Once done with Beijing Pedro left us to head back to London and Tim, Eugene and myself took an overnight train inland to the old capital of Xian (it turns out there have been many old capitals over the years!)
Due to a mixup of tickets I was in the adjacent compartment which turned out to be a blessing as one man in Tim & Eugene compartment snored heavily the entire journey – so much so I could vaguely hear through the wall.
Eugene took exception to the man yawning away in the morning given that everyone but him in their compartment didn’t get a wink!
Xian is famous for the discovery in 1974 by several farmers of terracotta fragments. They alerted the authorities, excavation was started and the terracotta army found was one of the archaeological finds of the century.
The emperor in question – Chin – was the first to unify much of the territory we would consider today China back around 200 BC – hence the name China. I didn’t realise that China isn’t called that in the country – instead it is called Zhongguo, the middle kingdom, testament to the fact that every civilisation believes itself at the centre of everything!
The first emperor standardised weights, measures and began construction of the great wall. Perhaps most important of all he standardised the written script such that, in theory, all different spoken languages and dialects could exist but would have the same writing characters allowing inter-communication.
He is considered something of a tyrannical figure in Chinese history although he’s had something of a rehabilitation in recent years due to his focus on uniting China – of paramount concern to the current incumbents.
They have found so far 3 pits which have been excavated while the emperor’s actual burial mound remains tantalisingly unexcavated as they are not certain what they would find and whether they can preserve it. As recently as May 2015 they have found a couple of thousand more warriors so the finds are an ongoing process.
The emperor made quite a few enemies in his reign and clearly expected to meet quite a few of those in the next life and wasn’t taking any chances. Thus were created thousands of warriors, horses, chariots and even administrative bureaucrats. It just goes to show that administration never ends – even across the life/death divide.
What the emperor never counted on was the army of tourists which would visit his mausoleum which easily outnumbered his warriors! We even got to taste some more tea in the visitors centre.
Apart from the warriors we took the opportunity to cycle around the fully intact Ming-era city walls where Eugene and Tim raced around on a tandem leaving me trailing.
Xian is also home to the Big Goose Pagoda which over the years and earthquakes has become slightly lob-sided (as the guide paradoxically put it ‘see how the tower imperceptibly leans to one side’)!
Xian used to be a terminus of the silk-road and as a result has a significant Muslim population. In the evening we headed into the Muslim quarter which was abuzz with food vendors selling everything from honeyed nuts to lamb skewers and central Asian delicacies.
We gave the stretchy band sweets a miss as they flip a wave down it to halve the length with the occasional piece of dirt or sawdust being scooped into the mix!