The recent heat wave could have brought back memories of a few indelible summers, but it evoked most vividly the visit to last year’s Cave Temples of DunHuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road exhibition at the Getty Center.
The first MoGao Cave Temple, located in Gansu Province’s DunHuang City, was constructed in 366 AD. During a 1,000-year period, from the 4th to the 14th Century, ascetic Buddhists continued to carve out more grotto on cliffs, all 492 total. The temples’ interiors are adorned with elaborate ceiling-to-floor murals and statues, scrupulously painted and sculpted in different religious poses and postures.
One Chinese blogger recorded his decades-long stay in DunHuang and commented on the region’s inferior water quality, because of which he lost his tea-drinking habit. However, DunHuang’s most popular souvenir seems to be its eponymous brew DunHuang Tea, made from leaves of wild apocynum venetum, commonly known as the dogbane plant. Like other herbal concoctions, and based on corporate advertisement, DunHuang Tea offers myriad health benefits, most notably as deterrent to anxiety, hypertension, etc.
At first I thought little about seeing the exhibit; in a few years, I will embark on my own Silk Road adventure with DunHuang being a key destination. The exhibition turned out to be a fabulous treat. The three replica caves showcased the respective temples in their current deteriorating condition. Artists recreated the interiors by chipping the paint and staining the walls intentionally, all for visitors to ponder and examine in an air-conditioned space lit with simulated dim light. I imagined sitting on the floor and meditating, and be enlightened. My thoughts were interrupted by the museum personnel who reminded visitors to move forward.
After seeing the exhibit, I still yearn to trace the Silk Road, but that desire is no longer as strong as in the past.