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The Singing Sand Dunes and the Lost Library of Dunhuang, by Camel 在骆驼上穿越鸣沙山到达失落的敦煌宝库

The first thing you notice is the silence, the soft footfall of camel steps on the dark gold sand, and then Master Li the camel-herder begins to sing: low, long, meandering lullabies to the camels. The cadence of the lullaby is familiar, repetitive, but the tune and the words are lost to me, foreign and exotic.
你首先留意到的是宁静,以及骆驼落在暗金色沙子上柔和的脚步声,随后便是李师傅——牧驼人开始低声对骆驼吟唱悠长委婉的摇篮曲。摇篮曲的节奏重复回环但语调和歌词却充满异域风格,让我沉醉。

We are travelling by camel through the Singing Sand Dunes of far western Gansu, to the fabled Lost Library of Dunhuang and more than seven hundred caves filled with Buddhist art treasure at Mogao Ku.

我们正骑着骆驼穿越位于甘肃省西部偏远地区的鸣沙山,前往失落的敦煌宝库,在莫高窟有七百多个洞窟装满了佛教艺术珍品。

I watch the head of my camel, looking for signs that the singing soothes him but rogue that he is, he continues to wrench his head from side to side looking for an opportunity to present itself – some grass, a thorny bush, a piece of rope to chew on. He’s not the best behaved camel in our line, which is probably why he’s been relegated to the rear of the line.

我看向我骑的骆驼的头部,试图找到摇篮曲让它平静下来的迹象,但是它继续摇头晃脑找机会寻乐子——找一些草料,一束灌木或一段绳子来咀嚼。它就是个淘气鬼。

We’re taking a meandering three-day trek on camel-back from the dunes just outside the ancient Silk Road trading oasis of Dunhuang, to the caves and back, camping amongst the sand dunes. This is the route wealthy merchants, traders and the locally devout would take to the Buddhist grottoes of Mogao, whose richly decorated caves date to the early 4th century, to pray and give offerings to the Buddhist monks.

我们正在骆驼背上从敦煌郊外的沙丘出发一路跋涉到洞窟然后返回,整个旅程共有三天,每晚都在沙子上露营。


We meet in the late afternoon outside Master Li’s farmhouse, where he assigns each of us a camel. Camels are contrary creatures, slow, obstinate and smelly, yet I can’t help but admire their stoicism, walking as they do for long dry days without food or drink carrying heavy loads, namely all of us.
Master Li gives the youngest camel, a white one, to my youngest daughter; the oldest and strongest camel – who will also lead the trek- to my husband; and the most handsome camel to my older daughter.

我们傍晚在李师傅的农舍外见到了他,他给我们每人准备了一头骆驼。李师傅安排给我小女儿的是一头最年轻的白色骆驼,给我丈夫安排的是最强壮的骆驼,给我大女儿的是最帅气的骆驼,留给我的则是一头外八字腿,歪脖子,臭臭的淘气鬼。

There is one camel left. I wish I could say he was handsome, but he’s a bandy-legged, smelly-breathed rogue with bulging eyes that point in completely different directions and a terrifically lopsided nose, pulled as it is to one side by his wooden nose-ring, giving him an overall goofy and gormless appearance. At this point I feel sorry for him, and move forward to give him a welcoming pat on the head which he offsets by sneering at me with horrible yellowed teeth and then drooling grass-coloured spit until it is just about to hit the ground, then shaking his head violently, sending green spit flying all over me. 
So, that would be my camel then.

The white camel, young and pretty. The old camel, strong and wise.
The handsome camel, with a velvet nose. And my camel. Enough said.
Our relationship is further cemented when  I have only half mounted the saddle before he decides to stand up.

Having a camel move from sitting to standing while you are on its back (let alone half on its back) is very disconcerting as you unexpectedly pitch violently forwards, then backwards and upwards at the same time. Once properly upright you can regain some sense of dignity until the camels start moving, a rolling, yawing, pitching sort of lumber.

We amble slowly from Master Li’s apple and jujube farm, four of us in a row, Master Li at the front and the Rogue and I at the rear, and head slowly westwards towards the dunes through a Muslim graveyard filled with conical tombs.

骆驼们出发了——四头骆驼首尾相接同时迈步。步伐悠然,缓慢摇摆,我们施施然穿过满是圆锥形坟墓的穆斯林墓地,走向沙丘。


The sand dunes are unbelievably magnificent in the light of the setting sun, a deep gold, their shadows dark and crisp-edged. Every few minutes the view and colours of the dunes change, ever-shifting. There is not a sound to be heard but the swish of the sand under soft camel feet and the singing of Master Li.
日落中的沙丘沐浴在赤金色的霞光中壮丽唯美,它们的影子幽暗利落。沙景每分钟都在变化,步移景异。途中只能听到骆驼柔和的沙沙脚步声以及李师傅的吟唱声。

Moon Rising 月升
Two hours later and we have reached our camp in a hollow nestled between two steep dunes, protecting it from desert winds that blow stinging sand and grit.

