The city was founded by Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty in 111 BC at the crossroads of two trading routes on the Silk Road, and the name ‘Dunhuang’, meaning to ‘to flourish and prosper,’ gives some indication of the town’s prominence in ancient China. It is much less important today.
Buddhism reached China via the Silk Road and this is one of the more important Buddhist sites on that route. The Tangut or Western Xia ruled a substantial kingdom in the area, with its capital at Yinchuan, for centuries until the Mongol conquest in the 1200s. They were the main sponsors of Buddhist construction at Dunhuang.
- Dunhuang Airport (DNH IATA) (is 13km east of town center). Flights are available from Beijing, Lanzhou, Urumqi, and Xi’an. Please note there is no taxi stand at this airport. If you can get your hotel to pick you up, please do so. There can be shuttle busses which arrive when planes come, but these can be full, resulting in a long wait (1 hour) for a vehicle if you’re not prepared.
Dunhuang Train Station (敦煌火车站; Dūnhuáng Huǒchēzhàn) is about 12km outside the town to the northeast. There is also a ticket agent in town, across the street from Dunhuang Hotel, which sells tickets for most trains. Note that Dunhuang is on a branch line, and many more trains are accessible from the Liuyuan station, a 1-2 hour drive away. In particular, trains heading west to Xinjiang do not pass through Dunhuang directly.
Some active departures from Dunhuang:
- Jiayuguan – #K592, departing at 09:32, arriving at 14:11
- Lanzhou – #K9668, dep. 18:58, arr. 09:18
- Xi’an – #K592, dep. 09:32, arr. 09:22
- Zhangye – #K9668, dep. 18:58, arr. 02:10
Some active departures from Liuyuan: