An email home

Saturday 26 September, 2009 – Dunhuang, Gansu Province, Western China

Hi, from Dunhuang at the end of the first day of the UNESCO conference, so I’m a bit weary. But I did just manage to get connected to the ‘net at the hotel. Unfortunately China and Facebook don’t seem to be compatible so won’t be able to post anything there (I think I’m actually suffering Facebook withdrawal – scary!)

The Mogao caves are amazing and there are hundreds of them. I’ve seen a dozen or so of the most important, including some that are off-limits to the hoi polloi. Chris – yes, they are in many ways reminiscent of the rock-cut tombs in Egypt – especially the ones at Kibbet el Hawa. Some have huge buddhas in them, one is 35m tall.

Some of the colours are amazing, especially one I saw today that was done in a fresco technique, looked like it was done yesterday. Dorcas – yes the green is that colour, and amazing. The mineral used to create it was malachite. And next to blue made of crushed lapis lazuli and cinnabar red, it is incredible.

Yesterday we were taken to a second cave site at Yulin, about a two-hour drive from Dunhuang (shades of Abu Simbel – and some of the desert looks right for that too). More amazing caves full of Buddhist art.

The really amazing thing about the art is the mix of cultural influences that can be seen – everything from Han Chinese to Greek, via Turkish, Egyptian, Indian, and the various Central Asian ‘minorities’ including Uigur and Tibetan. The caves date from a time when the Silk Road was really the major trade route in the world, and there was apparently a lot of tolerance and it seems to have been pretty cosmopolitan.

The conference is chock full of international heritage professionals, but most of them seem friendly enough. Australia leads the way in this particular discussion and there’s quite a reasonable Aussie delegation here – many of whom are familiar to me through the World Heritage nomination.

I made a bit of a stand today as all these conservation types were discussing how ‘they’ (the conservationists and managers of heritage sites) could possibly hope to deal with ‘the tourism industry’ and all that it represents. I gently suggested that we were in fact part of the tourism industry and needed to assert ourselves and take control of our own destinies from within it. Seems that some of them hadn’t thought of that and several came up to me later and said that it was a very good point.

Anyway, there are many little adventures to tell about (the menu at the street restaurant in the night market we went to was remarkable to say the least.

Anyway, hope all is well with all of you.

See you soon.


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