Saturday, 24 August 2013

Xian April 2013

Getting from Xian airport into the city is easy, the shuttle bus is very accessible and it arrives outside the Melody Hotel which is central and it was fortunate as we were staying therel.
Across the road from the hotel is the Drum Tower as well as a small side street which takes you passed stalls that have a range of Chinese artifacts of varying quality. In and out these lanes you discover a food street with some very delicious offerings. This is the Muslim quarter which has its own special cuisine and was a change from the usual Chinese fare. This area was very crowded as it is a magnet for both Chinese and European tourists.
The Drum Tower
I really noticed the change in Xian from the time I was there in 2007. There has been a great deal of development. It now has a subway and shopping malls and even a number of coffee shops as well as a large Walmart.
As we didn’t have breakfast included at the hotel we decided to buy some teabags and fruit at the supermarket as well as some buns at a bakery. We had done this in Beijing and it works well and saves time trying to find a suitable place for breakfast.
The following day we booked our trip to the Terracotta Warriors and then explored the city. We went to the Drum Tower and were lucky to arrive just before a performance incorporating a variety of drums then we headed to the Bell Tower.
We walked to the wall and down the street that according to my memory was full of shops that sold chopsticks, but discovered that it was now artists’ street selling brushes, paper etc. I bought a few painting books, choosing judiciously as I didn’t want to end up with a too heavy bag. I planned to go to the museum called The Forest of Steles but it was closed for renovations, which was disappointing.  We found the place to climb up to the ramparts of the city wall. It’s possible ride a bike around the whole structure  we both refrained from this exercise as we both had injured knees. The best place to eat was the Muslim quarter so we went there for our dinner that night.
Up bright and early for our trip to the Terracotta Warriors. We opted for the whole day tour which included Huangqing Pool and Ban Po Village. We picked up the other members of the group and by the time we arrived it was lunchtime so as lunch was included we were ushered into a restaurant for the usual fare, nothing fancy but was satisfying and would keep us going for the rest of the day. After that we entered the gates through the souvenir shop to the hangar like building which displayed some of the finds. It is obvious that work is still in progress as the tools and tables of the archeologists could be seen and there were notices saying not to photograph them when they are working.
I have seen this display before but it is still breathtaking, especially when you realize that no two warriors look the same. It still is amazing that they still haven’t uncovered the whole army of warriors. It was interesting to learn that they were originally painted and that many have been left buried until they have worked out how to preserve the old paint on them. This is one of China’s top historical sights. The terracotta warriors were part of Qin Shi Huang (China’s first emperor) mausoleum. It was Qin Shi Huang who united the country standardizing the currency and writing. From historical accounts the tomb contained palaces, precious stones and special defenses to protect it against possible intruders. It was rumoured that the artisans who worked on the tomb were buried alive so as not to divulge any information about the construction. All that is visible of what must have been an enormous construction is a mound.
I was not surprised to see how much tourist development has occurred around this complex. It was a lot more low key on my previous visit and lunch was a ‘bun fight’ as our tour operator left us to it and eateries were very sparse indeed.
The Terracotta Warriors
After we left here we went to the Huaqing Pool. This complex was built by a Tang Emperor for his favourite concubine. Water from hot springs is channeled into public bath houses, which have 60 pools for about 400 people. During the Tang dynasty this was a private retreat for the emperor and his concubines. As we were here in autumn the water lilies and blossom weren’t in bloom as they were on my previous visit, but it is still a very attractive retreat, though it’s not hard to imagine it would be anything but tranquil during peak visiting times.

Huaqing Pool

We eventually were picked up from here and taken to the Banpo Neolithic Village. It was excavated in the 1950s and the village occupied this area from 4500 BC until around 3500 BC. Just under a quarter of the site has been excavated and there is only conjecture about the culture of the times. The ruins are divided into three parts, pottery manufacturing, residential and a cemetery. It was very interesting and well set out.

There was also an exhibition in another building of some Chinese painting which is always worth a look. After this we had to wait patiently for our ride back to town. We were the only two from the initial group who did the whole day tour, so they had to make some special provisions for us. The tour did deliver on all promised but it did seem a bit disorganized  but compared to the tour I did in 2007 which I dubbed ‘Dodgy Brothers’ this was a notch up more like ‘Arthur Daley.’
We explored the Muslim Quarter again to find the Great Mosque. We found a mosque but I’m not sure it was the major one. We went down a little lane and through a small gate into a tiny courtyard. We were the only ones there; the decorations were an interesting combination of the Arabic and Chinese.

Mosque decorations in Xian

I decided that we would visit  the Big Goose Pagoda and the museum next to it. I had visited both previously and the museum is excellent. We decided to walk and eventually found it. It didn’t seem as straightforward as I remembered. We arrived and the correct location and could see the pagoda tantalizingly close but not the entrance. Eventually we walked around the whole block only to discover that the whole complex was completely closed, we couldn’t even walk in the gardens, and everything was fenced off the museum included. So it turned out to be a ‘big wild goose’ chase. We took the metro back to base.
The next day we were off to Yangshao.

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