The caves can only be reached by boat, and only then between April and early October when water levels are sufficiently high. From Lanzhou, the first stage of the expedition is a two-hour bus ride to the massive Liujiaxia Hydroelectric Dam, a spectacular sight poised above the reservoir. At the dam you board a speedboat, which takes a further hour to reach the caves and offers excellent views of fishermen busy at work and peasants cultivating wheat, sunflowers and rice on the dark, steep banks. Towards the end of the trip, the boat enters a dramatic gorge, where the river froths and churns between jagged hills that have been eroded into bizarre shapes by the wind and water.

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