Asia | China | North West | Dunhuang and the Mogao Caves – Singing Sand dunes
Dunhuangs summers are hot and dry. Not suffocating like in Chengdu, but still tiring in the middle of the day. It was even more aggravating when I had to bargain more in two hours here than I had throughout the rest of the trip. The city might have stopped being a major trading post, but the locals had well maintained the business skills passed down from their ancestors.
We rode out on the rented bikes towards the Singing Sand Dunes just south of town when the heat started dying down in the evening. Daniel had been excited about paragliding off the dunes and riding the camels since we planned the trip. The sight of the camels in their numbered saddles and the sound of their crying when pulled by the nose to stand or kneel turned us off from the second idea. Plus, the camel ride route was only 15 minutes by foot. Id be dismounting without even getting a feel for camel riding.
The light was getting low quickly, so we headed up the dunes. The park administration had put up a ladder along the slope to ease the ascension, but protesting the fact that we had to pay an additional fee to use it, or rather trying to prove to myself that I could walk up the dune all by myself, I took off my shoes and stepped onto the fine sand. Looking at films of caravans traversing through the rolling desert was a lot easier than actually doing it. I finally realized that the key to climbing a sand dune was to run as fast as I could to prevent myself from sliding back, but had to stop every twenty steps or so to take a break. Before my lungs were able to relax, I would sink into the sand above the ankles and had to move again. I succumbed, and crossed over to the ladder.
The sun cast chiseled shadows along the ridges of the undulating sand dunes. Along the ridge came a local boy, hopping and swinging a sack of empty plastic bottles he was collecting to be recycled. He set down the sack next to us, and alternated between cartwheels with jumping off the dune, having a blast after realizing that he had gotten our attention. I imitated him and rolled down from the top, then lay on the slope up side down and swam in a sea of silky sand. Successive waves of sand slipped down and surrounded me, its fine grains and gentle heat caressed my skin. Voices of the people standing at the top blew past my ears like a harmonious but meaningless background beat. Opening my eyes, the only thing I saw were the azure blue sky and the golden yellow sand meeting at a striking boundary like two color blocks.
When I climbed back up to the top of the dune on all fours, half of the sun had already dropped below the horizon, and the other half disappeared into a shred before I could take out my camera. I hopped down the dune in minutes, still coated in sand that would probably stay with me for the next few days.