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Dunhuang: China’s Flower In The Desert



Dunhuang, a city in Gansu Province with a population of about 200,000 has through its challenges flourished in a desert area. Looking inwards it has churned its diverse features into touristic income generators. BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes…

Visiting the city of Dunhuang for the first time and it’s hard to detect that it’s not all greenery with a spattering of flowers, the golden deserts peeping through the gaps between buildings in a distance greets in spite of barriers placed to prevent it encroaching on the city. Dunhuang, a city affiliated to Jiuquan is situated at the junction of Gansu Province, Qinhai Province and Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Dunhuang oversees nine towns with a population of 200,000. It boasts of warm, temperate and arid weather, and is nicknamed, ‘the driest place,’ in China.

In spite of these challenges, tourism as its leading industry accounts for 50 percent of its overall economy. Dunhuang city, according to reports, is the first station for the Silk Road. Buddhism arrived China through Dunhuang. The city has seen about eight million people visiting for tourism, with July and August tagged annually as peak seasons. However, the city goes quiet from October until May the following year.

The Mogao Grottoes also known as, ‘Thousand Buddha Cave,’ is one of the most fascinating places to visit, but the number of visitors each year is tightly controlled as the caves are ancient and need to be preserved. As the bus drives by its easy to see etched into the rocks caves that tell stories of the past and houses a large number of Buddhism books, embroidery, and silk painting among others. According to Jiuquan tourism, it was carved in the second year of Jianyuan of Former Qing (366BC), afterwards, it has been rebuilt and presently still preserves 492 caves with 45,000 square metres and 2415 coloured statues.

In another resort, at the foot of the desert hill lies the crescent moon spring. Its name derived from its shape as a new moon. It is said to have survived thousands of years without being buried by the desert sands and is now being affected by climate change. The Spring is surrounded by another noteworthy tourist attraction called, Sing Sand Dunes. Sand and spring co existing has won it the status of a ‘world Phenomenon,’ states the book on Jiuquan tourism. The dunes  has five colours black, blue, green, yellow and red. The loud vibrating sounds can be heard, earning it the nickname, ‘Sing Sand’.

The two humped camels the region is famous for trudge along the sea of sands in the hot sun, a nose rope connecting one to the other and held by the groom and guide that led them. A ride on a camel is 100 Yuan for the curious tourist who would like to experience this. A female guide, chubby and sun burnt with ruddy cheeks is kind enough to take our smart phones and take pictures of my small team of four, as we took different poses on the unsuspecting camels.

Other interesting areas include the world geoparks of Dunhuang. According to reports nicknamed ‘natural sculpture museum,’ the wind eroded landform group, usually known as ‘Yardang Ghost Town’ has been built into the park. Yardang has several dunes and peaks with various shapes worth exploring.

Dunhuang West Lake National Nature Reserve is 120 kilometres from Dunhuang City in the west. It is said to be a type of wetland and ecological nature reserve with several species in abundance. It has several rare endemic species. The reserve is one of its kind in China.

The great wall in Dunhuang is reported as the most intact among sections of the Great Wall of Han Dynasty in China, counted in the world’s cultural heritage.

From information gathered through the People’s Daily, in 2016, Gansu Province has signed 18 strategic cooperation agreements with relevant ministries and committees, international or regional organisations, enterprises, in an effort to build it into the important gateway to the western regions and sub-regional base in China.

At the Silk Road Dunhuang International Cultural Expo, more than 1,700 guests which include 95 delegations from 85 countries participated. Six state leaders and former leaders were also in attendance.

The cultural industry of Dunhuang is also supporting the region’s economy. In 2015 cultural contribution increased 9 percent to overall economy. It is also named the first class region of sunshine and heat resources. It is home to China’s first million-kilowatts-class photovoltaic power generation demonstration base.

Fed by its mother river, the Danghe River, Dun Huang enjoys what is called an advanced irrigation agriculture system. In Gansu Province, it is a primary production area of quality fruits, cotton and vegetables, which includes Liguang apricot, Ziyan peach, Hongdiqiu grape and seedless white grape are recognized as, ‘well-known fruits of China.”

In 2016, Dunhuang’s GDP was 10.64 billion Yuan, its investment in fixed assets was 20 billion Yuan, the paid-in investment was 17.84 billion Yuan, the number of tourists and tourism income reached 8 million people and 7.8 billion Yuan. Its cultural industry’s added value in GDP increased to 10 per cent. The industrial added value was 1.54 billion Yuan. While the per capita disposable income of urban and rural residents reached 29,467 Yuan and 15,312 Yuan increased by 64 percent and 76 percent.


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