Inspired by the surprises thrown up in our weekly A great little place I know series, we asked writers and adventurers to share their best discovery of the year
Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China
Peter Frankopan, historian and author
The world of 2016 is not all doom and gloom. In Asia, things are changing fast as the Silk Roads rise again. In September, I was in north-west China, in Dunhuang, between the Gobi and the Taklamakan deserts, on the southern Silk Road. The city is an oasis, the last stop, going west, before nearly 1,000km of sand, and near the Mogao caves, a Buddhist complex founded in the fourth century.
My favourite spot is in the desert, above crescent-shaped Yueyaquan lake. The best views are at dawn from the top of a series of metal ladders pinned into the steep dunes. As you look down to the lake and city, you feel the heat and oppression of the desert behind you. Deciding to head west required determination, commitment and courage. As new connections are woven across Asia, it is hard not to feel awed by how easy it is to travel today and how difficult it once was. It feels like the present meeting the past, and brushing against the future.
Peter Frankopans The Silk Roads: A New History of the World is published by Bloomsbury. To order a copy for 24.60 including UK p&p visit the guardian bookshop
Six Depot Roastery and Cafe, West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, US
Mark Vanhoenacker, pilot and author