Published: February 1st 2010January 25th 2010
Train to Datong
Nice roomy top bunks
To start with, thanks everyone who's been encouraging me to write this blog. Theres a good chance I would have given up and stuck with my journal if not for your kind words. ^_^
This entry sums up my time in the Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. And yes they are two different provinces right next to each other, just in case Chinese isn't confusing enough.
Once back in Beijing, we decided to make Xi'an our next stop, but since its getting close to New Years the trains were all full. So the new plan ended up being a better one anyway. We booked a 7hour sleeper train to Datong and for the following evening a 16hour sleeper to Xi'an. This not only gave us 12hours in Datong to see the nearby sights but also ended up being cheaper than 1 train straight to Xi'an. On top of that, it sorted out 2 nights accomodation instead of 1. Plan B never looked so good.
So after a compressed nights sleep we arrived in Datong. Datong was incredibly cold, mainly due to high windspeeds. Its China's biggest coal producer and so is full of lorries and has a pretty impressive
set of tracks leaving it in all directions. However we only met one person who could speak English, didn't see a single foriegner and nowhere has English writing explaining the mysterious contents of all the buildings.
Luckily that one english speaker invited us into his office. Which at 6.30am in freezing temperatures, was an offer not to be refused even though it would likely result in being bombarded with offers to loosen our wallets. It just so turned out he offered us a pretty good deal for hiring a driver to go see the Yungang Grottoes and the hanging temple 100km south.
So off we went weaving past overloaded lorries and across dirt road shortcuts, taking the time to try and unfreeze our toes. The Yungang Grottoes was the first stop, which was kept relatively brief because of the winds. It comprises of 20 caves cut into the rock by Buddist monks around 460AD. Each cave has an impressive statue of Buddha carved inside. a couple were 18M tall! And one apparantly has 2000 little Buddhas carved in the walls. I decided to take their word for it.
So back in car after waking the driver with
turns out a grottoe is just a pretty cave
a start. After a brief drive (for China) we pulled up in a big valley. The temple looks like it was slapped into the middle of the cliff, with long beams pertruding from its base, down into the rocks below. You can't help but stare in awe at the precarious looking structure. So we bought our tickets, deciding against the additional insurance, at the end off the day, if it collapses or you fall off, theirs no way you'll live to fill in a claim. Climbing the stairs to reach it, we noticed both the delicate detail to the structure, and more eyecatching, the cracks and spinters of all the wooden support beams of the ancient temple. I couldn't help wonder the motivation for building it here. Especially when I saw a dam in the distance, suggesting that water once ran under the temple. I can picture one monk with a grudge on gravity deciding to outwit it. Or maybe a cunning plan to escape the harsh winds. When snow began to fall we decided the temple would look more scenic empty and hurried back to the car.
So after a few hours wait it was time for our
16hour sleeper train to Xi'an. I find I can keep myself pretty entertained so far on these long trains. It's always abit unnerving when a policeman and people sleeping above tell you to put the laptop under the pillow, and everyone on the carriage comes to have a quick, or sometimes painfully prolonged stare at the only white people on the train. Still I had a nice suprise when my 'hard sleeper' ended up being soft. Turns out soft sleepers are just 4 beds in a closed off cabin, and the hard sleeper is walled of sections of 6 sleepers, 2 bottom, middle and top, with a long open corridor running the length of the carriage.
Anyway when we got to Xi'an, which is a good deal south, I was pleased to see sunshine and occasional English writing dotted about the place in what is one of Chinas biggest cities, and home of the terracotta warriors. I was even more pleased when we arrived at the hostel, which was the cheapest accomadation so far, and also the best. 2 nights quickly extended to 5 as we dropped our bags, put up our feet ready to enjoy a worthy home
take that tiny Buddhas, giant Buddha!
Met loads of cool people in the hostel, and they offer a free beer to everyone between 7.00pm and 9.30pm so there were always people around. Spent alot of time with the people sleeping in my dorm, and one of the guys working at the hostel, who I spoke to alot. When I was talking to him about the hassles of the trains with the run up to Spring Festivsal (Chinese New Year) he offered for me and Sam to come to his home for the festival. It's vary rare for the Chinese to offer people to their homes during the festival I'm told. So I was pretty chuffed and accepted the offer. His home is in the Gobi desert in the northeast corner of China bordering Mongolia, and is between -10C and -20C. So much for avoiding the cold.
Whilst in Xi'an, me and Sam explored the Muslim Quarter, packed full of vendors and restaurants selling everything and more. Rode the 13km city wall on bike, which was being decorated with giant, luminous decorations for the festival and went for a day trip to see the warriors. A German guy we met in Beijing happened
to be on the same tour, he's a nice guy but wasn't helping break the German stereotype, pesting the guide as to why the warriors aren't being assembled faster, why there isn't a computer programme to make fitting the pieces together more effecent etc.
The Emperor Ming who built the terracotta army may have let power get to his head just a tad. He built the army of an estimated 8,000 to protect him in his afterlife. I think I would have gone with 8,000 chefs myself. He then surrounded them in a moat of mercury and took his 3,000 concubines with him when he popped his clogs. There our terracotta chariots, tools etc. Everything was made half size because in heaven it becomes twice as big, he divinely caught wind off. But surely when he arrives in heaven, twice as big himself, everything would be too small?? No ones opened his tomb because they are worried about traps. Where's Indiana Jones when you need him...
Currently I am to the southeast in the province Sichuan, but I'll write about it here once I've investigated the city Chengdu, I've just arrived at. Hope everyone is well and happy
Named quite appropriately
back at home.
There are more photos below