The meaning of Mogao Caves / 莫高窟 – “None Higher”
Mogao Caves also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, it contain the world’s largest collection of Buddhist art. The Chinese name Mogaoku / 莫高窟 meaning “peerless caves” or “none higher”.
Location of Mogao Caves
Mogao Caves is situated at a strategic point along the Silk Road, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences. It is about 30 mins drive from Dunhuang city.
Mogao Caves Tickets
Mogao Caves is a Unesco World Heritage Site, getting tickets are challenging. The caves only permit 6000 tourist per day. Our tickets were reserved online in advance and picked up at the local agency a day before we visit Mogao Caves. Foreign traveler uses their passport document to reserve the ticket.
Movies at Digital Exhibition Center
Before visiting the Mogao Caves, there are two movies at the Digital Exhibition Center : ‘A thousand Years of Mogao Caves‘ – Story of Mogao Caves & Dunhuang and another movie is ‘Splendors of Buddha’s Palace‘ – more on internal of the caves, the mural & structure. You may fall asleep by the Buddhist chanting during these movies. I fell asleep twice in both movies, not that it was boring, but due to the chanting sound which make me close my eyes and fell asleep.
Shuttle Bus to Mogao Caves
After the movie at the Digital Exhibition Center, immediately proceed to queue for shuttle bus to visit the caves. The lines for shuttle bus can be very long so queue immediately when the show ends and don’t go to toilet as there will be toilets facilities at Mogao Caves. The journey is about 10 mins to reach Mogao Caves from the Digital Exhibition Center.
Photos are Forbidden
When you entered the caves, no photos are allowed. The Mogao guide use an electronic torch to show you the paintings and drawing of the murals inside the caves.
How many caves are there in Mogao Caves?
There are 735 caves and 492 of which have murals that are still well-preserved but we only visited few of them, less than 10. Mogao Caves are from the 4th century AD to the 14th so you know these are thousands years old treasure. These caves containing a colossal of murals and over 2,000 painted sculptures.
Caves at Different Sizes
There are caves at different sizes but most of the caves we visited are small caves. To have 30 people inside a tiny cave can be very crowded, we only have the space to stand.
‘Dunhuang Studies’ of Mogao Caves
The Dunhuang Academy together with international experts Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) worked together to develop a plan to ensure the caves survive. There is even “Dunhuang Studies” because the manuscript left behind the library caves thousands years ago are just too many. The team of experts around the world would have to decode many of these left behind materials. Hence, there is Dunhuang Studies!
Expert Guide of Mogao Caves
Each cave is locked and only the expert guide has the keys to open the door of the caves and explain all the details of the murals and sculptures with a mini torch. You cannot walk around the caves at your own!
Oxidized and Run Down Sculptures & Murals
Some statues inside the caves are over thousands years old so expect to see very run down and oxidized version. However you can still notice the incredible workmanship of ancient Chinese craftsman! Buddhism was the main inspiration, there are also influences from Persia and India.
Why built Mogao Caves?
During the mid 4th century AD, Le Zun (樂尊), a notable Buddhist monk, intended to set up camp here by excavating caves and rooms of worship in the Mogao Caves. He wanted to provide a location for pilgrims to rest and meditate at while seeking spirituality. Over a millennium, these temple caves multiplied as pilgrims, artisans and monks left elaborate murals, sculptures and paintings within the 1000 individual caves and chambers.
China ‘Big Four’ Heritage Site
Chinese Government is claiming Mogao Caves as one of the ‘big four’ world-heritage attractions in China, alongside the Great Wall, Forbidden City and Terracotta Warriors at Xian.
Book Store & Souvenirs
Visitors can also purchase paintings, scarfs or books from the book stores at Mogao Caves. The iconic character of Mogao Caves – ‘Feitain’ or Flying Apsaras’s painting can be seen displaying everywhere at the book stores.
View of Desert at the Mogao Caves
Final thoughts :
The Mogao caves provide great in-depth story into the world during the age of Silk Road. Don’t miss out this secret caves which has the world’s most incredible collection of arts.
Nearby attractions :
- Silk Road China : Legend of Dunhuang Show – ‘Silk Road, Flower Rain’ 丝路花雨
- Dunhuang Food Review
- Mogao Caves
- Sun Grand Hotel Dunhuang Review & Guazhou /瓜州 Melon Tasting in Gansu
- 13 Things you need to know before visiting Echoing Sand Mountains & Crescent Moon Lake 鸣沙山月牙泉
- Jiayuguan Great Wall
- Zhangye Colorful Danxia Landform
- Zhangye Dafo
- Wuwei Letai & Flying Horse of Gansu