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.
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.
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
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.
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.