Monday, 18 September 2017

Picture of the Day: Xuanzang

It's interesting to learn that in Xinjiang, even though the majority of the population are ethnic minorities like Uygyurs who  practice Islam, back in the Tang Dynasty, they followed Buddhism thanks to the teachings of monk Xuanzang.

He was from Henan province and was ordained as a novice Buddhist monk at the age of 13, then a full monk seven years later in Sichuan.

The monk and scholar became famous in 629AD and on his way to India to learn more about Buddhism, he passed through Qocho kingdom. Its king, Qu Wentai was so interested in the religion he wanted Xuanzang to stay and teach more people about Buddhism.

But Xuanzang was insistent on continuing his journey, though he promised to come by on the way back and teach what he had learned.

However, by the time Xuanzang returned, the king had already passed away. We visited a now deserted prayer area where he taught Buddhism in Qocho, today known as the Gaochang ruins outside of Turpan, Xinjiang.

Another interesting factoid is that Xuanzang recorded his trip in detail in a text called Great Tang Records on the Western Regions that inspired the novel, Journey to the West.

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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Picture of the Day: Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang

In 366AD, a monk named Le Zun traveled along the Silk Road, but stopped in Dunhuang when he saw a vision of a thousand Buddhas bathed in golden light at the site of the Mogao Grottoes.

He carved a cave into the rock face and lived there, and gradually more people came to practice Buddhism.

Later wealthy donors hired artisans to decorate caves for them, and the caves are covered from floor to ceiling in murals and statues dedicated to Buddha.

After the Yuan Dynasty, the caves were mostly forgotten until the 1900s when Western explorers were interested in the Silk Road.

As foreign visitors, we got to see only seven of them, but each one was very impressive. The caves cover over 1,000 years of history through Buddhist art and showcase the various art styles and beliefs.

This is a place I've wanted to visit for almost 10 years after seeing a replica in Beijing, and now seeing the Grottoes in person was nothing short of awe inspiring.

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Saturday, 16 September 2017

Picture of the Day: Singing Sand Mountains

We drove almost five hours to get to Dunhuang, which is home to many historical landmarks, including the Mogao Grottoes, Yumen and Yangguan passes, the western most frontier posts in ancient China.

Our stop first stop was the Singing Sand Mountains or Mingsha Shan, which are actually tall sand dunes that were said to make haunting noises at night.

We were very lucky to have gorgeous weather -- hot but with a breeze. The sand was very soft and warm from the sun.

For many Chinese tourists, this is a very exotic place, and the park did a roaring trade of offering 40-minute camel rides at 100 kuai per person. 

Each group had four to five camels tethered together in a line and there was a constant stream of these animals walking along the sand...

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Thursday, 14 September 2017

Picture of the Day: Jiayuguan Overhanging Wall

I've climbed the Great Wall in different sections near Beijing, but today was the first time to go to the western most part of the wall in Jiayuguan in Gansu province.

Built in 1539 during the Ming Dynasty, it is the frontier border that really kept the "barbarians" out -- the Xiongnu, Tibetans and Mongolians -- though the Mongols did set up the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 by Kublai Khan.

That made Jiayuguan a military strategic place along the Silk Road.

Here is the Jiayuguan overhanging wall section. Our tour guide challenged us to see who could get to the top and back so we did -- five of us women!

We climbed 401 steps to get to the top. When I was almost there, a little boy at the top of the watch tower shouted, "Ayi, jia you!" "Auntie add oil!" So cute.

He and some other men kept going onwards while we rested a bit, taking in the view before going back down. 

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