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Mogao Caves

The Mogao Caves,which honeycomb the cliff-face of the Mingsha Hills,25 kilometers southeast of Dunhuang,are the world’s richest treasure-trove of Buddhist manuscripts,wall paintings and statuary.Hewn over a millennium spanning nine dynasties,from the 4th to the 14th centuries,they mark the height of Buddhist art.In a tiny oasis huddled against the western side of in a steep valley,the caves are hidden from view,invisible until you are directly in front of them.Surrounding the green valley are sand dunes and desert,which make a striking contrast.The geographical position has contributed to the degradation of the caves;southwestern winds and sands blow directly in,eroding the walls and paintings.

   History relates that in 336,a monk called Lie Zun came upon the cliff and had a vision of a thousand golden rays of light shining upon him like as many Buddhas.The monk asked a pilgrim to have one of the smaller caves painted and consecrated as a shrine to ensure his own safe journey.Other  pilgrims and travellers followed,and for the next thousand years temples and shrines were hewn out of the cliff,painted and decorated by the pious or fearful to guarantee the success and safety of their journeys.Lie Zun ended up founding what Mildred Cable would call,15 centuries later,”a great  art gallery in the desert”.

   In 1907,Stein came to Dunhuang,and persuaded the abbot to re-open the cave containing the manuscripts,then left Dunhuang with a colletction of almost 10,000 documents and wall paintings,which is now divided between the British Museum in London and the National Museum in New Delhi.