We arrived at our hostel first thing in the morning and immediately booked ourselves onto the terracotta army tour for that day. We quickly showered and had breakfast, then set off in the tour bus with several other people, of many nationalities. Our guide was called JaJa, she was quite young and hilarious. The first thing she did was get everyone to introduce themselves – at the end of the introduction she would come up with a comic quip at the end about the country. Ours was, ‘English men handsome, English girls, pretty’ – so that was nice! She told us about the emperor who built the terracotta army, Qin Shi Huang. He was the first one really as he unified China and also built the great wall. We met a lovely Irish/Scottish couple on the bus who were about the same age as us, and we made a plan to go and see a light and music fountain show with them that evening.
Once off the bus, we had to wander through a line of stalls selling mini terracotta warriors and other souvenirs. There were also a disturbing number of cat furs, which made me feel a bit weird. Up until this point I had only seen cats as pets or possibly as well-fed strays, so it was a bit of a shock to see rows of furs strung up like this.
The terracotta warriors were very impressive. The whole idea of it was totally crazy, and an awful lot of people died to fulfil the emperor’s wishes. The emperor’s tomb was under a manmade hill short distance from the warrior site. It hasn’t been excavated yet, but there are plans to do so in the future. There are stories of rivers of mercury and all sorts, so when it is opened up, it sounds like it is going to be pretty mad. Work on the terracotta warriors was started before his death; they made thousands of them to provide him with an army in the afterlife. When he died, they hastily filled in the pits and buried the army, along with all the workers. How horrible is that?! They think they always knew that was what was going to happen, and perhaps that is why the soldiers nearly all look a bit sad or stern. Apparently, there is one happy face, but we didn’t manage to spot him.
We built up to the grand finale, starting with the smallest pits first, and ending with the biggest, where rank upon rank of terracotta men were lined up. It really is quite a spectacle. When they were first made, they were all brightly painted, but with time, this has faded, and now they are more of a grey colour. It is fascinating to see an archaeological dig in action, as you can see partly dug up soldiers and horses and also areas where they are doing the painstaking job of reconstructing them. It is going to be many more years before they have finished excavating. Our trip finished with a film that illustrated a bit of the history. I really liked it, was surround footage so you felt you were right in the centre of action; a bit dated but great.
The terracotta warriors were discovered in 1974 by a group of peasants who were digging a well. The man who found the the first warrior was sitting in the foyer signing autographs! He is now very old and he looked really bored! Apparently he went from peasant to national celebrity, and has met all sorts of rich and famous types. We were then taken for dinner at a restaurant nearby – there were 15 dishes for us to try; it was a great spread for the price (about £3 a head).
We got the minibus to drop us at the city walls so we could hire a tandem and cycle the wall together. The walls were punctuated by watchtowers and defense towers as in Pingyao, but they were much wider and quite bumpy in places, which you notice on a bike with no suspension! Luke was in the front and I found it a bit scary not being in control, especially when he went close to the edge of the wall or went all swervy and swoopy on purpose! Xi’an is huge, so the city walls only enclose the old town – there is a vast expanse of city outside of them too. From the walls we had a pretty good view of the town, but unfortunately there was the usual thin veil of smog.
That night we met up with the English couple and headed to the Wild Goose Pagoda area for the light and music fountain show. It is the biggest fountain show in Asia; it happens every night and is free. It is scores quite highly for cheesiness, and you can’t help but smile as the fountains shoot up and dance in time to the classical and pop music, lit by colourful lights.
The next day, we faffed around a lot and posted our first batch of Christmas presents! Fingers crossed they get there! By the time we had accomplished that feat, we had no time for anything other than getting to station for our train. We took a high speed train to Luoyang, then trekked across town by bus. Having rejected offers of taxi rides, we felt very pleased with ourselves when we arrived at our hostel, which was in a fun area, with loads of little cafés and street food stalls with tables out on the pavement.. Opposite the hostel there was a park where we could see scores of people doing line dancing to music pumped out of stereos. We ate at one of the little cafés, a buffet diner type place that was packed, but then got worried when we found out our dinner was cold! We didn’t get food poisoning though, so all was well!