I was excited to have reached Xian. Today Xian is a big, modern Chinese city but formerly it was known as Chang’an and this was the beginning of the Silk Road (or the end depending on your direction of travel). As my plan is to travel the Silk Road it now felt like my journey had really begun.
On my first morning I set out to explore starting with the colourful Muslim quarter where the influence of the middle east, and the Silk Road, can be seen everywhere. From men in white skullcaps and veiled women, to the fascinating food stalls (lookout for my next post on the food of Xian).
At nights the Muslim quarter would be packed with people and it was always the best place to find dinner. My favourite were these little beauties – deep fried pastry stuffed with lamb mince and leek. I loved watching them being made and they were so tasty. I had one every day!
Xian was previously the imperial capital and has imposing walls that are 12 meters high and 14 kms long. I hired a bike at the top and cycled the whole 14kms one evening when the heat was less intense (it was usually between 38 to 40 degrees while I was in Xian!). When I was about half way night fell and the lights on the watch towers on the wall went on. Very pretty.
If this wasn’t enough history for one city Xian is most famous for one of the greatest historical finds of all time, the Terracotta Warriors. In 1974 peasants drilling for a well uncovered an underground vault which ultimately revealed over eight thousand life-sized soldiers, 130 chariots and horses created to protect China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in the afterlife.
I love history, especially ancient history, and I was really excited to be seeing such an amazing site. Based on recommendations I started my visit of the site with Pit 3, the smallest pit. My breath was taken away on entering the enclosed space and seeing the first displays of soldiers and horses in the sunken pit. Many of the soldiers were headless and broken pieces of terracotta lay still to be pieced together.
At Pit 2 I was surprised to see very little had been excavated. Rolling impressions of clay stretched between dividing walls. Here and there smalls areas had been excavated with smashed parts of soldiers lying in a jumble, the ultimate jigsaw puzzle! As I circled the large area I kept wondering what more was hidden below that was yet to be discovered. Maybe one day the whole area will be excavated.
I was completely blown away when I entered Pit 1, the largest of the pits. In a vast area the size of an airport hanger row upon row of soldiers in 11 corridors stood in silent lines, arms held out clutching now imaginary weapons. An extraordinary legacy of China’s first emperor and a truly amazing site.
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I stayed at Han Tang House, a really well run hostel with great staff who could speak good English.
Fast train Pingyao to Xian North = 150RMB
Train Xian to Lanzhou = 251RMB
Getting around Xian is easy with a subway line, or tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis easy to find.
To the Terracotta Warriors dedicated buses run regularly from the main train station (to the right hand side). Cost = 8 RMB each way.
Entrance to the Terracotta Warriors = 150RMB
Entrance to the Shaanxi History Museum is free on sight of your passport.