The camels rest while Master Li, barefoot now, makes camp. He won’t take any help from us to erect the tent and lay out the sleeping bags, and start a small fire, having his own method and order.

From his box of provisions comes a simple dinner of noodles, boiled eggs and bread, with apples and jujubes from his farm. Never has food tasted so good as it does here in the desert!


We have an extraordinary treat after dinner too – the sun is setting in the west and in the opposite direction the moon is rising over the dunes, pale yellow.
I’d love to tell you that sleeping in the desert is warm and soft, but in fact the opposite is true – it’s cold and hard, and very uncomfortable. Can I really be in this much pain after only two hours of camel-riding? We sleep in our clothes, huddled together for warmth, waiting for the dawn.

 
两个小时之后,我们到达了当晚的露营地,就在两个陡峭沙丘之间的中空地带,这样就可以躲过沙漠风刮来的刺人的沙砾。
骆驼们休息了,与此同时,李师傅赤脚搭起了帐篷。他一个人支起帐篷,铺开睡袋,生起了一小堆火。
他从物资箱里拿出了简单的晚餐,有面条、煮鸡蛋和面包,还有自家农场种的苹果和枣子。在沙漠中的食物尝起来分外美味!
晚餐后的待遇也同样超凡——太阳在西边落下,而在东边,淡黄的月亮从沙丘中升起。
我很想告诉你睡在沙漠里很暖和柔软,但实际正好相反——感觉寒冷又坚硬,很不舒服。但仅仅是几分钟,我就在夜晚清新的空气中睡着了。


The Lost Library of Dunhuang & Mogao Caves 失落的敦煌宝库和莫高窟


Today we will see the Lost Library of Dunhuang inside the Mogao Caves. The story of the Lost Library sends tingles up your spine. The caves, rich with Buddhist art spanning a thousand years, were abandoned in the 13th century, and slowly became sealed off with sand from the dunes. In the early twentieth century the self-appointed Taoist caretaker, Wang Yuanlu, began removing sand drifts blocking many of the cave entrances.

失落的敦煌文明是一则刺痛你脊梁的故事。蕴含1000年间佛教艺术品的洞穴于13世纪被遗弃,但在20世纪初期,一个自诩为道教守护者的人,王圆箓,开始移开堵在诸多洞窟门口的流沙。

In 1900 he was sweeping deep sand away from the entrance to Cave 16 when he noticed a crack in the cave wall. Tapping on it, he realized it was hollow and with much excitement removed part of the wall to find a small antechamber crammed with tens of thousands of scrolls and manuscripts, an astounding archeological treasure trove.

1900年当他正在清扫16号洞窟门口的深沙时,注意到墙壁上有道裂痕。轻轻敲了敲,他意识到里面是空的,然后他雀跃地发现了一个装满成千上万卷轴和手稿的小房间,一座考古学的宝藏。


Hearing of the discovery, archeologists Auriel Stein and Paul Pelliot eventually convinced Wang to sell them thousands of manuscripts for paltry sums – 220 British pounds in all.

Many say the scrolls were stolen, many others say they were bought – regardless, they were taken out of China and are now spread amongst museums and private collections around the world.

The caves themselves are spectacular, but every visitor must be attended by a guide and in the interests of preservation is permitted to spend five minutes only in each cave, and see only eight of the seven hundred caves. It’s a tantalising glimpse of the treasures within.
All carved by human hands out of the cliffs, some of the caves are small and intimate temples filled with statues of Buddha and his attendants, the walls adorned with a thousand painted Buddhas. Some are enormous and awe-inspiring, shaped like the inside of a pyramid, richly decorated with gold leaf and carvings.

听闻此项发现,考古学家欧莱尔斯坦因和保罗伯希最终说服王道士,以极微小的代价——220英镑卖给他们数千册手稿。很多人说卷轴是被偷走了,也有很多人说——卷轴被带出了中国,现在散落于世界各地的博物馆和私人收藏中。


But it’s the library cave I most want to see. I stand in the dim light and quietness staring through the rough doorway into the tiny room, the actual Lost Library. It is barely large enough to hold a table and chairs, let alone one of the greatest collections of historical writings known to man. 

On the wall is a faded painting of two Bodhi trees, side by side, their rounded leaves still green despite a thousand years passing since they were painted. It was worth every lurch of last four hours on the back of The Rogue to see this wonder of an ancient world.

