Silk Road (China) – Xi’an

Xi’an, or used to be known as Chang’an, is the capital city of Shaanxi Province. The city marks the eastern end of the “Silk Road” and also famous for its Terracotta Army. This is where we will end our 3 weeks long journey in Northwest China.

After another long train ride (about 28 hours journey, and thank god on hard sleepers), we arrived at Xi’an Railway Station. Our first mission was to look for a nice and warm place to sleep in. The location that we chose was in the middle of the city, where mostly everything is within walking distance; the local attractions, transportation and eateries. During our time in Xi’an, we decided to stay in the 8-person dormitory of Bell Tower Youth Hostel.

We spent our first night in Xi’an by roaming the famous Muslim Quarter looking for something to eat. It was like heaven for food lovers. There were various local dishes and street foods offered, but we decided to have a light dinner as it was already late. But, we had a hearty meal on the second night, thanks to Dexun and his local girlfriend who introduced us to the most famous dishes in Xi’an that everybody should try, which are roujiamo (marinated beef/lamb stuffed in a freshly baked bun) and yangrou paomo (Uyghur dish of pita bread soaked in lamb soup). Dexun is a Singaporean whom we met on the bus from Hua Shan to Xi’an City. He came to Xi’an to meet his future in-laws and took the opportunity to enjoy the local attractions. His girlfriend (I totally forgot her name, sorry) is a very beautiful and friendly girl. We had a great time with them, and we wished them good luck for their future.

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Roujiamo and yangrou paomo for dinner

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Other than Terracotta Army, people flock to Xi’an to visit Hua Shan, one of the “5 Great Mountains in China”. It is also known as “the Number One Precipitous Mountain under Heaven”, and offers the world’s most dangerous hiking trail for adventurous and daring visitors. It is about 120km east of Xi’an, located near Huayin City. We went there on the second day as the weather forecast showed that it was bright and sunny although it was gloomy in Xi’an. We planned to stay overnight at the top of the mountain to watch both sunset and sunrise, so we packed light and left our big backpacks at the hostel in Xi’an.

There are 2 options to get to Hua Shan, either by bus or train. Since we had enough train rides for the last 3 weeks, we took a bus to Hua Shan. The buses actually don’t have any schedule. It departs once it’s full with passengers. The journey from Xi’an to the Hua Shan entrance gate took about almost 2 hours. When we reached there, it was so foggy, nothing like what the weather forecast told us.

To get to the top, you can either climb up the steep stairs or take the cable car. Both have pros and cons. It’s way cheaper to climb but it will take a very long time to reach the top. And by the time you reach the top, you won’t have much energy left to enjoy the view. Plus, the stairs are too steep, no kidding! (p/s: you need to be super fit to climb the stairs. It has about more than 6,000 steps all the way from the bottom to the top). Since I was in my ‘most fit condition’, I took the cable car instead. Hahahahaha!!! With cable car, I reached the West Peak in less than half an hour. But it’s way too expensive. I’ve spent CNY520 that includes entrance fee, bus and cable car to get me to the top of Hua Shan and return in a day.

At first, we were kind of disappointed with the weather. It was so gloomy that we thought we have wasted our time and money for view that we couldn’t enjoy. Even when we rode the cable car, we couldn’t see anything except the fog that enveloping us for about 20 minutes ride. But when we were almost reaching the West Peak, we saw a ray of sunlight approaching us, and later, a spectacular and unforgettable view came upon us. It was like out of this world with sea of white clouds below us and mountain peaks waiting for us to land on them. We were so surprised that screaming in delight was the only way for us to express our excitement. Luckily we were the only one in the car. Even when we finally got off from the car, we’re still in awe.

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It was so foggy at the bottom of Hua Shan

On top of Hua Shan, there are 5 peaks that offer different views . You can enjoy a beautiful sunrise at East Peak and sunset at West Peak, climb to the highest spot at South Peak, and enjoy spectacular views from different angles at both North and Middle Peaks. Even though we didn’t use much energy to get to the top, still we were only able to reach both West and South Peaks. There’s an accommodation available at West Peak above the temple. The price was reasonable enough and its condition was acceptable, except there’s no water in the toilet. It didn’t take long for us to decide not to stay overnight there.

