Mogao Grottoes – Caves of the Thousand Buddhas

A replica of painted mural inside Mogao Caves. Going through some of the mural paintings were like going back in time and they do tell the story or stories of historical proportion that is so precious and priceless today. This replica was painted by one of the famous painter that is based at the Mogao Grottoes.

If you would like to listen to the music of Silk Road by Kitaro, click on the play button below.

Mogao Grottoes or the Mogao caves (AKA the Caves of the thousand Buddhas) were man-made and dug into cliffs that rise out of Gobi desert landscapes. Of the more than 600 surviving caves, only a handful are open to the public. The entrance fee varies according the season but is generally less than RMB200 per person. For more information check out the wiki site here.

If you are interested on how this site looks like in the early days of its discovery, do have a look at the video documenting Paul Pelliot travel through the Mogao Grottoes.

For more information about the Silk Road (Dunhuang to Turpan) and to view some of the murals and frescoes on the caves’ wall do have a look at this video below. It’s quite long, so be informed.

Below are some of the recent photos of Mogao Grottoes taken during my visit there during the Autumn months of 2010.

The entrance to Mogao Grottoes.

Outside the ticket counter where every visiting groups will be provided with an insider tourist guide. Everyone will be given a radio headset that is tuned to the tourist guide speaker’s frequency so that you can hear the explanation and description of each of the caves. You will not get to see all the caves though, as it would probably take weeks if not months to go through that many caves.

Today the man-made limestone caves were given a concrete facade, multiple railings on each floor, and walkways for the convenience of the tourists and to protect the sometimes fragile caves from collapsing on each other. Some parts of the caves and facade had already been damaged by earthquake many years ago.

The labyrinth of caves in one small portion of the Mogao Grottoes.

In the past, when the monks or scholars past by this part of the Silk Road, they would add their own caves to the existing collection of caves done by their contemporaries and ancestors. This is how the teaching of Hinduism and Buddhism were spread along the Silk Road and eventually to modern day China.All the caves contained some kind of murals that depict the lifestyle of the past or the teaching of the scholars or merchants. Some of the bigger caves contained very large statues of Buddha whether in sitting or meditating posture and even one in reclining position. Mogao Grottoes are endorsed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is definitely a precious site for ancient Silk Road history. It could be a bit boring if you are not into history but it is definitely a treasure trove for historians and the many history buff amongst us.

The main structure of Cave 96 at Mogao Grottoes that housed the second or third largest sitting Buddha (~100 feet in height) in China. Can’t remember the actual ranking! 😦

Prayer altars and pads were available for tourist and devotees who would like to offer their prayers.

Flying Celestial Nymph could be seen in many of the mural painting on the walls.

Hundred of caves dotted the cliff side.

The landscapes leading up to the Mogao Grottoes are quite unique to this part of the Gobi desert.

No cameras were allowed to be brought into the compound of the Magao Grottoes or Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. The main reason: Flash photography would damage the many precious painted murals on the wall of the caves. In the olden days, color pigments that were used on the walls were derived from nature: e.g. Red Willow (Tamarist) for the color red; and Walnut husks for the color green; etc. Thus, the colors pigment could be damaged by flash photography. But I personally think the jostling and competition between tourists in such a small confined space in the caves for that elusive perfect photographs would seriously cause more problems than flash photography. 🙂

Sunset at Gobi desert.

The color of dusk at Gobi desert. The color of dusk at Gobi desert.


  1. just fantastic. thanks for sharing


  1. […] Mogao Grottoes – Caves of the Thousand Buddhas […]

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