The main attraction of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is the Museum of the Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses located near the mausoleum of first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. This life-size army protects him in his afterlife. Only between 1,000 and 2,000 of the 6,000 to 8,000 warriors excavated so far are on display. Each one has individual facial features.
I spent a couple of days in Xi’an once before on business and visited this amazing archaeological site, but since Susanna had not been to Xi’an and Natural Habitat offered a two-night Xi’an extension, we decided to squeeze it in between our Sichuan photo adventure and our Beijing tour. The warrior museum is a World Heritage Site and is worth a detour, and there would be other historical and cultural sites in Xi’an old town that we could sample.
We and another couple from the photo tour were met at the Xi’an airport by David, a very jovial local guide contracted by Natural Habitat, and a Natural Habitat guide, Alvin. After lunch at the airport…actually quite a good lunch…we head for the city. The city was hazy…not disastrously so…but enough to appreciate the smog problem China’s coal-fired power plants and cars cause in major cities. (Click on thumbnail image for full resolution. The images are by both of us, and the photographer is identified in the image.)
David and Alvin dropped us off at our hotel, the Westin Xi’an, after quite a squeezed ride from the airport. Their tour van was too small for all of us and our luggage to fit comfortably, and we four had to hold carry-on items on our lap and squeeze everyone into tight sitting quarters, including the driver, David and Alvin.
The Westin is quite upscale and comfortable, but it’s located about a mile from the old city and its walls, so it would not be convenient for touring it by foot on your own. However, it is near the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the Botanical Garden, the History Museum and Furong Lake, none of which we had the time to visit.
After a restful night, we set out for the Terracotta Warriors early morning to beat the crowds. The overnight rain cleaned out the smog, and the day was quite nice. Because we were a small private tour group, we were able to be dropped off near the ticket booth, avoiding the 10-minute walk from the bus zone through the street of souvenir hawkers. Once inside, we visited the three archaeological “pits” that are open to the public as well as the museum store.
The first pit, an enormous excavation site larger than a football field, is estimated to contain over 6,000 warriors and horses. It’s considered the main army. Pit 2 is smaller, but contains archers, chariots and cavalry, while the even smaller pit 3 is comprised of officers and soldiers, and is thought to be a command post.
In the museum store, the farmer who accidentally discovered the site while digging a well held court. He smiled and for 20 Yuan, you could take a picture with him, or if you bought the museum book, he would “sign” it for another 20 Yuan. We bought the book, not the photo.
In the afternoon we visited the ancient city wall, built in the Ming dynasty, where we watched locals bicycle along it and a wedding couple have their picture taken at one of the elegant structures on the wall. A nice day outing for them. I was surprised that the “wall” was like a small raised highway, with crenelated walls for defense. It is 40 to 46 feet wide and 8.5 miles around, surrounded by a deep moat.
Our next stop was at the Muslim market. It is a large market selling everything from street food to groceries to Asian art to cheap tee-shirts and souvenirs.
Even a bookstore. Walking through it enabled us to get feel for the Chinese Muslim culture.
The market led us to the Great Mosque of Xi’an, a large complex of courtyards, gardens, prayer halls (off limits to non-Muslims) and towers. It has served the Xi’an Muslim community for more than 1000 years. It’s worth a visit, if you are in Xi’an.
Our final destination for the day was the Drum Tower, located next to the mosque. From it you could view the old city and its surroundings. One beautiful view was of the Bell Tower, separated from the Drum Tower by a plaza that was decorated for the upcoming May Day celebrations.
Before returning to our hotel, the four of us (Susanna and me and our two companions from the photo tour ) were treated to an extremely interesting and excellent meal consisting of around 18 courses…tastes, really…at a dumpling restaurant located between the Bell and Drum Towers. From there we wearily returned to the Westin to rest up for our flight to Beijing in the morning.
If you go to China, Xi’an is worth a visit, one longer than ours. There are many historic sites and parks in the old city and in newer areas outside the wall that could occupy several days. Although a large city, it has the feel of a relaxed China.