We awoke on the train one at a time. We were scheduled to be in Xi’an a little before 8 but it would be delayed and closer to 9. Which was a bummer. I alternated between reading, staring out the window and texting our tour guide. I had booked our tour after searching Google for tours in Xi’an. This company had a good price for a private tour and promised that there would be no forced stops at jade shops or anything like that. When we finally arrived in Xi’an it was drizzly. There was some confusion about where my dad disappeared to because he was behind me but then he wasn’t. Like a ninja in the night, he snuck past us and blended in with hundreds of people who look nothing like him. Our tour guide, Helen, found him.
She met us at the exit from the station and he had somehow missed the sign and passed her. Once she located him we headed off. We were starving because all we had brought for the ride was chips and water (my dad did the shopping on that one). She asked if we could wait an hour and eat at a good place near the Terracotta Warriors and we all agreed to do that. While we drove she was telling us a lot of the history of the Terracotta Warriors. How it was found and reported by a farmer by the name of Yang Zhifa in 1974. He needed to dig a new well for his crops when he found some pottery pieces. He at first thought he had found a kiln and was thinking he might find some vases but that wasn’t what he found. He found the warriors. The next thing he did was report the find to the authorities, writing himself into history. What I did not know was that there were 3 people who made similar discoveries while digging a well but he was the only one who reported it. The theory is that the other farmers were probably worried they would get in trouble and decided to pretend like they never went looking for water. Those other people missed their chance at history and apparently according to our guide lost a fortune.
Helen also told us about how the soldiers came to be destroyed. Apparently they were bashed, looted for their weapons and set on fire during an uprising against the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. I am unclear if this happened while the emperor was alive or after he died. Either way they did a lot of damage and so every soldier lies in pieces like a super cool jigsaw puzzle. It takes decades to fully restore a warrior and when you see how many they have already completed it is amazing to think of the thousands still left to uncover. Now a little history on the emperor behind the statues. Qin Shi Huangdi literally means first emperor of China and this was a name he gave himself. He unified 6 warring states and created a unified law, tax system and coinage. He is also the person who got the Great Wall started as he ordered the various defensive walls be united. Then he started working on his tomb and the Terracotta Warriors were made to be his army in the afterlife. So the warriors are near the Emperor’s tomb and are actually part of the mausoleum. Legend has it that he had the people making the warriors and the mausoleum killed in order to bury the secret of its location. Another legend is he used mercury in his tomb to simulate the rivers of China and also to kill would be grave robbers. The rumor and the killings of the people who worked on the place seemed to have done the job because his tomb has still not been open. It has been tested for mercury and it seems that all tests confirm that there is a high level of mercury in that area. His tomb will stay unexplored and his secrets will remain hidden for now. Helen, our tour guide, told us quite a lot on the ride to the warriors but my fellow travelers began to get sleepy and she discontinued her stories until we were at the monument but before that we had to eat.
The place we went to eat was in a tea shop on the second floor. It probably was a stop for tourists to buy overpriced tea but she led us up helped us order and then after we ate led us out. We were not required to listen to a spiel or get walked through lots and lots of tea. The food was really pretty good. We ordered a beef dish and noodles to share with a pot of tea. It was very good but I do not seem to have pictures of this meal and my recollection of it are hazy. I enjoyed it though. To be fair my recollection is hazy because right after we headed to the Terracotta warriors and they were simply amazing.
It was a short walk to the entrance of the museum. I had decided to just where my hat and jacket instead of getting my rain coat out. I am not entirely sure why but I do know that it had something to do with the fact that it was buried somewhere in my large backpack. It was a silly decision but my jacket dries fast and the hat kept the rain off my head. Helen took us to the largest excavation pit first. I was amazed the minute I saw the warriors set up and ready to march. There are over a 1000 assembled and ready to greet you. The estimate is that this pit has 6,000 soldiers in total. The warriors reportedly are all unique according to the teams of people putting them together. As far as they have seen no two soldier is exactly alike. The faces are all different and the hairstyles, armor, and shoes all are unique. The level of detail is amazing and we would see that very clearly in our last stop in the museum. When the warriors were made they were also painted and from the pictures I saw of newly excavated soldiers the flesh color was pretty lifelike. The paint is delicate and exposure to the air has made it slowly fade and disappear. This means that most of the warriors are still under the dirt because the scientists are hoping to find a way to preserve the color in the future. I looked through my zoom lens at the warriors and saw a lot of different looking soldiers out there. I took quite a lot of pictures but because we couldn’t use flash in there a lot of them were shaky. I need a tripod to avoid this in the future.
