Xian's Terracotta Army - A Force To Be Reckoned With

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Asia » China
May 22nd 2008
Published: June 3rd 2008
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We arrived in Xi'an at 8.30am on the overnight 'soft sleeper' from Beijing, having procured our train tickets through the hotel - a lot less hassle for anybody thinking of train travel in China. You pay a small commission to have the tickets purchased, seats reserved and tickets delivered to your door avoiding lengthy 'queues' (organised pushing-in really) and language barriers.

Our journey to Beijing's West Train Station the previous evening had been something of a mission, travelling during the latter part of rush hour (which actually lasts about three hours) in horrendous traffic with a maniac taxi driver. We sat in the queue to the station entrance ramp for about 20 minutes and jostled with cars, bicycles, rickshaws, pedestrians and police in our attempt to gain pole position. It is a whole new world of 'driving'.

Once at the station entrance it is then another scrum with literally hundreds of other travellers wrestling to get through the one open gate in a vast multi-storey station complex the size of London's King's Cross / St Pancras. This is because the Chinese Army want to x-ray scan every bag being taken onto the station concourse. Having struggled to get through the entry door you then have to fight your way to the secuity scanner conveyor belt and again to retreive your bag on the other side. It is like being a very small but tasting-looking fish trying to escape in a tank filled with hungry sharks.

Round three is joined when queuing to have the first of seemingly endless ticket-checks before eventually getting onto the train and into your sleeping compartment and all this before the journey even starts!

At Xi'an station we were almost immediately accosted by an English-speaking female guide and we negotiated a day touring with her and a seven-seater car plus driver. This proved to be a smart move and we used the opportunity to purchase our onward train tickets to Wuxi and transferred to our hotel.

After a freshen-up, we set off for the day stopping first at a museum showing primitive village life in the region and a pottery showing how the terracotta soldiers were made before arriving at the site proper of the Xi'an Terracotta Army.

The soldiers had been buried around 2,200 years ago by Emperor Qin Shi some 1500m from his tomb in order to protect him in the after-life. Having been something of a despotic ruler, there was probable good cause to enlist the efforts 750,000 people over a period of 36 years to establish some certaintity for himself for next time around.

The Exhibition site is divided into a series of halls containing a cinema for the introduction, three pits where the excavations are on display and a museum (this contains the painstakingly restored bronze chariots and some of the most famous individual warrior casts amongst other things and should not be missed).

Entering Pit One is an overwhelming experience even after seeing the tv programmes, books and photographs. The sight of literally thousands of life-size detailed effigies all standing in ranks is difficult to describe. It is unique in the World - made even more so by the fact it was only discovered by accident when a farmer was digging a well in 1974.

The individual beauty of each hand-crafed figure is astonishing and we felt privileged to have seen such a wonderful archaeological site where restoration and excavation work continues to this day.

If coming to China, it's another 'must - see' experience.

At the end of our busy day we sampled the local cuisine in a specialist dumpling restaurant where we ate until we could eat no more, having dumplings filled with various meats, fish and vegetables, some beautifully shaped as ducks, fish and leaves. Expensive in Chinese terms, but worth the experience.

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