Mysteries of the Silk Road revealed in Gansu pass

Gansu Province, containing a key segment of the Silk Road, is an arid land of mystery, with temples, ruins, and the farthest western outpost of the Great Wall.

Apart from the famous Buddhist Mogao Grottoes(莫高窟) in Dunhuang(敦煌), Gansu is little explored and is the perfect place for hikers who seek adventure and little-known ancient history and culture. The land is a nexus of cultures.

The 1,000-kilometer River West Corridor(河西走廊), also known as the Gansu Corridor, connects cities including Dunhuang and Wuwei(武威), all to the west of the Yellow River. It borders the Tibetan Plateau, Mongolia, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, as well as the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan and Shaanxi.

Though less famous than Xi'an City in Shaanxi Province and Luoyang in Henan Province, Gansu is home to the Four Towns in the West Corridor, referring to Dunhuang, Jiuquan(酒泉), Zhangye(张掖) and Wuwei. It's a place of surprising natural beauty.


Ma Ta Fei Yan

Few people know that China's tourism logo, the Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow ("Ma Ta Fei Yan"马踏飞燕) is a 1,800-year-old bronze unearthed in Wuwei. China Post's symbol, the Postal Messenger, is taken from a design painted on a brick in a tomb near Jiayuguan(嘉峪关). This town contains what is regarded as the far western extremity of the Great Wall. The Gansu Museum, one of the most important museums in China, is in Lanzhou, the provincial capital.

Besides the national treasures of the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang and Maijishan Grottoes in Tianshui (which Shanghai Daily has featured), Gansu contains other important, lesser known grottoes where seekers will be rewarded.


Tiantishan Grottoes

Tiantishan Grottoes near Wuwei is regarded as the original source of Buddhist sculpture art of Central China found in the grottoes of Yungang(云冈) in Shanxi Province and Longmen(龙门) of Henan Province. Bingling Temple(炳灵寺) in Yongjing(永靖) is the only grotto in Gansu that bears clear year marks dating the Buddhist sculpture. It provides experts with tools and evidence to research the development and relationship among other grottoes in the region, including Mogao and Maijishan(麦积山).

The roads from Lanzhou to Bingling and Wuwei to Tiantishan are beautiful and there are many photo opportunities along the way. There is an eight-kilometer section of unpaved roads on the way to Bingling Temple. It's best to hire a local driver/guide.

Gansu's location on the Silk Road and proximity to Tibet and other regions made it a natural place of exchange of trading goods, culture and art from as far away as India, Persia, Greece and Rome.

The province is preparing to apply to UNESCO for recognition of China's part of the Silk Road as a World Cultural Heritage.

Hua Pingning, director of the Maijishan Grottoes Research Institute in Tianshui City, was busy meeting with experts and artists from Beijing during Shanghai Daily's visit. Managers in Bingling plan to repave the roads in front of its gate to prepare for the application.

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