Between Xi’an and Beijing, it’s been an incredibly busy few days. As I finally get time to put all of it down into a post, it’s hard to narrow it all down! We’ve been to the Terracotta Warriors, a Han Dynasty tomb, a traditional Buddhist pagoda, an exhibit of ancient Chinese characters etched into stone, the Great Wall of China, and we rode a bullet train. A whole lot of activity throughout this remarkable country.
We left Guilin for the city of Xi’an and met up with a new tour guide for our next few days. She took us right away to an ancient Han dynasty tomb, where we learned about different burial rituals and saw some ancient clay dolls and burial pits. Apparently tombs are all over the city of Xi’an, and archaeologists are hesitant to dig them up for fear of ruining the contents of the tombs. This meant we couldn’t see the inside of the actual tomb, just the burial pits nearby.
The next day we went to the famous terracotta warriors, and they certainly lived up to all of my expectations. Thousands of warriors fill a massive hall around a group of burial pits, half of which still haven’t been dug up. The warriors used to have bright paints on them, but they faded within a week of exposure to the air, so archaeologists are leaving many of the warriors underground until they have a better way of preserving them. In addition to seeing the thousands of reassembled warriors in their pits, we also saw people working on reassembling and restoring other warriors from the shards in the pits, which was pretty cool. The warriors stand between 5’6 and 6’3, much larger than life considering they were made over 2100 years ago. Overall, it was absolutely incredible and it alone would be worth a trip to Xi’an.
Our last day in Xi’an, we said goodbye to our guide and left via bullet train for Beijing. As we left, the air pollution was so bad in Xi’an that we could see a gray haze everywhere we looked, and couldn’t see more than maybe 100 meters. It was unreal, I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought Beijing would be worse, but we lucked out and the air quality is better here than it’s been in weeks! We got to bed early on arrival, and got up early to go hike along the Great Wall! On our way there, we stopped by the restored section of the wall so we could see what it used to look like and see it covered in tourists. We continued our drive along the countryside and saw various ancient ruined sections of the wall, abandoned along mountaintops in the country. Thanks to fortuitously clean air, we could see for miles from the mountaintops we hiked along, seeing sweeping views of the mountainous Chinese countryside and the Great Wall extending out before us and behind us. It was an awesome experience.
We have a couple more days in Beijing to see the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, then we’re off to Japan!
(Also, I had always thought that Chinese people didn’t know about the protests in Tiananmen because of censorship, but I talked to my guide at length about it and apparently most people know and consider it an embarrassing part of their history. So I thought that was interesting.)