sure the real Sheriff Lee would have appreciated.

After the show, most in the group went off to bed, as we had an early morning date at 5:30 am with our camel crew.

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