We spent the bright and sunny afternoon enjoying the splendid view. We were among the lucky ones, as I heard that it was so foggy and snowing the day before. Numbers of visitors also lesser than usual, making it safer for us to climb. Also, less chances for our photos to get photobombed. The only thing that I didn’t dare to try was the famous plank walk. Although you’ll be provided with body harness, I have this preconceived idea that it is not at its best condition and my safety will be at risk. Nevertheless, I had a really good time.

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View from South Peak
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Me enjoying the view

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We went to visit the Terracotta Army Museum on the next day. It is about 45km from Xi’an and 1 hour journey by bus. Dexun had warned us before that it might bored us as there’s only statues and more statues to look at. We took his warning by keeping our excitement to the lowest level. When we arrived at the location, the place has already been swamped by thousands of visitors. Hundreds  of local tourist guides were ready to approach us at the entrance gate. Sadly, they didn’t speak English and we had to turn down their offer. (Dexun told us that we don’t really need a guide as everything’s explained in dual language, both Mandarin and English).

Terracotta Army was one of the most significant archaeological excavation of the 20th century and has been listed by UNESCO in 1987 as one of the world cultural heritage. The finding has made Xi’an known to people all over the world. Millions of people visited the museum in a year. I saw on one of the information boards at the museum stated that they received a whopping record of about 500,000 visitors within a week during China’s National Day in 2015. Wow! I feel like every corner of the place was packed with people. I am not the person who enjoy very much being in a crowded place, let alone hundreds of thousands of people. I think I might go crazy.

There are 3 pits (Pit 1, Pit 2 and Pit 3) and an exhibition room within the museum. As suggested by Dexun, we visited the exhibition room or known as Bronze Chariot Exhibition Room first so that we could get the “behind-the-story” before looking at the statues. Then, we proceeded to Pit 1 (the largest one) where thousands of re-built terracotta statues were impressively displayed. As we went along the pit area, we could see that there are hundreds and hundreds of broken statues that are yet to be re-built. Researchers believed that there are thousands of statues that yet to be discovered and excavated. In the pit, we saw excavation tools laying around but unfortunately, no workers were to be seen that day. Maybe it was their off day.

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View in Pit 1
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View in Pit 1

We completed our tour in the museum including a visit to the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, which is located a few kilometers away, within a day. We went back to the city and continue to roam the Muslim Quarters and had our dinner there.

We spent our last day in Xi’an by going around the Ancient City Wall that surrounds the Old City in a square. To enjoy the view, we rented bicycles for 2 hours. I thought it was a good idea at first until I realized that it wasn’t. It was quite difficult for me, who live my whole life and so used to the tropical climate, to ride in a freezing weather and strong wind. We couldn’t finish circling around the wall since the time was up. But, it was a good way to view the city from another perspective, plus we had a good morning exercise.

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Visitors cycling on the Ancient City Wall
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View from top of the wall
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Enjoying the city view

We then walked back to the Muslim Quarters to do some last minute souvenir shopping. We also took our time to visit the Xi’an Great Mosque, which was located next to the Muslim Quarters. The mosque is architecturally ancient and represents many periods of time as additions were made during other dynasties. It combines both traditional Chinese architecture and Islamic art. It was first constructed during the Tang Dynasty in 740 with the intention to honor the founders of Islam in China. Islam first came to China during Tang Dynasty through the Muslim merchants. They traveled through the “Silk Road” and later settled in China and married the Han Chinese. Today, the mosque has become one of the most important Islamic places of worship in China.

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Entrance towards Xi’an Great Mosque praying hall
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Inside Xi’an Great Mosque praying hall

Our visit to the Great Mosque marked the end of our trip in Xi’an and we had to fly back to reality after spending 3 weeks long for the overland trip in Northwest China. Nevertheless, it was a great and unforgettable experience that will be remembered forever. I’ve learned a lot through this trip especially about myself. Some people say that you’ll become a different person once you travel, and to me it is so true. As Mary Anne Radmacher said, “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world”.

THE END.

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