That these structures are near Dunhuang is eyebrow-raising because Dunhuang is the most glorious stop on China’s Silk Road and a major tourist destination. Its Mogao Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and worth every minute of the multiple planes or trains needed to reach them. The contents of the caves were a tidal wave of knowledge about the cultures of the Silk Road. Many of the texts are in multiple languages, invaluable in understanding these languages and cultural interaction. The International Dunhuang Project has a database excellent for its contents but not for general browsing, so check out this sample of the treasures. If only able to make two stops on China’s Silk Road, The Rapid Traveler votes for Dunhuang and Turpan.
China has military installations, its space program, and prisons throughout its sparsely populated northwest, but rarely places them near the handful of major tourist attractions. Paranoia runs deep among local government officials in this region. Among many police checks and inquisitions, The Rapid Traveler recalls he once even needed to obtain written police permission in advance of a long-distance bus trip in Qinghai Province because somewhere along the 12-hour route was a military installation, never mind that the bus would not stop there. Many areas are forbidden to foreigners and they would do well to not test the Chinese authorities.
So, there are now incredibly tempting, shiny, mysterious attractions a short distance from Dunhuang, a place that attracts new age enthusiasts seeking enlightenment. Someone no doubt will be foolhardy enough to poke around though it would be surprising if they got anywhere near the sites. And when accosted they better not have a GPS on them (see here and here).