Dunhuang – China part 4 of 5

June 18, 2011

The fourth city on my visit to China was Dunhuang which is a desert paradise in western China.  I was particularly looking forward to this part of the trip because I did a little research and the pictures and videos I found looked nothing short of amazing.

We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday, June 17th and our first night was spent camping at the base of the sand dunes.  First we dropped our luggage off at our hotel where we would be staying the following night and we were met by a group of camels which we rode to our campsite.  Unfortunately my camera battery died shortly after getting on the camel so I don’t have any pictures of the campsite or sand dunes myself but I’m going to get copies of pictures that my friends took and post those when I get home.

Our campsite was at the base of the sand dunes.  There wasn’t much else to do except hike around and so far this was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  Right now I’m sitting in the airport in Dunhuang waiting to fly to Beijing where we’ll be visiting the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City so there’s still a chance that I’ll enjoy one of those sites more but we will have to see.

Initially our whole group climbed the first sand dune where the view was amazing but then after realizing we had the whole night to explore and do nothing else except relax and be in the dunes, myself and four others picked a peak far away to hike to.  I forgot my bottle of water down at the campsite which was a brutal mistake but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from hiking around.  The peak we set out to climb ended up being much further away than it looked, probably about 1.5 miles or so but it only looked to be .5 mile away.  I thought the view from the first dune was amazing and now at the top of this second peak we were about 800 feet higher and the view was beyond spectacular.

Standing on the top of the peak was one of the best feelings in the whole world.  We were utterly exhausted after making the hike, especially without any water, but once we reached the peak it was a big feeling of accomplishment.  When none of us were speaking, it was a very peaceful silence except for the occasional wind and there would be a bit of sand blowing around from time to time.  I wished I had been at the peak by myself and been able to sit there for a few hours and taken it all in.  I considered making the hike again by myself in the morning but it was too much.  To do it the way I would’ve liked, I would’ve needed 4 to 5 hours and there just wasn’t that much time unfortunately.

At this point, being well over a mile away from the others in our group we all looked like ants to each other.  They were still standing on the top of the first dune that we all climbed and all we could see were small pecks of color.  I’m surprised they all waited there for us as we climbed because it took us a good 45 minutes to reach the peak.  When we were nearing the top of the peak they started to yell towards us, we’re pretty sure they were yelling for us to come back but we were in no rush at all and it was going to take us a really long time to make it back over there.  Eventually they all disappeared because they went back down to the campsite.

We finally made our way back down to the campsite but the five of us who climbed the extra peak quickly realized we would prefer to sleep on the sand dune up at the top.  It would be too much to hike back to the large peak and sleep there so instead we took our sleeping bags up to the first sand dune and all found a decently comfortable spot.  The moon was rising over the dunes as we were getting back up to the dune and it looked unbelievable.  A friend of mine has an Ansel Adams photograph titled Moonrise which is what this view reminded me a lot of.  The sand dunes in the distance were black and the moon lite up the sky as it emerged over the mountains.

Our wake up time for the next morning was 5:30 so we could be packed and ready to leave at 6am.  We were having an early breakfast at our hotel, which was only a few miles away, and then we were starting our day at 9am to tour the city.  The few of us up at the top of the sand dune woke up around 4:30/4:45 and we made our way down to the campsite.

Experiencing the sun set from the top of the peak far up into the sand dunes and then waking up and seeing the sun rise from the opposite direction at about 5:00am was one of my favorite experiences of the trip.  Climbing back down the sand dune in the early morning when the sand was cool and a little damp is one of the vivid memories I won’t soon forget!!

The next pictures aren’t photos that I took but they’re photos by a few other students who went on the trip.  Credit to Blake Wheeler and Robert Dox.  These pictures are from the overnight camping portion of the trip to Dunhuang, at which time my camera battery was dead so I wasn’t able to take any pictures myself.

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