Toward the back of the large room was what they called the hospital. You could see all sorts of warriors and horses in various states of repair. A lot of the time this area is busy with hard-working teams of people laboriously trying to put the figures back together but it wasn’t when we visited. This was a blessing because it meant we could take pictures of the works in progress. If they had been there they do not allow you to use a camera while they work.
The next stop was the third pit and it is unusual because the soldiers were not left standing in a line. In fact, they faced each other. The first part you see looks something like a cross. From my reading I have come to understand that this was supposed to be a command center for the army.
The second pit has the Calvary as well as archers and chariots. The archers are arranged in a couple of rows of kneeling archers and then a few rows of standing archers. Te second pit also had some examples of warriors encased in glass. This was where we got to get up close and personal. We saw wrinkles on the forehead, the tread on their shoes and all the other amazing detail. The last picture in the set below was a fancy miniature carriage, that was still probably 3 to 4 feet tall, that was found closer to the Emperor’s tomb.
After we went through the Terracotta Warriors museum we headed through vendors towards the van. Along the way Vince got a book that I should have bought as well. It had photos of the warriors and all the other things they had found and they were often soon after they were uncovered with the paint still covering them. I was being weirdly cheap at that moment but in hindsight I would have liked to have the book. Vince also got a Terracotta Warrior from a vendor on the way out. I was and still am not super interested in a miniature statue. I am not entirely sure why but I think it has something to do with the real thing being so much cooler than the tiny statue. His was a pretty nice quality soldier statue and he did a bang up job bargaining for it.
After we were done with the shopping we headed back to Xi’an. A quick stop was made at an ATM and then we entered the City Wall. A lot of the towns had city walls in the past because the tribes went to war often. A wall is a line of defense against invaders (definitely not a full proof one, right Genghis Khan?) but as the people stopped fighting as often the walls were no longer necessary. It was pretty old by then and had been maintained as well as possible over the centuries but nothing was being done in the 20th century. In fact, most city walls were demolished in the 1950’s, an interesting time period in Chinese history. Apparently a historian helped rally people behind saving this wall and I am pretty glad he did.
According to our guide the people in the surrounding area had a habit of taking bricks from the wall when they needed them. So when they decided to restore the wall in 1983 they found a lot of bricks missing. So they hatched a plan to get them out of the gardens and back at the wall. They let people know that if they had a brick that they had in essence been loaned that brick by the government. They could choose to continue using that brick in exchange for an extremely high annual fee. Most of the bricks found their way back to the wall. Of course if you are on the wall you see several bricks have the year carved in them and quite a few say 1983. After Helen told us about the wall she gave us time to explore. One option for tourists is to rent a bike and ride around the wall. It is a 4 to 5 hour walk to cover the distance (it’s a big rectangular thing) but can be done in less than half that time if you bike it. We were hungry again so none of us wanted to bike the wall instead we walked down to the corner, taking pictures along the way. On the inside is the inner city of Xi’an and on the outside you have a moat as well as a city park that people spend time in.
After we walked the wall we headed to the Muslim Quarter. If you are in Xi’an you have to come here, the food was awesome. We had lamb on a stick, spicy soft shell crab on a stick, fresh pomegranate juice, small fried potatoes, sweet rice on a stick, and it was just a lively street. I wanted to keep eating but our tour was over.
We headed back to the hostel and enjoyed a beer and posted online a little. The hostel had a great common area and a bar with a restaurant as well. The rooms were great and were about 5 bucks per night. From the hostel balcony we could see the City Wall. I would stay at Xi’an Traveling With hostel in Xi’an again. After we recouped a little we decided to go out for dinner. My dad had his heart set on trying something the tour guide recommended, dumpling banquet. It was like 17 different types of dumplings. This was where my dad and I went and Vince went back to the Muslim Quarter. I would go to the Muslim Quarter in the future. Anyway the stay in Xi’an had been a good one but we were heading to Hong Kong in the morning. If I was to do this over I would stay two days in Xi’an. I like the town.