Day 42 - Saturday 13th May - Xi'an

The day broke warm and cloudless. We were off to see the Terracotta Warriors. It should also have been a portent that this would be the first time I suffered from Hay Fever on the trip.

The background to the story was that these were discovered in 1974 when a group some villagers were digging a well. Since then significant archaeological work has been done in the excavation of the site and protection of what has been found.

The Warriors were put in place by Qin Shi Huang was Emperor in the 3rd century BC. He was responsible for uniting China – read defeating the armies of all the other independent kingdoms and then trying to bring the place into a unified, cohesive state. By and large he was pretty successful and his reforms were far reaching. But it seems as though he was a tyrant and not well liked by the peasants who were continually being drafted into either the army or onto some construction project.

I am not sure if he was terrified of retribution in death, or he thought that he would continue to rule after death, but he protected his mausoleum with this army of terracotta soldiers. The whole grave site took around 14 years to build and involved around 700,000 workers (the population of China at the time was around 10 million).

The pits containing the army were covered with wooden beams, grass matting and then covered with dirt. Subsequently Qins enemies sacked and burned the place so that the wooden beams collapsed onto the Army crushing most of the hollow terracotta figures. So that when dug up very few were intact and most had to be reassembled from the pieces.

Today there are 5 pits, housed in aircraft hangar sized pavilions. The place is landscaped and capable of handling the masses of tourists who visit. As you will recognise, we were there on a Saturday and the weekends are the busiest time. While westerners were quite visible, the majority of visitors were Chinese tourists.

Pit 1 is the largest. It is said to contain 6000 warriors. But only 2000 have been reassembled from the pieces. The other 4 pits are smaller and contain other relics.

Unfortunately because of the significance of the archaeological find and the crowds, you don’t get to view anything up close. Its sort of like being at Olympic Park to watch the Rugby with 10,000 of your most intimate friends as you jostle for a position to view the spectacle, but not for too long as someone will be waiting to move you out so that they can take their selfie in front of the Warriors.

We also visited Qin’s mausoleum, which is a large tree covered hill. Its said to be untouched as its booby trapped and contains rivers of mercury. Apparently Indiana Jones has not been here yet.

Overall, if this is what someone travelled to China to see, I think that they would come away feeling a little underwhelmed.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped off to hire a bike and ride around the walls of the old city. We sort of got muddled with the distance and thought that the allocated hire of 2 hours would be ample. But in the end managed to return them just in time. We are becoming avid readers of all the terms and conditions for any activity we do as they are most amusing and on many occasions ignored. In this case “Old men over 60 were prohibited from riding the bikes”. Old women over 60 seemed to be excluded from the prohibition. But the operators were ready to take our money without question. Once on the bikes, there was a prohibition on riding the bikes on ramps. There were many up and down around the wall, so as we were prohibited from riding the bikes in the first place, we just ignored this directive and while we struggled up some, we zoomed down all.

The hot dry climate promotes the consumption of cold beer. As the muslim quarter has none we went elsewhere searching for our evenings sustenance. We ended up in a mostly empty, small bar which opened onto the colourfully lit, tree lined street drinking Paulander beer and listing to Jack Johnston sing in the background.

For dinner we ended up in a small dumpling restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. English was absent, but we soon sorted out that the staff were trying to tell us that the 60 dumplings that Loris had ordered was too much for the 2 of us, so we settled on a plate of 20 (the standard plate quantity) and a beer. Total bill AU$5.

We wandered back to the hotel through the wildly lit, bustling streets and off to bed. But not before we stopped off to buy a light weight T shirt at the Under Armour shop. Same price as AUS, but I needed an extra very light top that was quick drying after washing in the hotel shower.