We had a bit of a rough entry into Xi’an, arriving by plane (not our first choice) at around midnight local time. Seat61 is right on when he makes the point that trains are great because they arrive downtown as opposed to airplanes which arrive way out in the middle of nowhere. We were about an hour from town, and a taxi driver suggested we pay about $90 for the ride. No thanks! But there were no nearby hotels with vacancies, we were told by the tourist desk. We ended up in a bus (about $20) to town. It was a surprisingly clean, modern, smooth bus. In fact, almost everything we have seen since returning to China looks sleek and new, not only because we are coming from India and Nepal. It is just a clean, modern, constantly rebuilding place.
When we settled down, we had a look around Xi’an. Two big landmarks inside the historic city walls are the bell tower and drum tower. These are pagoda style buildings, both erected in the 1300’s during the Ming dynasty. They are lit up beautifully at night.
We went out one night in the Muslim quarter, and it was hopping! People everywhere, neon signs, and lots of street life. Shop workers were making all kinds of things to eat. A pair of men were pounding a sugar and nut confection into a flat shape with large wooden mallets. The steady beat was heard several shops away.
At another store, a man was pulling taffy dramatically from a hook on the wall into the street. He would twist it and pull it, then double back and do it again. Another shop made hard candies in jewel-like colors with cute designs. We tried a few snacks- a delicious yogurt, flat bread studded with nuts, some of the nut candies, beautiful tri-colored, flower-shaped cotton candy, and a disappointing slice of cooked rice that was masquerading as a piece of cake.
We went to see the famous Terracotta Warriors outside of Xi’an. We took the 306 bus from the train station (very easy to find, 7 yuan each) which takes about an hour. Once there, we did not immediately see the museum area. It was about a ten-minute walk away. The surrounding grounds are sculpted and park-like with statues and shops with many souvenirs for sale. It was a gorgeous sunny day, even more lovely because it had been cold and rainy our first few days in Xi’an.
The Warriors site is large, with more lawns, paths, and flowering trees, and hills in the background (below). The Army itself is something to see. Buried for millennia and discovered just 40 years ago, it is still under excavation. The statues individually have unique faces, armor, even hairstyles. There are three excavation areas creatively named Pit 1 (both photos above) Pit 2(below), and Pit 3. There is also a museum displaying some small artifacts such as delicate metal pieces from the reins for the terracotta horses, and the reassembled bronze horses and chariots.
Officially, this UNESCO site is called the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emporer. The 3rd century BC ruler ordered 700,000 workers to make the figures, which also include horses and chariots. A contemporary account indicates that the tomb originally had rivers of mercury and also buildings, all meant to protect Qin in his afterlife. A farmer found some pottery prices while digging a well on the property in 1974, which led to archeological investigation and the eventual discovery of the elaborate site.
We feel lucky to have been there on a beautiful spring day, but since the exhibits are indoors it would be fine to go in bad weather as well. In fact, entrance prices are lower in the off season (Dec. -March). The kids ran around the grounds as tour groups meandered through and staff took their lunch breaks, enjoying a beautiful day and surrounded by what be the world’s most elaborate gravesite.
We spent a few more days in Xi’an, more coming soon.