Xiantastic

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
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Trip End ??? ??, 2006


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Friday, April 8, 2005

April 8th and 9th
We arrived in Xian the capital of Shaanxi province after a very hot and sticky train ride from Taiyuan. We found a great hostel overlooking the Bell Tower in the centre of the city and adjacent to the Muslim Quarter. Xian has one of the three best preserved city walls in China and to enter from the station you have to pass through one of the four massive and imposing city gates, a reminder of its illustrious past when it served as the imperial capital of China for some eleven dynasties.

Modern Xian is in many ways a typical Chinese city, characterised by demolition (most of which seems to be done manually by labourers) and the ubiquitous construction sites through which it continues to renew itself. Moving away from Xians centre there appears to be no grand plan or design to it's suburbs, this urban sprawl bleeds into the surrounding countryside as it continues to expand.
Smoked glass and stainless steel highrise and 4 lane city roads sit alongside crumbling tenement housing blocks and narrow overcrowded sidestreets...old and new side by side.
However the whole makes for a friendly and welcoming modern city.

Yet again we are having temperatures in the 80's which made the perfect conditions for an evening stroll around the Muslim Quarter, a network of backstreets containing pavement restaurants with all manner of food and wares on offer, freshly baked bread, roasting coffee beans, spices etc. There were of course rows of stalls selling 'antiques', curios, artwork and the like, typical tourist fodder, this proved to be a great way to spend our first evening...just wandering round.

The following morning we arranged a trip to see the Terracotta Army which is situated about an hours drive from Xian itself. We made the obligatory stop en route at a ceramics factory (where you can buy replica warriors ranging from chess peices upto full size garden statuary).
The burial site was discovered in 1974 by a farmer sinking a well. He informed the authorities and archealogical excavation began. Over 1 thousand warriors have so far been uncovered (there are thought to be over 8 thousand in total)and numerous artefacts with some still remaining buried (untill they can discover a way of preserving the original colours which have been lost from those uncovered so far). They are arranged in trenches in battle formation complete with horses charriots and weaponry. Pit one (contained in an building resembling an aircraft hanger) contains the most warriors and is absolutely stunning, made all the more so when you concider they are over 2,000 years old! Pit two contains fewer warriors (and was discovered whilst digging the foundations for the hanger over pit one)The warriors were placed here to guard the nearby tomb of Qin Shi Huang the first emperor to successfully unify China and responsible for introducing a common language, standard education and money. He is still revered in china today.

We spent several hours touring the burial complex which has a selection of different warriors (all of whom have individual faces, said to represent Qin Shi Huangs' actual army) on show in glass cases where you can get a close up view of the them. In the main trenches you can take photos but the lighting is poor,(to protect the warriors) and you are kept a good distance away (the flash on our cameras was ineffective). But at least you are now allowed to take photos, which was not the case in the recent past.
Also on display are bronze scale models of 'charriots' perfect replicas of the full size versions used at the time (correct in every detail) also found during the excavations. The whole complex is geared up to tourism and even has electric carts to transport you arround (useful when it's pouring with rain...as it was when we visited).
The whole excursion was superb and more than lived upto my expectations! (another personal ambition acheived). The warriors are a truly spectacular sight and the organisation and sheer human effort / skill required to create them is mind boggling.

The farmer who discovered the warriors has recieved a comfortable 'pension' from the state and can be found signing books in one of the souvenir halls. This only came about following President Clintons visit to the site when he asked to meet the farmer and requested he sign a copy of his souvenir book.

On the return journey to Xian we stopped at the actual burial site of the emperor, this was a mistake (sorry Qin) but It is simply a large man made hill with a viewing platform at the top, surrounded by gardens filled with large bits of stone and pottery discovered whilst creating the gardens, (probably great in the summer but not on a blustery and rain lashed day!). Apart from this main hill it is simply another opportunity to extract cash from tourists. A far better visit was the one we made to the Shaanxi History museum (recommended) this houses archealogical finds from the entire province, including spectacular ceramics, gold and silver jewellery, and intricately carved stone figurines dating back to some of the earliest dynasties BC.

We also visited the station during the day and bought train tickets to Chengdu (major cock-up number three!). Having spent a good deal of the previous evening reading about Chengdu (forward planning) and discussing what we wanted to see there, we headed for the station bought tickets and duly caught our train. Once on the train I decided to review our rough itinerary (prepared at home some months earlier) and discovered we were heading to the wrong place! (our next stop should have been Wuhan) We were heading some 17 & 1/2 hours by train in the wrong direction! ("oops" I said...."you stupid git" said Jane). Well at least we know what we want to see when we get there...So next stop Chengdu,Pandas, and our eventual leap into Tibet!

PS we currently are finding it difficult to locate suitable computers to upload photos to the website so please be patient we're working on it. Be in touch again soon...Love, Meandher.
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