November 12, 2007: Overnight train from Beijing to Xian.
Most of the members in our group feared that the overnight train to Xian would be on an uncomfortable, old, cold, train, but we were surprised. The sleeper train was in excellent condition, and the bed comfortable enough for a good night's sleep. Even the train station in Beijing is very impressive with it's marble and large waiting rooms. We took the 9:25 PM train to Xian, and it took 11 hours. Our tour director brought some snacks and strong Chinese wine to ease our anxiety about the "accommodations" on the train - which we all praised as "much better than anticipated."
Xian (once called Chang'an during the Tang Dynasty), it is one of the most important cities in China's history. It is one of the four great ancient capitals of China, and has been the capital of 13 dynasties. Xian was also the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, and even today 50,000 Muslims call home.
We spent three nights in Xian that included a one night home-hosted stay in a village outside of the city.
Our early arrival in Xian gave us time to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which was constructed to store the Buddhist sutras obtained from India and translated to Chinese by Xuan Zang (c 652) and only one block away from our hotel, the Xian Garden Hotel, a joint venture between the Japanese and Chinese. I stayed here in 1992, my first visit to China and Xian.
On the first day, we visited a lacquer furniture factory in the morning followed by the famous and much visited 2,000 year old Terra Cotta Soldiers housed in a huge auditorium. They were discovered by accident in 1974 by farmers digging a well. The 6,000 plus life-size figures, all with different facial features, are arranged at the entrance to the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Qin emperor.
During lunch, the master noodle maker at the restaurant demonstrated noodle making to our group in the dining room. Some in our group even tried their hand at it that resulted in much laughter. In the afternoon, we visited the local herb market; some of the interesting herbs are snakes, animal penis, starfish, and animal brains. Anyone?
In the evening, we were treated to dinner and a Tang show at the hotel. It was excellent.
The following morning before breakfast, Mr Kang, a tai-chi master, demonstrated how to practice tai-chi at home. Our first stop was at the Xian city wall constructed during the Ming Dynasty which is also one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world, and one of the most complete structures of its kind in China.
After our visit to the local jade factory, we coached to Hu Xian, a farmers' village to visit the local school (3rd and 4th grades), a visit to the oldest part of the village and also the newer part of the city divided by one street. At the school, the children sang to us, and we later joined them in art class. Grand Circle Travel contributed $7,500 last year and $5,000 this year to the school. After saying goodbye to the children, we walked through the old part of the village and visited one home. Many who could afford to move have already moved to their new home in the new section of the village. Their beds are made of stone, and is heated by charcoal. Yes, their beds are hard. Our hosts for the remainder of the day was in the new section of the village, but most homes in China are still unheated; it was damn cold for most of us. However, the warmth of our hosts made up for the cold, and our blankets were heated. After dinner, we all congregated in one home and played mah-jong. After breakfast in our host homes, we visited the local artist's home and gallery where some purchased his art works. The following morning, we took the flight from Xian to Wuhan, then a five hour coach ride to Yichang where we boarded our Yangtze river boat, the Victoria Anna. We spent four blessful nights on the river boat - with comfortable beds.
The Xian fortress wall that surrounds the city - on our way to our hotel.
The garden at our hotel.
This picture was taken from the top of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (will post a picture later).
A skull older than the Peking Man at the Shaanxi Museum.