If you made it all the way to Dunhuang, you’re probably here to see this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site. These grottoes that date back to 366 CE are considered one of the most incredible displays of Buddhist art work in the world, putting all the other ones you’ve seen around China to shame. The caves were home to various monasteries in the past, but nowadays domestic and international tour groups outnumber the holy men (mainly because no monks reside here anymore). There are nearly 500 caves in total, but only certain ones are open to visitors each day. However, the main attractions are always unlocked, unless they’re going through renovation. At the time of research it was mandatory to hire a tour guide, and fluent English speaking guides are available, but if you wish to explore on your own simply sign up for the tour and accidently “get lost” from one cave to another; they probably won’t notice you’re gone. However, remember that if you don’t stick with them you’ll miss out on plenty of history and information that you won’t otherwise get.
The Northern Wei (386 – 535), Western Wei (534 – 557) and Northern Zhou (557 – 581) Caves are some of the earliest caves ever built in old Mogao, and they are characterized by distinctive Indian designs and majestic colors that flare in the rays of the flashlight.
The Sui Caves were built during the Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 CE) and are recognized by their more distinctive traditional Chinese design.
The Tang Caves were constructed during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). With the crown of the Tang converting to Buddhism and investing much in promoting the newly adopted religion, these grottoes have some of the most aesthetic pieces of art. It was also during the Tang Dynasty that half of the Mogao’s 500 caves were created. Interestingly enough, a Tang Cave has one of the largest Buddhas ever constructed at 35 m (115 ft) tall. It resembles China’s first and only female emperor, Wu Zetian (武则天).