The End Of The Silk Road

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May 5th 2010
Published: May 9th 2010
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Xi'an is one of the most important cities in China in terms of historical significance. The city is three thousand years old and was the capital for a thousand years, under thirteen dynasties, and has an abundance of relics to discover from those ages. The famed silk road ended its eastern stretch in this city, making it a huge trade city as well, and as such also led to not only material goods being traded but also much knowledge and belief systems. Chinese Bhuddism in its current form owes much to the route. Xi'an also has one of the biggest, impressive, and complete walls compared to other Chinese towns (see a trend starting to form here).

Arriving at around six AM at the north train station, the old city walls greeted me. From there I headed to a nearby hostel and figuring I'm already up, decided not to waste time and head off to see the famed Terracotta Army. The big issue was that May 1st is a huge holiday period in China, resulting in congested cities and traffic, especially at popular tourist destinations. When I arrived to catch the bus to the Army it was complete chaos! Chinese have yet to learn the art of queuing and are constantly shoving to get ahead. It was annoying but after about an hour in line I finally boarded and was on my way. About two hours later we arrived at the place. Finally arriving at the warriors, amidst certain expectations, because it seemed everyone and their grandmother raves of the site. I followed the crowds in, and began by checking out the Terracotta Museum, which seemed to be more of a museum about the museum than anything else. After this I headed to the pits where in 1978 the warrior statues were first discovered and unearthed. To this day the excavation continues. About eight thousand of the life like soldiers are on display, with another hundred or so chariots. Pit one had the main assortment of warriors being displayed but it was a mad house in there. I could hardly get pictures without being shoved. It was slowly boiling me into a rage however, and eventually everything touching me was getting shoved back...hard. I appreciated the history behind the warriors but in the end I just saw them as statues and left a bit underwhelmed. Maybe I've just become jaded from seeing so many other things on my trip. The best part of this daytrip was that I found a subway restaurant nearby, which I love back home, and even though expensive compared to most food here (still cheaper than back home), I said to hell with it and indulged.

Returning to the walled part of Xian, I walked along for a few hours in the heat, inspecting the Bell Tower at the center, then visited the Muslim Quarter near my hostel. Women in burqua's and Muslim fare abound, with a tinge of Chinese touch made the place very interesting to walk through. An old Grand Mosque lay hidden within the cramped passages and the smells of street food flooded the quarter.

For the next day's trip I rose before seven, grabbed food and the headed directly to the bus station. There I grabbed a bus to Huashan (shan means mountain). The 2000m mountain has five peaks and is one of the five holy mountains of China. Traditionally it served important Taoist temples for the region. Due to construction, the ride there took about three hours. When I arrived I began the long trek up the granite steps, most of which had undergone renovation, but some of the original flights remained, ascending at vertical angles and I had to use the chains on either side of the steps to pull myself upwards. By the end I had climbed about 2000m worth of steps, it was an endless stairmaster! My calves ached till they felt like bursting. I visited a couple of the peaks. The south peak was the highest and so I was drawn there first. The mountain ranges looked great from here as the winds swept through the top. I explored some other areas but eventually made my way down, then took the cablecar down the last part to make it back before my bus left. I passed out on the ride back. When I arrived at the hostel I realized how badly my body reeked and I immediately took a shower. I love being a smelly backpacker.

That night I went to a nearby hostel near the south gate and met Thomas, whom I'd travelled with in Juizhaigou. The crazy Austrian was already wasted when I reached the bar below the hostel. He was ecstatic to see me again and we got good and drunk with some others. I ended up back at my place passed four in the morning.

We planned to meet the next day to bike around the Xian wall. Thomas met me at my hostel and we got breakfast. Soon after two Ozzies joined us and we headed up to the wall and rented bikes. The thing is damn wide, way more than I could of guessed. I think about seven bikes would have been able to ride, side by side together. The city beyond the walls is growing exponentially it seems. Cranes can be seen everywhere. It took us about and hour and a half to do the whole circuit, among stops to see different views. After the nice bike ride we headed to the Muslim quarter and got food. I found out one of the Ozzies was a contractor and was in Iraq for six months, and told me about the insane things he saw with his own eyes. My time in Xian was nearing an end and I bid farewell to my friends and left for the train station.

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