june  2007

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, xi''an and the terracotta warriers
Day 20 through 23

Day 20 through 23 "Longmen Grottoes and Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an"
It was back to Luoyang, stopping at the Longmen Grottoes along the way.  The grottoes were started in 493AD and were continuously built during the next 400 years.  The grottoes run about a mile long and line the two mountains on either side of the Yi River and was known as the Dragons Gate.  There are said to be 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas and over 100,000 Buddhist images at the site.
The actual caves cannot be entered but can be viewed from the stairs and platforms surrounding the openings.
Many of the carvings have been damaged but the site is impressive and the sheer volume of caves and carvings is remarkable.

LuoyangLongmenGrottosStoneCarvedHeavenlyKingsAndBill1.jpg (42718 bytes)            LuoyangLongmenGrottosStoneCarvedHeavenlyKingsAndTerrie1.jpg (41871 bytes)             LuoyangLongmenGrottosStoneCavesAndTerrie1.jpg (58964 bytes)
click on these thumbnails for a larger photo.

You can see many more photos by clicking on the photo tab at the top of the page and finding the link to the rest of our Longmen Grottoes pictures.  On those pages you will find some more close ups of individual carvings.
After several hours we head on to the city of Luoyang for a free evening before our train ride to Xi'an the next day.
  Of note in Luoyang was a nice dinner Bill and I had in a small upstairs restaurant overlooking the street.  We ordered with the help of the phrase book, something with beef, some rice, a vegetable, and beer.  The beef dish turned out to be slices of beef smothered in hot green chilli's.  We had to use the rice to put out some of the fire of the chillis and that was after picking around them in the dish.  We were pretty sure we were massively overcharged as well but it was fun.  Then we picked out some pastries at the bakery, one of which appeared to be a sponge cake flavored with some kind of rotted meat.  It was bad.  Though we did find big bottles of beer for only 2 yuan ( about 30 cents) right down the street.

In the morning we boarded our train for a six hour ride in the 'Hard Seat' class.  This is the cheapest train class and the one most Chinese travelers use.  We appeared to be the only Caucasians in the carriage.  The windows were open, there were fans mounted to the ceiling but they did not work.  We were ready, Bill had his tub of  'just add water' noodles and we had some misc snacks and bottled water.  The scenery was up close as we sped past cities, farms and coal processing plants.  The time went by quickly and before we knew it we were arriving in Xi'an.


We got settled into our hotel rooms and met Puma in the lobby an hour later for a quick tour of Xi'an's Muslim area.  Puma lives close to this town and encouraged us to explore using the bus system.  We found Xi'an to be a pretty nice city, lots to see, very easy to get around with a great tourist friendly bus system.  This is another city I could have stayed in a few more days than we had in the tour.
For our tour that evening Puma introduced us to the bus system, heading toward the City Center where the Bell Tower and Drum Tower flank a large courtyard park.  Next to the Drum Tower is the Muslim quarter where the pedestrian street is full of shops and restaurants and street food.


   In the evening it is a lively place full of people, music and the smells of curry and kabobs.
  At one end of the street is a large market where vendors are selling dried fruit and nuts as well as souvenirs.  On this first evening Puma took us to a small restaurant around the corner from the main pedestrian street and we enjoyed spicy fried bread, kabobs, soups and plates of meat.  We took our time wandering back to the hotel after dinner.  We missed our turn up a street and ended up wandering through an alley full of vendors, a surprise night market full of people buying and selling.


The next morning we found out that the Government building across from our hotel blasts music starting at 6AM and the park in front fills with people practicing their morning Tai Chi.  Its a built in alarm and we had a busy day of sightseeing ahead of us.  We started the day with a breakfast of fried bread purchased from the market in the alley behind the hotel.  Bill had no idea how much it was so held up 2 yuan (about 30 cents) and we got enough bread to feed a family of four!  Way more than we could finish.


Turns out the night market we ran into the night before was set up in the alley next to a rambling fish, meat and produce market.  We wandered through for quite some time watching locals purchasing fish, frogs, eels, turtles, snakes, ducks, lamb, shark fins, vegetables and many things that we could not begin to recognize.  We were the only Caucasians we saw in the market, though for the most part no one paid much attention to us.  For more or bigger pictures click on the photo page tab at the top of the page.


We made our way by bus from the market to the South Entrance of the Wall around the city.  The wall around the center of Xi'an was built in 1378 expanding and replacing the original wall from the 600's.  The wall stands 40 feet tall, 40 feet wide at the top and 60 feet thick at the base.  Originally built as a military defense system, the wall is the largest and one of the few remaining city walls in China.  There are four gates and many towers along the top of the wall.  We rented bicycles at the top near the South Gate and rode the 8 1/2 miles around the wall.  The wall is restored and maintained by the city but the stones along the top are quite rutted and made for a bumpy ride.  Looking down from the wall you could see the park and the moat the city has constructed as well as great views of the city beyond the wall.


