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Airport to Close for Expansion near China's Dunhuang Caves

LANZHOU -- The Dunhuang airport, located near the Mogao Caves, which contain some of China's finest ancient Buddhist art, will be closed between March 15 and May 25 for an expansion project aimed at coping with a growing tourist influx.

The 976-million-yuan ($142 million) expansion project, which began in 2016, will enable the airport to handle an annual capacity of 960,000 passengers and 1,700 tonnes of cargo.

The airport will close to allow for revamping of the runway and enlarging airport aprons, said the airport on Monday.

The 1,600-year-old Mogao Caves are home to more than 2,000 colored sculptures and 45,000 square meters of frescoes. They are located in a series of 735 caves carved along a cliff in Northwest China's Gansu province along the ancient Silk Road route. In 1987, the site became China's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In recent years, tourist numbers to the caves have soared thanks to their growing fame both at home and abroad.

The Buddhist site received more than 8 million domestic and foreign visitors in 2016, up 21.37 percent year on year.

Since 2014, the Mogao Caves have set a daily limit of 6,000 reserved tickets plus an extra 12,000 emergency tickets to cater to the growing number of tourists during the peak travel season.

Transportation infrastructure has been built to cope with the large passenger flow. In addition to the airport expansion, easier transport links to Dunhuang were launched last year, including new trains from Beijing, and Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia Hui autonomous region.