Hey everyone! I’m going to try to bring you all up to date with where we currently are, there’s lots to tell you so here we go. After our overnight train to Xi’an we arrived at our hostel, the Han Tang House and were shown to our rooms. We had an absolute result here, the place hasn’t been open long and when we booked back in January the rooms were £8 a night, they’ve since doubled. The room is probably one of the best I’ve ever stayed in, more like a high-end hotel so we’ve done well.
Ok, the Terracotta warriors, we used a public bus to get there paying 70p each (not bad for an hour and a half journey), and arrived in the confusing maze that surrounds the site. After navigating ourselves past all of the street hawkers selling everything from figurines of the warriors to tasteful Alsatian fur hearth rugs and cat fur hats and scarves we got to the ticket office. Once in, you have to get through another maze of stalls and past the stinky tofu sellers, the aroma is something like a bubbling cauldron of first wee of the day that’s been reduced for a few hours, I had to cover my face and hold my breath, it really is that bad! We then made our way around the three different sites starting with the smallest pit first and making our way up to the largest. The first two pits showed you more how things looked when they were first opened up, the third and biggest has rows of rebuilt warriors stood facing you and is much more impressive. Apparently Emperor Qin Shi Huang thought these figures would travel with him to the afterlife and help him maintain his reign there. At some point after his death a group of rebel peasants stormed the tomb and torched and smashed most of the warriors so those you see have been pieced together from the many crumbled parts. There are some that have been left in the soil in their shattered state, in some ways I found these more interesting to see. Anyway, we then made our way back to Xi’an but this time stupidly by a private bus which didn’t take the motorway but drove through all of the towns in between, cramming as many people on board as they possibly could, lesson learned – take the public buses in future!
That same night we headed towards Xi’an’s Giant Wild Goose Pagoda where a light show takes place every night. We hadn’t realised quite how big Xi’an was and were cutting it fine, we still hadn’t eaten and so rushed into the first place we saw that looked like we could get some decent grub in, doh! We’d inadvertently chosen some really plush upmarket coffee-house and restaurant with huge luxurious seats catering for the big money businessmen and not us scruff bags. Second mistake – I ordered some Oolong tea for us to drink without paying too much notice to the price, it turned out to cost £11 for a pot, a little steep for our meager budget. The food took ages to arrive so we scoffed it down quickly and hastily tried to enjoy the most expensive cup of tea we’d ever tasted before running out to catch the light show. It must have been about 9.10pm when we got to the pagoda just as the big finale ended, we’d missed it! We walked around the grounds which was still nice and then headed back to the hostel feeling a little disappointed.
The next day we took our lives into our own hands and attempted to cross to the middle of the roundabout at Xi’an’s south gate. The roads really are pretty dodgy here, you get marked out crossings and lights telling you when to cross but this doesn’t really mean anything at all as the cars, buses, tuk tuks, mopeds, bicycles and police still drive straight at you! Anyway we got on the city wall, hired two bikes and made the 14km circuit around the city. It’s quite nice once you get up there as the traffic sounds die down and you feel like you’ve escaped the crazy city that’s beneath. As you look outside of the city walls though you see how the city is sprawling outwards with huge high-rise blocks of housing going up everywhere, there are a lot of people in Xi’an. With numb backsides and tender legs we made our way back.
Yesterday we visited Hua Shan, a mountain about 2 hours bus ride from Xi’an famed for the Taoist temples on its peaks. Years ago Taoists would retreat here so that they could be far removed from society and live the simplistic lives they sought. Unfortunately that’s not the case for them anymore as China decided to build a tourist friendly cable car to the top, so they now share their mountain with bus loads of tourists everyday. In the past the Taoists would ascend via small stone steps carved into the face of the rock, when you see these you realise how brave these people were, it’s insanely dangerous. In the past I’ve experienced vertigo when going up long escalators or climbing long staircases so I was a little apprehensive about this trip. Sure enough once you reach the cable car drop off on the north peak of the mountain you realise what you have in store. This mountain is absolutely beautiful but also ridiculously dangerous. To reach the east, south and west peaks from the north you have to cross the ‘Wipe Ear Ridge’, a narrow blade of rock climbing the inconsistent stone steps with a hand rail that’s too low to reach for the most part. The problem is that you can’t turn back once you start as you’re now part of the caravan of tourists heading onwards and upwards to the other side. Once on the other side you now have to climb the ‘Heavenly Ladder’, a near vertical set of steps in sections of about 20 feet, again all of the Chinese tourists around you are pushing past seemingly quite oblivious to the danger, if you slip you really would be in trouble, as would the people beneath! I won’t lie, I was in a bad way, there’s something about climbing up that just makes me feel dizzy and gives me the sensation that I’m constantly falling backwards. At times I had to grip the floor just to feel like I wasn’t falling, in China you really don’t want to be touching the floor as every inch generally is covered in the phlegm and snot that’s constantly being hacked up and blown out onto the floor. In the end we made it to the centre peak, there was no one else there other than a monk outside his temple. We sat and took in the beautiful surroundings whilst I tried to dry out the pint of sweat on the back of my shirt (I’ve got an impressive salt stain to prove just how bad it was). We climbed a little higher still to a pavilion with a view back over where we’d come from which put in perspective how far we’d climbed… and how far we had to go back. It was now about 2:00pm so we decided to call it a day and turn around, not knowing how long it would take to descend. For some reason my vertigo had now disappeared and I was fine on the way down, even though I could now see the sheer drop on either side of me. Emma generally had been fine on the way up but now her legs were getting quite tired walking down the many stairs. We found we could appreciate the scenery much better now on the descent and noticed things we’d overlooked on the way up, since we weren’t as exhausted I suppose. Eventually we made it back to the cable car and made our way back to Xi’an for the night. What a day that was!
There you go, you’re now up to date with the present day, we’re off to Chengdu tomorrow to see Pandas and the beautiful Jiuzhaigou national park. We just need to get through the 16 hour train journey tomorrow, even worse we couldn’t book beds and so have ‘hard seats’ the whole way there. Should be an experience, though it can’t be any worse than the Central line in rush hour 🙂
Bye for now, Andy.