After a quick noodle house stop for lunch we were on our way by bus to Jianfu Temple which houses the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, a Museum and adjoining gardens.  The pagoda was built in 707AD and is 142 feet tall.  It was originally built 15 stories tall but earthquakes have destroyed the pinnacle and the top two floors.  We climbed to the top where they have left it open to view the surrounding gardens and beyond.  The floors decrease in height as you climb higher and it gets challenging to squeeze through some of the upper stairways.  The gardens around the temple and pagoda are very nice.  The area has been kept natural and we could imagine it as it must have looked so long ago.  There is also a newer area housing the museum and more modern structured gardens next to the Temple.  We found the older temple grounds more peaceful and satisfying.  On the Temple grounds is the famous bell called "Morning Bell in the Pagoda".  The legend says ringing the bell will bring blessings and ward off calamities so of course Bill paid the five yuan to ring the bell.  It was a small price to pay and we had no more calamities for the rest of our trip!  Click the picture below to see the video.


We decided to go to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda next.  It was a little disappointing to see how the entire area around and including the Big Wild Goose Pagoda had been modernized.  A large square has been built around the pagoda and houses modern statues and lots of concrete.  The pagoda itself is a much simpler design though larger and older, standing 211 feet and seven stories tall.  We chose not to climb to the top of this one.  Beyond the concrete boulevard of the square were gardens with walking paths and trees.  Monks were visible from the nearby temple resting on benches and taking care of some caged birds.  There were a lot of tourists in this area, though mostly Chinese.  The one thing that was very impressive was the massive fountain in the square, the largest in Asia.  Luckily we got there just in time to see a performance of the fountains set to music.


After wandering the grounds awhile and enjoying the fountain show at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda we headed back to the Muslim quarter to see if we could still get in the Great Mosque.    It took winding around the small alleyways of the Muslim quarter, past ornate and colorful doorways, bicycles and motorcycles, always following the sign saying "Great Mosque-This Way".  The Mosque was still open and we still had some daylight.  Unlike a Mosque, this resembled any other Chinese Temple in its layout and architecture.  Wooden gateways, halls of tablets and rooms of ornate carved furniture were all along the central garden.  This was the one place we saw lots of small birds amongst all the small trees in the garden.  It was a lovely peaceful way to end our hectic sight filled day.


After leaving the Mosque we found ourselves in a long alley full of souvenir vendors, an area we would not have seen otherwise.  It was getting dark but we shopped a bit, haggling over some gifts to bring home and a small painted bone box I wanted for myself.  Hungry now we found a kabob restaurant where we were led upstairs and ordered some spicy fried bread, some kabobs and beer.  We sat awhile, wondering why everyone else was getting food (yes, again no Caucasians any where around).  Didn't take long to figure out that when the guy with all the kabobs came upstairs hollering you had to motion him over for your order.  Unfortunately for us we could never understand the Chinese to figure out if that was our order.  Finally the "money guy" in the corner took pity on us and sent someone over with the beef kabobs we ordered and the bread.  It was funny and afterwards we ended up paying the local prices instead of the tourist prices, something like 18 yuan or $2.40 for our whole meal.  We didn't get back to our hotel until after 10pm.  It was a long, busy, exciting day.

The next morning we met Puma and the group in the lobby for our tour of the Terracotta Warriors site.  Its about an hour from town.  We passed the hill which houses the actual tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the Emperor that had the Terracotta Army assembled prior to 210BC.
Click on the picture below for a panoramic view.

Some farmers digging a well in 1974 uncovered the first scraps of what archeologists would later find to be an entire life size army of figures of soldiers, horses and chariots.  Some bronze sculptures were also found and are on display including several weapons and the two large chariots with horses.  They are still finding things nearer the tomb.  Some appear to be a  acrobats, a troupe of clay figures has been uncovered and thought to be entertainers buried to enliven the afterlife of the emperor.


There are still many areas within the 'pits' that are being preserved by being left alone.  This also allows you to see the way the figures were buried within structured hallways made with wooden beams and straw ceilings.  There are areas where the figures are being reconstructed from fragments, where full standing figures are left in place and where others have yet to be uncovered.  There is photo documentation showing the color that was apparent when the Warriors were first discovered.  Now the color has faded and all visible statues are the color of clay and dirt.  Its a remarkable story and an amazing sight.  You can see many more photos by clicking on the photo tab at the top of this page.

We headed back to Xi'an for some free time before boarding our Soft Sleeper Class overnight train to Pingyao.  We had a bite to eat in the Muslim quarter and stopped at a tree filled street side cafe for an afternoon beer and some restful people watching.  A young girl and her friends were nearby and she asked to sit with us and practice her English.  It was very nice to talk to her and hear what her daily life was.  She spent her days mostly on school during the week, leaving at 6AM for the bus and not returning until after 6PM.  Then continuing her studies after she gets home.  She has the weekend to roller-blade in the park or play soccer, her two favorite past times.  She hopes to perfect her English so as to become a diplomat one day.  She is twelve, her English name is Sugar and her English is very good.  Her friends are bored and she needs to get home and we have a train to catch so we say good-bye to both Sugar and Xi'an.