Nestled deep in the eastern reaches of the Taklamakan desert, Dunhuang was once a byword for remoteness. The new airport means visitors can arrive in just a couple of hours as opposed to the couple of months it once took the hardy desert caravan traders. It is the westernmost town in Gansu province and lies only a few miles from the Xinjiang province border. The big draw here is the Mogao Grottoes, a series of several hundred caves where a treasure trove of ancient Buddhist carvings, murals and manuscripts were discovered. When Marco Polo passed through here, he wrote of "the rumbling sands" due to the strange noise the shifting dunes make when disturbed by wind.