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Check out Xi'an

belltowerA flight from Beijing - and we had landed, along with the wet weather, in Xi'an. There wasn't much to look at. The approaching city seemed like a sprawl...A long days travel to see more grey China I thought, but once we reached the centre of Xi'an I had perked up. Even from the bus windows this place had charm. If only we could get off the bus to enjoy it. (The down side of a tour is the lack of aimless wandering.) There seemed to be plenty of street life despite the rain that stained the windows. And how beautiful was the traditional Chinese architecture of the Bell Tower, and other historic buildings surrounding it, all lit up like Christmas trees and gleaming in the dark.


We went straight to have a dumpling dinner - dim sum in the shape of their contents. Fish, frog, pig... It was really tasty. Then we took a seat to watch the Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show where girls threw out long sleeves to float through the air impressively and men twanged at instruments I had never seen or heard before.



Next day we were to see the world renowned Terracotta Army, alongside an enormous crowd of others of course. In China you can never be alone! But on the way we stopped to see one of the oldest structures in China - Big Goose Pagoda - an impressive 5 storey building at the end of a walkway of statues. What great pictures could be taken on a clear day - but not on our day! There was a bit of excitement however at discovering that Stephen Spielberg was taking a coffee in Starbucks there at the time.

Once we reached the excavation site we took the garden stroll, under umbrellas, to reach the vast exhibition hall and pushed our way to the front. Pushing is allowed in China. It's the only way forward - haha! Then Wow there before us, a football pitch sized site of figures - soldiers - the size of real men, with individual features, some horses and gaps where there once were wooden chariots. Hundreds of them recreated by patient workers diligently putting the pieces together. The largest and most complicated puzzle you'll ever see.

Some areas have been left for clearing in the future, allowing further discovery for the next generation. Apparently the figures were brightly painted but within seconds of being exposed to the air the colours go. They are now working on techniques to preserve the colours. At the back of the hall there are more figures - still a bit disfigured - a work in progress. The intricate task to expose this amazing army is unfathomably time-consuming and problematic. There are 3 'pits' to visit but Pit 1 is the one that will blow your mind.


A farmer was digging a well back in 1974 when he came across the first figure which lead to the others. The thing that amazed me about this is that the well was being dug at the very edge of the site. If he had began his task a few feet away the terracotta army may still be buried today. How many other wonders are there out there still to be discovered?

The Terracotta Army was built as a funerary art form to be buried with the first Emperor of China - Qin Shi Huang - back in 210-209 BCE. This guy also built the first parts of The Great Wall. But he must have been very nervous about going on to the afterlife alone. There are an estimated 8,000 soldiers, 770 horses and 130 chariots with other non military figures found nearby, all created to accompany him. The whole site covers an area of 35 square miles.

While in the area of Xi'an you could get to Mt Huashan 75 miles away. A good opportunity to hike steep and narrow paths to 5 peaks and visit Taoist temples. It is possible to reach this scenic area by bus or train from Xi'an.

Much as Beijing and Shanghai each have their own important experiences to share, I couldn't help thinking that if you had to pick one city to fly in and out of, my choice would be here. Xi'an has a bit of everything - an interesting city centre, the mountains and the important historic site. Seeing all the major sites in China in one go, as we were attempting on a 2 week tour, is a major task - and you loose something along the way. Perhaps its better to pick one city/area and get to know the place and some people there.