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Travel experience in china


Travel stories in China

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Xian city tour
  Xian city tour

A short 1 1/2 hour flight from Chengdu had us arriving in Xian. Again the flight did not cost much more than the train that would have taken 12 -16 hours to get us there.

This was the first place we have traveled to and had a problem because we didn't prebook accommodation. It seemed many of the backpacker type places were full. I left Jack standing in a cool outside corridor of one of the hotels with our bags. It was really hot and not going to be pleasant to try and carry the bags around with us while we looked for accommodation.

I found the Bell Tower Youth Hostel, it had a room. It was in a good location close to food and attractions. We stayed in a double with private bathroom which was actually a hotel rather than a hostel. It was all okay, except our bathroom. It really smelled and the floor stayed soaked with a half inch of water for hours after having a shower. The water pools and runs to the opposite side of the floor from where the drain is. I'm sure this is adding to or causing the bad smell.

Xian is a very modern city. It has huge shopping malls, McDonald's, KFC, the works. The traffic here is crazy like any other big city in China. You would never be able to walk across the streets here. They have a huge underground walkway system that takes you under the bell tower intersection. The pollution is pretty bad, we never saw blue sky the entire time we were here. The sun was visible as a round object behind the haze and heavy smog.

Two attractions in the main area of the city are the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. The Bell tower dates back to the 14th century. It was rebuilt by the Qing at the present location in 1739. You get an impressive view of the city from the balcony around the upper floors. There is a huge bell that you can ring 3 times for 5 yuan. You can hear it ringing for long distances throughout the city. Since it was right across from our hotel, we heard it all day and into the evening. Every time it made its huge echoing dong, Jack would think that Hells Bells by AC/DC was starting up. It really did sound like the beginning of the song. There are also lots of example of bells on display inside the tower. They are from various times in Chinese history.

The Drum tower is of similar design to the Bell tower. You get a nice view from it's outside balcony as well. It overlooks the Muslim quarter in Xian. It has many huge drums around the outer balcony. Which you can also beat on for a few yuan. They don't make nearly as much noise as the bell though. Inside the Drum tower is an interesting display of old drums as well as a floor of impressive antique Chinese furniture.

A huge multi lane traffic circle goes around the Bell Tower. Our hotel window had a perfect view of the circle. It could keep you entertained for hours. We saw at least one accident everyday. A lot of times involving a large bus. Little attention is paid to the traffic lines. Vehicles are wedging into lanes and going cross wise and cutting people off. On top of this you have people on bicycles and scooters weaving their way into the mix.

Xian has a large Muslim quarter. It is neat place and an attraction for the tourists who come to the city. There is one main street as well as many skinny alleyways lined with souvenir shops and food stalls. We didn't even know there were such thing as Chinese Muslim people until coming to this country. This has been home to the cities Hui Muslim community for centuries. Walking through the narrow lane ways with mud brick houses you pass butcher shops, sesame oil factories, smaller mosques hidden behind enormous wooden doors and proud stringy bearded men wearing white skull caps.

We were contemplating whether to book the main attraction of Xian, the Terra Cotta Warriors with a group through our hotel or do it on our own. The hotel tours add on some other sites that we were not very interested in. The cheapest tour was 270 yuan per person. We went by ourselves and saved a lot of money, plus we could spend as much time at the Warriors as we wanted. The tours limit you to about 2 hours. We paid 9 yuan for a taxi to the bus station and 7 yuan each way for the bus. The entry fee to the warriors was 90 yuan. So altogether we did the trip for 217 yuan instead of 540 yuan. The bus took a little over an hour to get there. You do have to be careful, the bus you need to catch is #306. There is a shadow 306 bus that sticks a cardboard sign in their window (which is quickly pulled down if they get near the real bus or any officials) they try to suck in unknowing tourists and charge five times the fare of the proper bus. Apparently they also have you stop at many tourist traps along the way.

The 2000 year old Army of Terra Cotta Warriors ranks up there with the historical sites of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. It was only discovered in 1974 when a farmer was digging a well in his field and found some pottery fragments. They happened upon what might be the most major archaeological find for the 20th century. They are underground vaults of earth and timber that eventually yielded thousands of life size terracotta soldiers and their horses in battle formation.

The area of the 3 pits covers 22,000 square meters and hold an estimated 8000 pottery warriors and horses. All serving as guardians to protect the emperor's burial site. Each pit was built in similar construction and are presently 5 to 7 meters below the current ground level. The terracotta figures were placed in corridors. The corridors, divided by earth rammed partition walls, are paved with pottery bricks on which the figures are placed. The earth walls supported a wood roof that was composed of huge and strong rafters. The roof was covered with fiber mats, fine soil and tilled earth. All of this was constructed to totally conceal the army.

Once all the warriors and horses were positioned inside the corridors, the entrances were closed. It meant a sealed underground united army was formed to protect Emperor Qin's underground palace.

All of these warriors were ordered to be built for the first emperor of China. Emperor QinShihuang was born in 259 BC and was the founder of the Qin dynasty. He had two million or 10 percent of the population put into labor to build his tomb. The loss of this huge amount of farm labor damaged the economic development of the empire.

The soldiers and horses were all made using local clay. They average about 1.8 meters in height. No two soldiers unearthed so far have the same facial features or expressions. Besides different faces, features such as the armor plates with fixings, belts hooks, shoe ties, and costume details were precisely sculpted. After each statue was made the craftsmen were ordered to inscribe or print their name onto the back of the robe, legs or armor. The names of over 80 craftsmen have been discovered so far. A 2000 year old form of quality control! The horses and chariots were made with the same precise details and realism.

Archaeologists believe the warriors discovered so far may only be a small part of an even larger army still buried around the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. Excavation of the entire area and the tomb itself could take decades more. There is also a small museum on the site which houses an impressive pair of bronze chariots and horses. They were unearthed in 1980 just 20 meters west of the tomb. The craftsmanship of them is magnificent. Made in exact replica of the real thing, but in half size. Each one weighs over 1000 kilograms.

When the emperor died, apparently thousands of officials and craftsmen workers were buried alive to keep the tomb a secret. The emperor had his mausoleum constructed with everything he had in his real life. There were models of pavilions, palaces, precious stones and other rarities. Even replicas of  China's streams and rivers like the Yangztee and the Yellow river were constructed of quicksilver and had a mechanical means of being made to flow. The burial mound was 115 meters high 2200 years ago, but today has shrunk to 76 meters. With the emperors tomb at the center some 600 satellite pits and tombs have been discovered within the area of over 50 sqaure kilometers.

We arrived at the Terra Cotta Warriors site. The parking lot area is huge. The whole area of the grounds covers 20 hectares. It's all planted with grass, trees and flowers. It is quite a walk to get to the buildings were the Warriors are, they even have multi person golf carts to take you from the parking to the site. We did the pits in the order recommended. Pit 3, 2, then 1. Number 1 is the most impressive and you might be a bit disappointed by the others if you see Pit 1 first.

We thought this was an impressive site, some people have complained they were disappointed with it all. Maybe they don't appreciate what has gone into the excavating of the area. We were told each warrior takes a year to put back together. Everything has been found in hundreds of thousands of pieces. The two prized bronze chariots took 8 years to reconstruct. The exciting thing is this will be a changing museum for years to come. People have already come back several times in the last 20 years. It would be interesting to come back in maybe 5 or even 10 years to see what else has been discovered.

Author: Audreyandjack          Date: July 10, 2008

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