Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Xi'an the ancient, Xi'an the first - Xi'an where it all began! 3000 years ago, Xi'an - or Chang'an, as it was known then, was the capital of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. The modern name for the Middle Kingdom - 'China' - is derived from this very Qin dynasty! The two characters 'xi' and 'an' literally translate as 'west' and 'prosperity' - Xi'an is indeed the western capital of prosperity!

We reached Xi'an on a Friday morning - the train station is right outside its famous city wall. The first sight you see as you walk out - apart from the crowds, of course, is the magnificent ramparts and towers! Our hotel, Crowne Plaza Xi'an, was about 15 minutes away from the station. First impression of Xi'an - common to many cities in China - construction, construction everywhere! Huge malls with name brand stores, and giving evidence to the number of tourists, all the familiar chain restaurants - McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Starbucks! The Crowne Plaza website says that it is the tallest building in Xi'an - it certainly is impressive, a gleaming tower of chrome and glass! No time to admire the decor, though - after quick showers we set off once again - first lunch, then the City Wall!

South gate of the City Wall

This is one of China's oldest and best preserved City Walls! The original date backs to the 14th century, built by the Ming dynasty - but now, has been extensively restored! I'm guessing the top of the wall is almost 25 feet broad, and tourists can rent a bicycle to ride along the entire perimeter of 13 or so kms! The rent for the bikes was a little high - besides how can you enjoy the view from the wall when you're trying to keep your balance?! We contented ourselves with a leisurely stroll - it was quite interesting to see the contrast between the old city with its grey-shingled roofs and narrow lanes on one side, and the busy streets and construction on the other!  

We didn't spend too much time on the wall - our next destination was beckoning - the Dayan or Big Goose Pagoda! This time, we decided to take the bus - at 0.5RMB per adult, and children free, it is certainly the most economical way to travel here! In Suzhou, we often take the bus - so it didn't seem like that big of a deal! The buses in Xi'an, however, are more similar to the PMT or BEST buses in India rather than our clean Suzhou buses! Incredibly grimy, and apparently, as ancient as the city, the buses were also crowded to the gills! We managed to squeeze in - only to have the driver hit the brakes really, really hard a few minutes later - it seemed that our bus had narrowly avoided hitting a pedestrian! The bus halted, the driver got down, and slowly one by one all the passengers got off too! Luckily, the girl was unhurt, just badly shaken! I was surprised at how calm everyone remained - in India, this would have definitely caused a mob to descend on the bus, and the driver would have been most certainly beaten up!

Dayan Pagoda - water show

The Dayan Pagoda is located at the intersection of 2 busy streets - it was really hard to walk, especially as part of the road has been closed off for construction. The pedestrian walkways have been all but taken over by peddlers and hawkers. The park we walked into was beautiful - we could see the pagoda in the background, and the musical fountains were dancing! The show was strictly ok - but still, I always enjoy watching fountains like these! We walked slowly toward the pagoda, looking for an entrance - we hit a high wall finally, and walking along the wall, we came to a market area - souvenirs of course, and food! We kept walking, by now convinced that there was no way to get a closer look at the pagoda, and trying to find an exit!

It was when we were on the other side of the street waiting for a taxi, that we finally noticed the entrance! It was getting late, but we decided to go in any way - and we were not disappointed! The pagoda is part of a Buddhist temple complex - but this is no ordinary Buddhist temple! This temple is built by the monk Xuanzang who traveled to India from China in the 1st century. He lived in India for 17 years, and came back with Buddhist scriptures. The pagoda was actually built to store all his manuscripts and the relics he brought back! Being in this temple was like finding a tiny part of India in the heartland of China! The temple guide was a student at the university, and very well-versed in the history of the temple! The pagoda itself is 7 stories high - no elevator, of course! I don't think any of us had the energy to climb all those steps - no matter how great the view from the top!

Back at the hotel, we met up with our friends from Suzhou, who were also in Xi'an on vacation.Refreshed after a short rest, we decided to go to the Bell Tower - located exactly in the center of Xi'an. The bus we took this time didn't quite take us to where we were headed - but the Bell Tower was only a couple of blocks away - so we walked! Just inside the city walls, on a walkway, we saw a curious sight - a man had setup a giant telescope, a green laser beam shooting out from the top of the scope, disappearing far into the clouds. 'Jupiter', the man said, 'Jupiter and 3 of its moons'. Now who can pass that up! We all lined up, even bargained with him, and paid 20RMB per person for a look at mighty Jupiter! In retrospect, all of us had an uneasy suspicion that something was not quite right - sure enough, it was a hoax! There's even a warning on wikitravel about it! I can't believe we fell for that! Laughed our heads off about this!!!

We did make it to the Bell Tower, only to find that we couldn't go in - visiting hours were over! I had to be content with a photo from across the street! Then we headed to our main destination for the night - where else, dinner at an Indian restaurant - which was right where we were a few hours ago - near the Dayan Pagoda. A metro ride, and what seemed like hours of walking later, we stumbled onto this amazing street - restaurants serving all kinds of cuisine, bars and nightclubs! Quite the happening place! Delhi Darbar, the restaurant where we ate, had been recommended highly by many people - and it did live up to the praise....initially! The food was delicious, and moderately priced, the seating was comfortable, the place was bustling like a good restaurant should be! What went wrong? Just a little thing - a roach turned up in one of our dinner plates!!!! We were almost at the end of our meal, so there was nothing much to be done! The manager made matters worse by claiming it wasn't their fault, these things happen - and he still charged us for the entire meal! What can I say? Just one of those days! Took a taxi back to the hotel - we were pretty much dead on our feet by the time we got back! Next day was the main attraction - the Terracotta Army of Xi'an! 

I had thought that I would finish writing about Xi'an in one post - but I think I'm going need one more post to do justice to the Warriors! So, a third post coming up shortly about our weekend in Xi'an! I promise, the wait won't be long!

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