Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Terracotta Army and Hua Shan

We persuaded Ravi to fly from Shanghai and meet us in Xi’an for the weekend, which gave us a couple more days of quality time with him and extended our ability to get by in China without having to put our limited Mandarin vocabulary to use.

Xi'an was an ancient Chinese capital at the end of the Silk Road. Today people go to Xi’an to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors, one of the most famous archeological finds in the world. It’s a life-size army of thousands of terracotta soldiers and horses in battle formation that was created to “guard” the tomb of the emperor who first unified China, Qin Shi Huang, more than 2,000 years ago. The Army was discovered in 1974 when peasants drilling a well uncovered one of the underground vaults.

No two soldiers’ faces are alike and the level of detail is extraordinary, but frankly we were a little bit disappointed by the Terracotta Army. Most of the warriors are still buried and there are signs showing where they are located underground, but it felt like we were looking at three large excavation sites prior to 80% of the excavation. And you can't get that close to the soldiers that have been dug up. Anyway, we stared at the motionless ranks of warriors for a couple hours and went on our way.

That evening we hit the Muslim Quarter for some fine dining. The backstreets were colorful and lively and the narrow lanes full of sweet-smelling stalls. We must have tried every type of Islamic food in the market…chili-rubbed mutton kebabs, fried beef in pita break with green peppers and cumin, peanut cakes on a stick…absolutely delicious!

The next day we took a day trip to climb Hua Shan, one of Taoism’s five sacred mountains. Granite domes, narrow ridges, and sheer cliffs. Ascending the mountain took us above the gray smog in Xi’an and allowed us to soak up some sun (you can see the gray smog-line stretching across the horizon in some of our photos). After the climb we had to race back to Xi’an and got to the airport just in time to check in for our next flight.

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