To Dunhuang: Treasure Hunt

From Urumqi, Gustaf Mannerheim travelled over the Bogda Shan range to the ancient ruined cities scattered in the Turpan Depression. He spent time collecting manuscript fragments and other ancient scraps at the ruins of Jiaohe and Gaocheng, and visited the Buddhist caves at Bezeklik in the Flaming Mountains and in a gorge behind the Uyghur village of Toyuk. He then continued on to the eastern part of Xinjiang, visiting Barkol and Hami before crossing the border into Gansu Province. In Gansu, his first significant stop was Dunhuang, an ancient crossroads on the Silk Road.

I followed in Mannerheim’s footsteps visiting many of the same ancient sites in Turpan, and then turned east, heading to Hami and Dunhuang by bus. A century ago, the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas outside Dunhuang held one of the riches archeological finds ever discovered on the Silk Road. Mannerheim had just missed meeting Aurel Stein, who had spirited away a significant part of the recently discovered treasure. A curious distraction also prevented Mannerheim from securing a portion of these riches for Finland.

Route Map

Click on the features to view details about Mannerheim’s route from Urumqi to Dunhuang. While he traversed the Bodga Shan range and visited Barkol, I took a much more direct route to Dunhuang which is featured as the blue line on the map.

View Chapter 10: To Dunhuang in a larger map

Photo Map

Click on the icons to view photos of my journey from Urumqi to Turpan and then to the ancient oasis and sacred Buddhist Caves of Dunhuang.



Here is a UNESCO introductory video on the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Here is a video (in French) regarding Paul Pelliot’s investigations at Dunhuang. If you can’t understand French, it is still worthwhile to watch the slide show featuring photos from Pelliot’s expedition.


For more information about the ancient sites around Turpan and Dunhuang, check out these links:

Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves in Turpan
Gaocheng Ruins in Turpan
Turpan on Wikipedia
Dunhuang Academy
British Library’s International Dunhuang Project
Dunhuang on Wikipedia
Far West China Blog

Further Reading