Sunday, July 8, 2012

Crescent Lake and the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang

Nature has created many wonder around the world. But there are places in the world that are not only astounding but one is awe stricken to find these in desolateness of deserts. One of these many strange wonders is the Crescent Lake in the treacherous and inaccessible Gobi Desert of China.

dunhuang - crescent moon lake
The Crescent Lake with the huge dunes of Echoing Mountain in the background [ Photo: qantsi / Flickr ]

I first came to know of this strange natural wonder recently when a friend sent me the photo of the place and wondered if I knew it where it was. And I have been looking for it since then and then another friend told me about and then I looked for more resource/references to build up this post.

This Crescent shaped lake is unique in the world in a sense that it is surrounded by huge sand dunes and a place where rain fall is almost non existant, availabaility of clear blue water is certainly a rarity.

Location of  Dunhuang city  in the Gobi Desert, China 
The lake called Yueyaquan, pronounced 'Pinyin' is located in a unique desert oasis about 6 kilometers south of the historic Silk Days Dunhuang city in the treacherous Gobi Desert in Gansu Province, China. Dunhuang was for more than two thousand years a crucial entrance in to China, located on the famous Silk Route.  Travelers followed a string of oases, skirting around the unforgiving sands of the Gobi and Taklamakan Desert.

One may wonder how this water has been here when it is stark desert all around. Many are of the view, that the water erupts from the desert surface because of the under surface springs that in itself is a unique natural phenomenon.

The Crescent Lake Satellite view with the background slopes of the Echoing Mountain [ Photo: Google Earth ]
As per Wikipedia, the lake had a depth of 4-5 metres with a maximum depth of 7.5 meters in 1960. However, to help the people of the area, a dam was built on the Dang River which skirted the city of Dunhuang in the 1970s. Due to the stoppage of the water in the dam, which otherwise facilitated the irrigation and the resultant increase in population from 100,000 to almost 180,000, the water table in the area started to sink. This had an adverse effect on the this tiny lake, which also started to shrink and by early 1990s, the total area of the lake had shrunk to 1.37 acres with an average depth of 0.9 meters.


Mondsichelsee
The Crescent Lake and the Ancient Han Dynasty style Pagoda [ Photo: Wikipedia ]


However since 2006, with the efforts of the local government and help of the central government, the lake has been filled artificially to restore its depth - and the results have been encouraging and the lake is showing signs of growth.

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Crescent Lake surrounded by the Echoing Mountain [Photo Credit: sdelahoyde ]


Due to the huge dunes of the Echoing Mountain on both sides of the lake, the blowing sands do not pollute the water of the lake and it remains as fresh and green as any fresh water lake elsewhere. And the lake water has never been buried under the sand, which in itself is a geological wonder.



Now a word about the Echoing Sand Mountains or the Mingsha Shan in local language - these huge sand dunes are famous for the sounds the wind makes when blowing over the dunes. The dunes with their rolling ridges reach up to height of 250 meters are relatively stable despite the fact that the dunes beyond the mountains shift frequently. Which is why the Oaisis and the Crescent Lake is preserved for the last 2000 years or even more.

The Crescent Lake is now part of the World Heritage under the auspices of the UN and has become a tourist attraction for those who dare to go to the extremely hot and treacherous Gobi Desert of China to witness this unique natural wonder.


Mogao Caves [ Photo credit: Brett Davenport's Travel Blog ]

Those who finally make up to Dunhuang would be amazed to find the Mogao Caves, located some 25 kilometres from Dunhuang city on the eastern slopes of the Echoing Mountains. Mogao means high up in the desert.

The cliffs rise above the Dachuan River, which is 25 km south-east of the Dunhuang oasis. Within the cliffs are the 492 natural cells and rock sanctuaries extending over 1,600 metres.

One of the countless Mogao cave carvings [ Photo Credit: Travel China Guide ]

According to Tang Dynasty records, a monk had witnessed onsite a vision of thousand Buddhas under showers of golden rays. Thus inspired, he started the caves construction work that spanned ten dynasties. Mogao Caves are, therefore, commonly known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas.

Watch the video below of the interior of the Mogao caves and sculptures therein:

The Mogao Cave Sculptures / Interior [ Video Credit:  / YouTube ]

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3 comments:

Amna said...

Beautiful place in the desert .... wow :p

Ali Akbar said...

Thank you Jalal for guiding me to go through the post. I am realty not only impressed by this Natural Lake but also wised as to how ALLAH (Subhan ho Wa Tala) creates these wonders that too in Gobi Desert; commonly known as Deadly Desert.
Its a living Miracle on our Planet.

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