Saturday, September 25, 2010

Uncontaminated beauty

Historic buildings, sites, human interaction such as stories passed on between generations that is not contaminated by travel industry is what I call culture. Having been to various places and seeing heavily human-maintained infrastructures like the Eiffel tower, La Familia Sagrada, Ephesus, St.Petersburg, or the Forbidden city yields a very different feeling of history and what culture is. All we know is that the above structures are maintained annually to make sure its colors and structures remain intact so it can attract more tourists to spur economy. One of the things that's amazing on the Silk Road trip is that many sites have little or no human intervention throughout the years. A huge part of this has to do with the very dry climate due to its close proximity to the desert. Our next stop was DunHuang, a trade outpost that was once the jewel of the Chinese empire back in 350AD. The Magao grottoes was a Buddhist stronghold, and 月牙泉 was a Tao stronghold; each having its own distinctive architecture.
There's a severe penalty in place for travelers taking pictures of the one Buddhas or pictures inside the Magao caves since flash photography will damage them. Hundreds, thousands, millions of distinctive colored paintings each telling a story circled us as we entered each cave (I was able purchase a book outside that tells stories and had pictures of these paintings outside at the souveneir shop), and it is very interesting that early Buddhism/火教 was actually a derivation of interaction with India's culture during the Silk road exchange.
月牙泉, was a moon crescent oasis in the middle of the desert surrounding by sand; water in the oasis was possible due to its unique geographic location where air gets trapped in the crescent and creates and upward breeze that pushes the sand back up the hill. One of the kids from another group was trying to walk up the mountain and it was funny to see him make huge steps forward only to see him slide back down. As the locals say, it's better to take 5 puny steps than 1 big step on slipping sand as it'll only make you slide backwards.
To end the eventful excursion on the desert, we were given camels to ride on to a small outpost. Camels were considered as the Bentleys of the desert since they can survive without food and water up to 4 weeks and can act as a barrier against sandstorms in the vast outdoors. They were pretty shy though, and I think my camel was scared at something while I was fixing my camera gear when it suddenly sprung to its feet. The trainer was yelling 抓紧抓紧!!! (hold tight) since it'll be his responsibility if I did fell; and no kidding - the camel actually rose to a story high on its feet and it certainly freaked the hell out of me.

No comments: