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Alluring glance at China’s Gansu province tourism destinations

By Kimeng Hilton Ndukong  (People's Daily Online)    11:06, September 25, 2017

Jiayuguan Fortress marks the western starting point of the Great Wall of China that is more than 21,000 km long. Photo: Kimeng Hilton

Gansu province in northwestern China is not as developed as other parts of the country - especially in the east and south. But this does not mean that Gansu is so backward. Rather, the province has its specificities like being the host to China’s nuclear and space programmes – not overlooking its alluring tourist destinations.

Amongst such attractions are Jiayuguan Pass, Mogao Caves and the Mingsha sand dunes near Dunhuang City.

Jiayuguan Fortress in the Gobi desert is not only the western starting point of the Great Wall of China that stretches 21,196.18 km across the country, but is also a vital pass on the ancient Silk Road. In the Ming Dynasty, Jiayuguan Fort served as bulwark against attacks from the northwest.

The Great Wall at Jiayuguan was begun by Feng Sheng, a Ming Dynasty officer in 1372 during the reign of Emperor Hongwu. Construction lasted 168 years from 1372 to 1540, with builders using loess soil tamped together in layers to make the wall very solid. On average, each fortification layer is 14 cm thick, while the wall outside the fortress is about 6 metres high. An impregnable military defence system, the rampart with two-storey watch towers on each side, has a 640 metre courtyard – where intruding enemies were trapped and kept - and covers a total area of 25,000 square metres. The pass has houses that were used by Gen. Feng Sheng as office and barracks for his troops and family members.

Mogao Caves, a Buddhist art treasure shrine, is located 25 km from Dunhuang City on the eastern slope of the Echoing Sand Mountain. Some of the cave openings built into a long desert wall are five storeys or 50 metres high. According to Tang Dynasty records, a monk had a vision of a thousand Buddhas under showers of golden rays and went on to begin constructing the caves, a task that lasted 10 dynasties.

Some of Mogao Cave openings built into a long desert wall are five storeys or 50 metres high.

Mogao Caves are also known as Caves of a Thousand Buddhas. After construction, Buddhist sculptors chiseled clay statues on cave walls, carved relief murals as backdrops, and painted the sidewalls and ceilings with art decors. The largest statue is 34.5 metres high and the smallest only 2 centimetres high. It is estimated that the quantity of art works in Mogao Caves can fill 25 km of gallery space.

Apart from artifacts, there are 50,000 manuscripts in various languages, making Mogao the depository of historical and cultural exchanges from over 1,000 years between China and other nations. Meanwhile, some of the treasured art works were carted away by European collectors and are today kept in Western galleries. The daily number of tourists to the caves is limited to 6,000 in order to preserve them.

At the bottom of Mingsha Mountains is Moon Crescent Spring, a blue crescent-shaped lake surrounded by lush vegetation in the middle of Gobi desert. Photo: Kimeng Hilton

The Singing Sand (Mingsha) Mountains on the other hand are set of pale golden sand dunes about 300 meters high, covering roughly 40 km. Visitors explore the sand dunes on hired camel costing 100 RMB, electric car, quad bike or on foot. Riding a camel on the Singing Sand Mountains is a great experience. Archery and sand sledging exercises are also available on one of the dunes.

At the bottom of Mingsha Mountains is Moon Crescent Spring, a blue crescent-shaped lake surrounded by lush vegetation in the middle of Gobi desert. How the Mingsha sand dunes were formed and what has brought about the phenomenon of singing sand is still a subject of much debate. Some Japanese experts say there are probably ancient palaces under the dunes, while their Russian counterparts suggest that quartz contained in the sand is the main reason. Chinese scientists have for years carried out studies on the cause of the singing sand and now believe that it is the phenomenon of resonance.

It is estimated that the quantity of art works in Mogao Caves can fill 25 km of gallery space. Photo: Kimeng Hilton

*Kimeng Hilton Ndukong, a contributor to People’s Daily Online, is Sub-Editor for World News with Cameroon Tribune bilingual daily newspaper in Cameroon. He is currently a 2017 China-Africa Press Centre, CAPC fellow. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Wu Chengliang, Bianji)

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