Bloggers: Fiona& Glenn
Located in the Northwest of China, our next stop was the ancient capital of Xi’an (formerly Chang’an). An ancient walled city it is internationally known for the Terracotta Warriors.
The Terracotta Warriors depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first Emperor. This funerary art was buried with the Emperor in 210 BC and is estimated to contain 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 700 horses. Claimed to be the 8th wonder of the world, over 700,000 people were involved in making his tomb and constructing and burying these figures in purpose built covered pits. Two to three hours can easily be spent checking out the pits but as with everywhere in China there’s no shortage of traders hassling you with cheap replicas. Certainly worth a visit, if only to marvel at how one man can bankrupt a country building his tomb!
Just a stone’s throw from the Terracotta Warriors is the Huaqing Hot Springs in the foothills of Li Mountain. Once the site of famous imperial bathing pools, today you can still see the Nine Dragon Pool, Lotus Flower Pool and Frost Drifting Hall which were rebuilt in 1959 in Tang dynasty style. The Huaqing Hot Springs are an amazing opportunity to witness the imperial lifestyles and customs away from the crowds. This site is certainly off the beaten track, you’ll be hard pressed to meet any other foreign visitors. But don’t let that deter you, its beauty and tranquility will make it a memorable stop.
If you’re feeling more energetic Xi’an City walls are a must. With a length of 13.74 kilometres, they are one of the world’s largest intact ancient defense systems. With 18 gates, 98 ramparts and a deep moat it is an imposing construction. From the top of the wall you have a perfect view of the contrasting images of Xi’an; high rise apartment blocks and coal burning stations outside the walls, ancient towers and narrow alleyways inside. Tourists can access the walls from the South Gate, where you can also hire bicycles. It’s well worth a walk or cycle along the top, safely removed from all cars. Just be warned, the cobblestone is a bit bumpy!
In Chinese history since the Ming Dynasty, each city had a bell tower and a drum tower. The bell was sounded at dawn and the drum at dusk each day in ancient time, a means of telling time. The two are located in the center of Xi’an providing panoramic views of the city and the Muslim Quarter. The Drum tower marks the entrance to the city’s Muslim Quarter which is a must see upon visiting Xi’an. With everything from pig feet and duck necks to fluorescent candy floss cooked up in front of you, the Muslim Quarter is a feast for the senses. But don’t be fooled, there’s much more to the Muslims Quarter than fantastic food, make the most of the opportunity to pick up lots of trinkets in a buzzing yet laid back environment.
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda, after the Terracotta Warriors is Xi’an’s best known attraction. Just situated a short trip on the subway from the Bell Tower, the Buddhist pagoda was used to store Buddhist artifacts brought from India. Standing 64 metres high and leaning slightly to the west it provides a beautiful view over Xi’an (smog permitting!!). The surrounding gardens are stunning, which if you have the time, can be enjoyed from the elevated monorail.
The highlight of our stay in Xi’an was a day trip to Hua Shan. It is one of five sacred mountains in Chinese Taoism and perfectly embraces the mysticism of ancient China. Hermits and immortals from Taoist legend climbed the sheer cliffs in search of seclusion to protect and perfect their inner beings in the high altitude air, 2160 metres up. Dating back to the 2nd century, it is believed to be home of the god of the underworld. Thankfully there is now a cable car up, but with over 4 hours of hiking once you reach the first of five peaks; this is definitely a challenge for the more adventurous. Just imagine a Chinese version of Skellig Michael, and multiply it by a thousand! Whilst the smog may have taken away some of the view nothing could take away from the experience. This trip was certainly off the beaten track with very little information available online or in the guidebooks. However just one hour away by high speed train its certainly worth the effort, rating as possible the best day from our 3 weeks in China.
Xi’an was one of those cities that we didn’t expect much but thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The Han Tang Inn Hostel for the duration of our stay was exceptional, with an onsite restaurant, organized tours and incredible staff. All in all, Xi’an exceeded all expectations.