Tuesday, February 10th, 2004 – Day 357 to Wednesday, February 11th, 2004 – Day 358

Tuesday, February 10th, 2004 – Day 357

Surrounded by rich loess farmland, Xi’an (Western Peace), the present capital of Shanxi Province, was home to the ruling houses of three dynasties, when it was known as Chang’an (Eternal Peace). The city reached a peak during the Tang dynasty (618-907), when it was the military and trading base for China’s shaky control of the Silk Routes. During (712-755), it boasted two million taxable inhabitants and was the largest, most cosmopolitan settlement in the world.

The scale of the metropolis is readily imagined — what are now referred to as the city walls were rebuilt during the M?ng dynasty (1644-1911) on the remains of T?ng palace walls. The T?ng city walls extended 8km (5 miles) north-south and almost 10km (6 miles) east-west, and the south gate opened onto a tree-lined avenue 150m (500 ft.) wide, down which foreign emissaries would once approach the metropolis. The T?ng era was a high point for advocates of “foreign religions” as Manicheans, Nestorians, and Buddhists flocked to the capital. Buddhism in particular enjoyed royal patronage.

Surviving monuments open a window onto the imperial power and cosmopolitan style of the old capital. The short-lived totalitarian state of Q?n Shi Hu?ngd? is reflected in the awe-inspiring massed terra-cotta armies of the Q?n Bingmayong B?w?guan. The influence of Buddhism is clear from the majestic spire of the Great Goose Pagoda (d. 664), who returned to China in 645 after 15 years of travel across India and central Asia. Evidence of the flourishing trade along the Silk Routes may be found in the Shanxi History Museum.

I arrived in Xi’an at 9.30am. There seemed to be millions of people at the station (and probably was) but I already picked out a hostel called the ShuYuan Youth Hostel. First I wanted to buy a ticket o Beijing. For the next 1.5 hours, I tried and failed as they said they would only sell tickets for that day. I visited the nearby tourist office and asked for advice. He gave me directions to another office nearby. After a long wait I purchased a ticket for the 12th. A few minutes later, I checked the ticket again – it was for today. I had to go back and try and explain what a refund was. Frustrating as hell but I got it. I have no idea why they would not sell me a ticket for 2 days time. A hard sleeper price was 334 Yuan. Even though the Spring Festival is over, most University students had an extra week off and are heading back to college now. So the demand is as big as ever. Its VERY hard to get train tickets.

It was 11.30 and so I decided to get a public bus (number 306) to the Bingmayong or as we know them – the Terracotta Warriors. This is the reason most visitors come to Xi’an, and unlike many big sights in China, it does not disappoint.

Amazingly, the warriors are just one attempt to reconstruct his empire for the afterlife. The tomb to the west is still to be fully excavated, and is said to include a full reconstruction of the ancient capital, complete with rivers and lakes of mercury. According to historian Sima Qian, over 700,000 workers were drafted for the project, and those involved in the construction of the tomb were rewarded with graves beside their emperor. Tourism officials pray that the warriors are “just the tip of the iceberg,” but it is just as likely that the tomb was plundered during the T?ng or S?ng dynasties.

It’s hard not to get a shiver down your spine as you survey the unromantically named Pit 1, with four columns of warriors in each of the 11 passageways; there are over 6,000 infantry in battle formation, stretching back 182m (200 yd.). Originally painted in bright colors, they were constructed from interchangeable parts luted together by clay. Because the heads were hand-molded, no two appear the same. Q?n Shi Hu?ng’s army was drawn from all over his vast empire, and this ethnic diversity is reflected in the variety of hairstyles, headdresses, and facial expressions. Even on the mass-produced bodies, the level of detail is striking, down to the layering of armor and the studs on archers’ shoes that prevented them from slipping. The average height of the warriors is 1.8m (5 ft. 11 in.); senior officers are taller. Pit 2 holds 1,400 soldiers and cavalry and a taller (nearly 2m/6 1/2 ft.) general; pit 3 houses the headquarters, with 68 senior officers.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

the Terracotta Warriors – Xi’an (10-02-2004)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

the Terracotta Warriors – Xi’an (10-02-2004)

A small hall just to the right of pit 1 contains a display of two magnificent bronze chariots, reconstructed from nearly 3,500 pieces excavated from a pit to the west of the tomb.

It was one hour by bus to the door. Lots of construction happening here as they expect the site to be one of the worlds busiest in years to come. It was 65 Yuan in, and thankfully it wasn’t too busy. I stayed for about 2 hours and avoided the hundreds of hawkers before heading back on the bus.

I had checked in my luggage at the station and took into onto bus 603 for the South Gate. From there its just a 20m walk to the hostel. I got a 4 bed dorm all to myself for 40 Yuan – a bargain. Its a real nice hostel with a great little bar and dining room.

In the bar (beers were just 3 Yuan each for a big bottle), I met Paul from Australia. He was on a short break but was very enusiastic about China.

At around 8.30pm, myself and Paul headed to the Muslim Quarter of the city of Xi’an (about 20 minutes walk( to get something to eat. Lots of great food stalls here and you could eat all night.

The Great Mosque and Muslim Quarter: As foreign communities grew in size, they introduced their own customs and facilities. The 50,000 strong Moslem community that lives and works today in Xian traces its history to those Middle Eastern merchants who, after traveling the Fur Road, settled down here. Then, as now, the Moslem community, perpetuated their culture by operating mosques and schools. So it is that the Great Mosque was originally constructed in the year 742. Today the Moslem community, which supports ten or so mosques, runs its own primary school, foods shops and restaurants. For over 1300 years, they have been an integral part of Xi’an’s colorful daily life.

Wednesday, February 11th, 2004 – Day 358

I had a great nights sleep with no one else in the dorm. Pity, as I need to be up early to get my train ticket. At 9.30am, I headed to the train station. As usual there were millions of people there. I went to the main office and they told me no more tickets were available for the three trains to Beijing that day.

I then headed to the other advance offices (where I could not buy a advance ticket from yesterday). Theme told me there were no hard sleepers until the 14th. I was ready to pull my hair out. Outside there was a tout selling tickets. He approached me and asked where I was going. When I said Beijing, he produced a 275 Yuan ticket for a hard sleeper on the 21.20pm train. I was very skeptical. Why with such demand, was there a ticket left, why did he want just 5 Yuan more than the ticket price. Was it a forgery? As I did not want to wait until the 14th, I bought it.

I headed back to the hostel at noon and booked out!

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

the Terracotta Warriors – Xi’an (11-02-2004)

I did little the rest of the day. I met the Aussie and we had a few beers before I took a bus to the station at 8.00pm. There were about 15 trains going and there were millions of people about.