洞窟本身很壮观,但每位游客都必须在导游的陪同下参观,为了保护洞窟,游客只能在每个洞窟呆五分钟,而七百个洞窟仅有八个供参观。惊鸿一瞥洞窟中的珍宝让人心动不已。

我站在幽暗宁谧中直直望进那个小房间,确实是失落的宝库。房间足以能容纳一张桌子数把椅子,更何况是人类史上最伟大的历史收藏之一。墙上是两颗并列的菩提树画,颜料已褪色,看起来像两颗知识树。

Camel Ride 骑骆驼


All too soon we have rejoined Master Li and the camels.


My camel’s personality hasn’t improved one bit by not seeing me for several hours – Master Li tells him ‘Zuo! Zuo! ZUO!’ “Sit! Sit! SIT!!’ over and over again, so I can get on. 

He never, ever sits until he’s been told seven, or eight, or nine times, and then only after complaining in a loud hee-hawing sort of whine and snorting spit all over Master Li.

I ask Master Li if The Rogue has a problem with his legs (although it hasn’t seemed evident).  No, he says, his shoulders slumping slightly in resignation – it’s just his xing ge – temperament.

The Rogue wrenches his head around to look at me with his more bulging eye, as if to say ‘Difficult? Moi?’


We have a long ride ahead – about four hours – to get back to camp, this time taking a route up through the dunes to their highest point.

So the camels can feed, Master Li unties them from one another, letting them roam free. The other three choose the greenest, freshest looking shrubs to eat but The Rogue stands off to the side eating dead thorny stuff and takes a nip at anyone who comes close. Friendly fellow he is, sociable as could be.

All of a sudden he takes a wrenching bite of some dead grass and with it a whole corsage of faded fabric funeral flowers, blown all the way from the desert graveyard. I try to stop him but they’re gone in a second, every last one.
The other camels, stoic as ever, don’t complain and tread softly, softly, sometimes sinking up to their knees in sand, sometimes walking over rocky patches to get us home to camp. If they seem tired, Master Li starts to sing to lull them onwards.


I’m in agony with every step, but my two daughters have taken to camel riding like they had previous lives as Bedouin princesses, tossing their long flowing scarves behind them and balancing perfectly as the camels run down the dunes. Sigh.

时间总是过得太快,我们又与李师傅和骆驼们会和了。我的骆驼的个性丝毫未变——李师傅一遍又一遍地告诉它坐!坐!坐下!坐下!它就是不坐,直到后来李师傅说了七遍,还是八遍,还是九遍,它才不情不愿地长啸一声然后对着李师傅喷响鼻吐唾沫坐了下来。

我问李师傅,淘气鬼骆驼的腿是否有问题(虽然并没有证据显示)。不,李师傅稍稍垮下肩来说道——它比较有性格。

我们骑了四个小时骆驼穿越沙丘的顶峰回到露营地。
骆驼们一如既往的沉静,毫无怨言,柔和地踏着步,有时它们的膝盖会陷入沙子,有时它们迈过岩石,它们带着我们回家。当它们面露疲色时,李师傅会给他们唱摇篮曲,它们便继续往前。

Increasing the Agony: Second Night in the Dunes 沙丘上的第二晚


Our camp is ready for us, which is just as well because after more than eight hours of camel-riding and awe-inspiring ancient caves I need sleep badly. My whole body is aching and sore and my saddle, in reality just two sticks either side of the camel’s humps and a blanket, has come badly awry, meaning that I list to the side and have to balance by sticking the opposite leg out for traction. In my previous life I think I was possibly a peg-legged sailor.

A beautiful camel saddle, belonging to someone else, and my saddle.
There are instant noodles for dinner again, and bread, now a little stale. I make a weak coffee with the last of my instant coffee powder and go and sit on the crest of the dune to see the moon rise. Every time I move a groan seems to escape my lips.

As I lie on the sand on this, our final night, my body in a new world of pain, I look up at the stars and imagine all the explorers, wanderers, pilgrims and traders who have gone before me through these dunes. This really is the magic of the ancient  Silk Road – the chance to take a little of its spirit of romance and adventure and make it your own.

露营地已经准备好了,在历经了八个多小时的骆骑骆驼之行和令人敬畏的古代石窟后,我迫切地需要睡眠。

当我在旅程最后一晚躺在沙子上时,我浑身酸痛,抬头遥望星星,想象着在我之前穿越这片沙丘的探险者,漫步者,朝圣者和商贸人士。这就是古代丝绸之路的魔力——将汲取来的一丝浪漫和探险变成你自己的经历。



Camel Treks 
3 Day Camel Treks can be arranged through Charley Zhong’s cafe in Dunhuang at a cost of 800 yuan per person including food and water but not including entry to Mogao Caves.

位于敦煌的查理·钟咖啡馆(Charley Zhong’s café)可以安排3天的骆驼游,费用为每人800元包括食物和水,不包括莫高窟的门票。

Mogao Caves, and the Lost Library of Dunhuang
Open 7 days
Entrance to a selection of eight caves 180 yuan per person, includes an English speaking guide (compulsory). Photographs and cameras forbidden.