Monday, 7 October 2013

Exploring Shaanxi: Beyond Xian & Terracotta Warriors

You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world. - William Hazlitt
Mention Xian, the provincial capital of Shaanxi Province of China, the first thing that flashes in the mind of most people will be the famous Terracotta Warrior and Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Probe further, some will mention Yang Gui Fei and the palace that was built solely for her to take her bath – Huaqing Pool. And for those who have been to Xian with tour groups, they will add in Big and Small Goose Pagoda, Bell & Drum Tower. Few ventured further away where the gems of Shaanxi province are hidden.  Most people will only spend 2 or 3 days here but the adventurous ones can stay on for weeks.  Having been to Shaanxi a few times, here are some of my recommendations which are not the norm for tour groups:

Mount Hua 华山
Mt Hua is also the featured in legendary kung fu novel such as 华山论剑.
One of Taoism’s five sacred mountains and was said to be the favorite abode of hermits. About two hours’ drive away to the East of Xian, along the same route as The Terracotta Warriors and Huaqing Pool, this mountain is divided into five peaks, North, South, East and West. Ascent to the peak can be done via the cable car or by foot. If you plan to stay overnight at this place, pick the North Peak Hotel as it offers to most idyllic view of Mt. Hua.  What I did the last time was head straight to Mt Hua in the morning from Xian, explored the peaks, stayed overnight, wake up to catch the sunrise from the East Peak and then descent via foot. From there, head back to the direction of Xian to visit the Terracotta Warriors and Huaqing Pool.
At Hukuo Falls
Yellow River’s Hukou Fall黄河壶口瀑布
“Do you not see the Yellow River come from the sky?” This is the first line of Li Bai’s famous poem, Invitation to Wine (将近酒)Legend had it that Li Bai, a great Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty could not have written the first line of Invitation to Wine without having been to the Hukuo Falls. I first set my eyes upon this majestic part of the Yellow River on a cold winter morning. Though most part of the river was frozen, the water that gushes down and the roaring sound of it gave me a sense of awe and I was beyond words. How I wish I was there during summer when one can view the whole Hukou Falls that is about 30 m high and to have a true feel of what Li Bai told us of Yellow River that comes from the sky.
Hukou Falls is about 3 hours by car from Xian towards the North. In between Xian and Hukou Falls is the ancient city of Han Cheng which is the hometown of the Great Chinese Historian Sima Qian. We were supposed to tour this ancient city but cancelled it due to light snowing and headed straight to the Falls. After visiting the Hukou Falls and have our lunch by the Yellow River, we proceed to Yanan.

Inside a hall at Yangjialing Revolutionary Base in Yan'an
It was late afternoon when we arrived in Yanan, one of the sacred places of the Chinese Communist Party, besides Mt Jinggang in Jiangxi and Zunyi in Guangxi. It was in the loess caves in this place that the Red Army, led by Chairman Mao finally settled down after the disastrous Long March in 1936 and reorganizes the party that would one day rule China. For years, Chairman Mao called this place his home, living in the loess caves in Yangjaling together with other leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China had a lot to say about this place.
Besides the Yan’an Revolutionary Museum and historical sites such as Fenghuangshan, Wangjiaping and Yangjialing, another place that is a must visit in Yan’an is the Treasure Pagoda which was built during the Song Dynasty and survived till today. For an experience of living in loess cave (窰洞), check out Yang Jia Ling Cave Hotel. Returning to Xian via another road, we explored the Tomb of the Yellow Emperor.

Legend has it that the Yellow Emperor is buried here.
Tomb of the Yellow Emperor (黄帝陵)

The tomb of the Yellow Emperor is probably the best kept secret of Shaanxi Province. Located in Huang Ling County, about 3 and half hours away from Xian it is accessible via National Route 210. The story of the Yellow Emperor varies according to historians but one thing without doubt is that, we the Chinese refer ourselves as the Decadents of the Yellow Emperor and Emperor Yan (炎黄子孙). One notable VIP that made a visit here is Lian Zhan, the Chairman of the Kuomintang Party in Taiwan, signifying the shared believe that we are all of the same family. 

The mausoleums of the emperors of Han and Tang Dynasties
There are plenty of mausoleums and tombs of emperors and princes that scattered around Xian as it was the capital of the of the many dynasties of ancient China from Qin to Song before the axis of power moved east and finally settled in modern day Beijing. I did not personally visit any other mausoleums despite reading and hearing much about Qian Ling – the tomb of the first female Emperor of China, Wuzetian and also the excavated tomb of Emperor Jingdi of the Han Dynasty.

Other views of Xian at dusk:

The Big Goose Pagoda that houses the sutras brought back by Xuan Zhang from India.
The Muslim quarter in Xian.
The Drum Tower.

A hangar like atmosphere.
After visiting the Terracotta Warriors, I do not find it to be very exciting as claimed by many and written in books. To me, the whole place resembles a big hangar where the warriors are being manufactured more than an ancient excavation site that will make me awe.  

With the bust of Yang Gui Fei at Huaqing Pool, another overrated place. 

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