Xi’an Day Tour

3rd September 2017

The Silk Routes - Obvs!So our Silk Road Tour begins and, fittingly, today we visit the Shaanxi History Museum to learn about this epic road from China to Turkey, which is actually a number of different trade routes. Over the next two weeks, we are going overland all the way to Kashgar, which is almost on the Western China border with Kyrgyzstan. The direct route is some 2,300 miles which would take about 36 hours to drive nonstop, so a lot of distance to cover and we have three overnight trains to look forward to (not!).

Shrunken Pagoda pointed to by DaveChinese tourism is on the increase and staycations are booming, so we plan to visit the museum at lunch time when it will allegedly be quieter. That gives us time to visit the Big Goose Pagoda first. It is a square building, in the Tang style dating back to 652AD and built to house Buddhist Sutras of Xuan Zang bought from India. It is surrounded by the Da Cien Temple with many altars and other buildings as well as a cemetery within its walls (I was listening to our guide and some of the many facts did register!).

Important animal figuresThe pagoda was ten storeys high but it was damaged in an earthquake in 1556, when it was reduced by three storeys to its current height of seven. Given the grey day we still decided not to climb to the top. Our attention was also drawn to all the animal figures on the roofs – the more there are, the more important the building. This building looks important to me.

Golden StatuesWMonks at prayere were given time to wander around and found ourselves drawn towards singing and chanting. The monks were all gathered in one of the open sided halls and us tourists were able to stand a while and soak in the atmosphere. All the monks at prayer was too tempting for us to resist taking a photo, along with all the other cameras, phones and iPads pointing their way.

Just a few of the statuesA stroll down roads adjacent to the temple took us past a series of sculptures depicting famous historical people and also daily life, and again we were photographed as much as the statues were! This is something that we never really get used to or understand.

Rowan Atkinson??The museum comprised of typical displays of artefacts from throughout history with one large Hall covering the Silk Road. Most of the descriptions are in English as well as Chinese so we were able to follow and understand what we were seeing. If this was a quieter time, I dread to think what a busy time would be like. There were three main halls all stuffed full of facts and figures and we soon had brain overload so we’re glad to move on. I am sure one of the figurines on show was modelled on Rowan Atkinson!

West GateThe afternoon visit to the West Gate and a walk along the city wall was more our scene. The centre of Xian is surrounded by a city wall forming a square shape, with four main gates north, south, east and west. The wall was originally built of mud in 1370 to 1373AD but has been “restored” many times over the years (rebuilt more like!). Outside the wall is a moat which originally was secured by a drawbridge and a Portcullis Tower.

View along the wallThere was also an Archery Tower and a Gate Tower as well as an inner courtyard. It was interesting to learn about all the difference defences to stop the enemy getting in. Now it was only used to let the tourists in and out! The plaque does state that as an intact rigorous military defence system the city wall is the oldest, best preserved and grandest wall in the world (I expect other views are available). Each corner of the wall has a lookout tower and views along the length of the wall. It is good to get out and stretch our legs as we feel a bit cooped up from being in the minibus and in the museum.

Bleak conditions on the city wallWe have already seen the South and North Gates but today we get to enter one of the gates and climb up onto the top of the wall. The top of the wall is wide enough for three lanes, walking, cycling and emergency vehicles and it is about 14km to walk the whole way round.

Lama Temple from the wallWe decide to only walk one side and head to the north west corner to look down on the Lama Temple which we had visited the previous day. This route also looks down along the road our hotel is on so we can spot familiar places en-route. Shame we could not exit onto our hotel road as we would have saved about an hour retracing our steps and sitting in the city traffic.

Not quite so yummy sweet sticksOne advantage of staying in town is that there are many restaurants within walking distance and Laura has found one in the Muslim quarter, ten minutes walk from our hotel. We watch our kebabs being cooked and enjoy them with some freshly cooked bread. There are many food stalls lining the streets so we head off in search of pudding. Firstly we try some semolina concoction on a stick, which looks better than it tastes. The ice cream made before our eyes was a better option and tasted better than it looked.

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