We’re in the Silk Road town of Dunhuang (敦煌).
The plan is to take it easy here for a few days to slow things down a notch and to recover from travel fatigue. (it happens when you’ve been taking 44-hour train rides and daily 12-hour bus rides on bumpy roads)
Personally, I think that it was kind of apt that we decided to rest in Dunhuang because back in the day, Dunhuang used to be a key supply base for Silk Road merchants that passed through the city. Dunhuang stands at the edge of the Gobi desert and is strategically positioned in the middle of the Southern Silk Road, the road to India/Nepal through Tibet and the thin Gansu corridor that leads into the rest of central China. In other words, it was the last stop for travellers to load up on water and food supplies for those setting out to cross the deserts, and for those arriving from the west, Dunhuang would have been their first sighting of civilization after their desert/mountain crossings.
The day started well enough. We woke at 10 and lounged around till noon before we went for a leisurely, filling but wholely unsatisfying brunch. We returned from brunch and I was surfing the net while Jo was watching TV and reading our copy of Lonely Planet.
All was well with the world.
Then Jo decided to drop the bombshell. “Do you know there are sand dunes near to town? Let’s go climb them!”
We clearly have a very different understanding of “slowing things down” and I obviously had too much for brunch because my reply was “YES! LET’S!!” (with a little more enthusiasm)
We took a taxi to Mingsha Shan (鸣沙山, literally “Echoing-Sand Mountain”), and there we have it… A ticketing booth!
Because brunch was still acting on our brains, we paid (good) money to enter to see the dunes. (We would later learn that there is a side entrance, through which we could’ve have gotten in for the grand price of FREE). And there we have it…. Sand dunes!!!
Have you ever been to Disneyland?
Now, in your mind’s eye replace all the rides and mascots of Disneyland with sand, and you’ll have Mingsha San.
Ok… I am being overly critical. The sand dunes at Mingsha San were actually quite majestic. According to the signs, the tallest dunes were around 5000 feet, which is pretty darn impressive if you actually know how much a feet is (90 million gallons).
I personally think the most amazing thing was how, after millennia of rubbing against each other, the sand was watery smooth. This makes for some really fun times for us.
Besides the dunes, there was also an oasis named Crescent Moon Lake (月牙泉). Back home, we have a name for a lake like Crescent Moon Lake… we call it a longkang, but hey! that’s me being overly critical again!
Of course, the Chinese, being the shrewd businessmen that they are, loaded the park with touristy activities like archery,buggy ridding, camel trekking, paragliding, sand sliding, micro lighting and dune surfing. Being the hardened traveller and shrewd Chinese that we are, we would not fall for scams like these.
We just paid tonnes of money for the privilege of climbing up a dune and sliding down it.
And we took the camel rides too…
I think the only reason we did not paraglide was because
we did not bring enough cash… we were too smart to be suckered by them.