Xi'an, China (9th Dec 2007)
Arriving in Xi'an, we were confronted with the coldest temperatures we had felt so far, to the point where we could even see our breath in front of our faces which is something we hadn't seen for a long long time! Our battle to get to our hotel began at the taxi rank where taxi after taxi refused to take us even though Mark had downloaded the address in Chinese and English to his phone to hopefully make it a little easier for us... apparently it still wasn't enough. A security guard then came over to us and took us to a local guide who then translated where we were staying to the guard who then translated to a taxi driver and finally we were on our way. When we arrived at our hotel we were convinced we must be in the wrong place as it seemed far too grand for us but sure enough it was our home for the next 2 nights. As it was nearing evening time we decided to just go out for a walk locally and find something to eat as snacking on a train for 24 hours doesn't really fill you up!
As we were walking around we realised how different China is the further and further you get away from Hong Kong, where if you sneeze or cough in public you fear being arrested and every second poster on the metro is a warning about germs; in Xi'an however men women and children think nothing of spitting not only in the street but in the metro and even indoors. Wondering around, we passed all the usual street sellers, this time selling everything from underpants to thermal shoe liners. A more unusual sight we did see however were boxes and boxes full of puppies and kittens, some out on display running around declaring how cute they are in the hope they find a nice home (well that's what we like to think anyway and not that they are being sold for their meat L) In true western style we opted for a filling pizza hut for tea, went to the Chinese equivalent of Tesco Extra to buy a hat, scarf and gloves for Kara and then headed back to the hotel for an early night.
Our local guide, Sophie (not real name) arrived bang on time at 8.30am and we were soon on the road heading to see the Terracotta Army. When we got on our minibus we only thought we were going to see the warriors, but got a nice little surprise as Sophie explained that we would be first going to the big goose pagoda, another one of Xian's major tourist sites. We only picked up one more person, Gary, a guy in his late 40's from Canada, so we got in essence a private tour which made everything better as we pretty much controlled where and when we went somewhere. Due to the fact it's so foggy we couldn't really get too many good photos from here as they all were turning out rubbish but none the less we tried and to be honest it's nothing particularly special in the grand scheme of things.
Arriving at The Big Goose Pagoda we weren't really sure what it was exactly that we were visiting but Sophie soon explained to us that the Pagoda was built in AD 652 to house Buddhist sutras brought back from India by the monk Xuan Zang. The Pagoda is 7 stories high and due to earthquakes in the area, leans slightly to one side, something that isn't really noticeable until it's pointed out to you. While we were at the Pagoda we were told that we could have our Chinese zodiac animal printed onto our entry ticket to bring us luck which of course we did but are still waiting for some of that luck to come our way! Before reaching the Terracotta Army, we were taken to Bampo Neolothic Village. Again we didn't really know what it was that we would be visiting but we soon learnt that it is the remains and foundations of the earliest example of Neoclassic Yangshao culture and is of huge importance to Chinese archaeological studies. Only a quarter of the site has been excavated to date, all of which has been divided into three main areas, a pottery manufacturing area, a residential area and a cemetery. These include the remains of 45 houses, 200 storage cellars, six pottery kilns and 250 graves, some of which has been removed from the site and places in exhibition halls so you get a real close up view of the bones and the ways in which they were buried.
Finally we were off to the main site of the day, The Army of Terracotta Warriors. When we arrived we were confronted with the same as what you meet at any tourist site, hundreds of people wanting to sell you anything they can; the speciality here was obviously miniature terracotta warrior replicas and strangely they also sold bibles in English and Chinese. The site was only found 30 or so years ago by a man innocently digging a well, but is now certainly built up for tourism and the money it brings. There are 7,000 or so figures in the tomb that Qing built in 200 B.C. to protect him after he died and was entombed. It was said that he killed the 720,000+ workers that helped to build it along the way so that the secrets could be kept hidden. One surprise was that we learned that the soldiers were originally painted but none of the paint was remaining. Many questions passed through our mind during our visit about the authenticity of it and we came to find that others we could hear were also a bit sceptical. Some of the questions were how some looked too new; why wasn't any of the paint remaining? The warriors are also very large - much larger than any Chinese people we have ever seen and apparently this change is due to evolution of the people over the last 2,000 years; we will have to do some research to find out if there is any independent scientific evidence to support their authenticity.
Before we arrived at the site we were prepared to be disappointed but were most definitely not! The site of all the warriors stood tall in rank order is an amazing sight regardless and though it was fairly busy we loved it. We think we almost preferred the pits where they're still excavating as you can just let your mind wonder and imagine what you think is under there and what they might one day unearth, we'll have to come back in about 20 year's time when they've finished! Sophie, our guide, she said that they know for a fact that there are loads more buried but until they have some really high tech equipment they are going to just leave them buried in the hope that one day they will be able to get the remaining out in immaculate, preserved condition. At the very back of the first pit we went to (the big, main one) there are broken warriors all over the place which have been taken out of their original position for some restoration work and to try and piece they buckets full of random arms with all the headless torsos...The second pit was closed to the public due to renovation work but an exhibition hall had been set up in its place so you didn't feel like you were missing out too much. There were individual warriors in glass cases so you could really get up close and see the detailing of each individual one as after all, each one is meant to be completely unique, expression, hairstyle, armour and even the tread on the footwear being individual to the warrior. Also in the exhibition hall is a pair of bronze chariots and horses unearthed just 20m west of the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang.Pit number three is the smallest of all the pits and is believed to be the Army headquarters due to the number of high ranking officers unearthed here, only 72 warriors and horses. After experiencing the first pit, the third pit seemed slightly inferior but was still worth seeing as there was even a ramp built into it to enable the horses to enter and exit, something not seen in either of the other pits. The Army of Terracotta Warriors was defiantly a sight not to be missed and really gets you thinking what more must be out there, still waiting to be discovered.
As we got a lot more than we bargained for on our tour we were knackered when we got back to the hotel so we decided to have another early night, not before sneaking out to the McDonald's down the road though!
Our last day in Xi'an was pretty much a nothing day due to the smoggy drizzly weather. We had planned to go and see the Bell Tower and Drum Tower and take a walk on the city walls but the horrible weather prevented this and after taking a few pictures we took residence in a very hard to find internet cafe for a few hours before heading to the station to catch another overnight train to Beijing.