It’s not possible to cover the vast expanse of a country like China. Skipping Xi’an from your travel itinerary, might seem like a sensible thing to do, if you’re pressed for time. But, if you’re a culture enthusiast – it might prove to be a mistake.
After four days of exhaustive walking in Beijing, we headed to Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province. With two days in hand – we chose to fly. The travel time is about 2 hours by flight. Although, we would have half a day to explore Xi’an. Sadly, Xi’an’s subway system isn’t well developed and the Terracotta Army Museum isn’t within the main city. According to our calculations, we’d probably reach just before closing time (5 pm), if we took the Airport shuttle-subway-tourist bus route to get to the Museum. Our next best option was hiring a cab to ferry us across town. It’s an expensive option and makes sense only if you’re short on time.
We reached Xi’an Airport shortly after lunch. Most domestic carriers do not offer a meal in-flight. We skipped lunch and proceeded towards our pre-booked taxi. The drive from the airport to the museum takes about an hour. Basil was feeling feverish and I was particularly low on energy and we made use of the time to take some rest. We reached the museum entrance at 3 pm. The walk from the parking lot to the ticketing area is pretty long. And the walk from the actual entrance of the museum to the pits – even longer. There are transfers available at the entrance, but the line was annoyingly long.
We munched a sandwich and tried to walk as fast as possible. The main problem was figuring out the location of the actual pits. By now, we were really tired, exhausted, and tensed. In all probability, we would miss the actual pits. We entered an education centre in which audio visuals and recreated models showcased the history of the terracotta warriors. Believed to have been built to protect the soul of Emperor Qin from spirits – the terracotta army is somewhat of a afterlife protection force. The gallery was packed with tourists, school children, and families. It was hard to read or get a view of most exhibits.
After exiting the centre – we headed towards Pit 2. Tourists buzzed around the railings of the pit. It was difficult to get a vantage viewing point. By now, we were sufficiently relaxed to take time and observe what lay in front of us. There are approximately 1300 warriors and horses in Pit 2. The L shaped pit can be divided into 4 main sections depending upon the orientation and actions of the warriors.
It wasn’t possible for us to get a clear view of the warriors from the railings. Fortunately, there are enclosures with exhibits which give you a close-up view. The Kneeling Archer, the Standing Archer, the Cavalry Man with his horse, Middle Ranking officer, and High Ranking Officer are the five ranks of warriors found in the pit.
We followed the crowd out of Pit 2 and entered Pit 3. Pit 3 is disappointing in size and grandeur. It has the least number of terracotta warriors in a pit-site. It is believed to be the headquarters of the army due to the presence of high-ranking officers buried here. Most of the statues are broken or still undergoing the process of excavation. Headless warriors eerily face each other and seem to communicate through actions of their hands. Neatly lined horses form another array.
The first site to be discovered and excavated, Pit 1 is truly a stunner. Unknowingly, we had saved the best for last. Pit 1 was enormous and resembled a gigantic football stadium with a lit roof-top. Hordes of mute warriors (2000 on display) and horses face you in neat lines – as if waiting for your command. The expressions on the warrior’s face conveys emotion which makes them all the more real. It is believed, that no two warriors have the same facial characteristics.
Towards the end of the pit, excavation and restoration is still in progress. Headless bodies, limbs, and taped warriors wait for their turn to be reunited with the main army. As the pit sinks deeper – it’s possible to get a closer look.
A small board indicates the spot where a peasant drilled to dig for a well and unearthed one of China’s finest treasures. Dignitaries of various countries are the few lucky ones who get to descend down the stairs, into the pit, to take snaps with the terracotta army.
Having successfully explored the Terracotta Warriors’ Site – we walked back the main parking lot and en-route had a quick meal to eat. Our driver was patiently waiting for us and was pretty happy to see us. On our way to our hotel (Hantang House), the weather changed drastically with spells of thunder, rain, and even hail stones. Tired as we were – we checked in our room (sadly a four floor climb) and headed out to discover the city (inside the city walls).
The Bell Tower is conveniently located in Xi’an’s city centre. Roads intersect each other and in the evening the Bell Tower sits quietly in the midst of honking cars. An underpass leads to the entrance of the Bell tower. While Basil clicked away in various shades of the evening sun, I chose to read a book.
Across the Bell Tower and through another underpass lies the Drum tower. Like the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower too was closed. The rain had made the roads mucky and the temperature dipped considerably. After admiring the lights, we chose to call it a day!