Thursday, June 2, 2016

Day 15 – 27 May Xi’an to Taiyuan

Emperor Qin was the first to unify China politically by integrating seven principalities. By the time he died at the age of 50 he had introduced a centralized system of control and administration throughout the vast feudal kingdom. Currency, jurisprudence, weights and measures, revenue administration and the like were codified and systemized. Emperor Qin liked to travel around his kingdom to see for himself the effects of his administration and take feedback from his vassals. It is said that he planned to create a vast mausoleum for himself from the age of 13. The site near Xi’an was chosen because of the proximity of the mountains and the river. The area is about 56 square kilometres. The emperor desired to live on forever but knew he would have to go sometime. The mausoleum was his way of ensuring immortality.

Three ‘pits’ are open to the public for viewing in the rather elaborate surroundings of the mausoleum. The first pit is the centerpiece because it is here that we get to see the famed Terracotta Warriors and the substantially reconstructed funerary. The artefacts are arranged in corridors in battle formations. Extensive use of timber, bamboo and clay have been made to make this life size army of soldiers and animals. The array gives an indication of the life and times of the emperor, weapons and defense systems, dresses of different strata of leaders in the army, hairstyles, footwear and even the quality of animals used in battle.

Excavation of the 2nd century BC site is an ongoing process. And so is the reconstruction of the broken artefacts retrieved from the site. A large number of researchers and archeologists were seen working diligently at the 30,000 square meters site. The mausoleum has been elaborately planned for tourists. There are machines vending souvenir coins almost everywhere, so that one succumbs to the ‘curiosity’ at some time during the walk in the vast premises. This happened to me and I parted with Yuan 30! Then there is the enclosure where replicas of the Terracotta Warriors and horses have been arranged. One can get photos taken with the replica army for Yuan 10 in one’s own camera. The stewards manning the enclosure help you with it. If you need a print out of the photographs they will make you poorer by Yuan 100 per photo! The exit from the premises is so directed that one will pass through shops vending souvenirs, food, fruits and juices, artefacts, paintings and much more. There are restaurants everywhere in the complex, even above Pit 3!

Thanks to Andy and his suggestion to be at the mausoleum earlier in the day, I was at the site before the ‘onslaught’ of the tourists, mostly local, who came in hordes after 10 am. The entrance ticket is on the higher side at Yuan 150 per person. Large number of guides, mostly women, could be seen waiting for those who needed their services. English speaking guides identify themselves immediately as they recognize foreigners. I chose to have an audio guide instead, which at Yuan 40 was much cheaper and very elaborate in description of the emperor, his times, ideas and the sites. A deposit of Yuan 200 is taken for the audio guide, which is refunded when the equipment is returned. It was a superb experience, all in all. Moreover, this as well as the visit to the Giant Pandas showed me how well such attractions can be made visitor friendly.

Breakfast at the hotel was at 7.50, which was a set course of rice cakes, sweet stuffed Bao, sweet bread, boiled egg, apple and black rice porridge. The porridge was a new experience. Initially I thought that the black color of the porridge was because of soy sauce. Andy explained that black rice is a specialty of the area and is very nutritious. Though bland it was good. I chose not to sweeten it even though many people do so. The porridge was the only item in the set meal that could be ‘refilled’.

By the time I had finished the tour of the mausoleum it was past 11 am. It was nearly 600 km to Taiyuan, where we had planned to halt the night. It was raining too and we were not sure if we would reach there during the daylight hours since the start was so late. In the end the distance was done in good time and by 6 pm we were in the Home Inn hotel in Taiyuan. This despite the bio stoppages and a 20 minute power nap. During the drive we moved from the Shan Xi Province to the Shanxi Province. Confused? Yes, I was too. Both provinces have the same name, but they are very different in Chinese, according to Andy. The Yellow River is the boundary of the two provinces. As earlier the toll gate announced the border! The Shanxi Province is considered a mining province with large reserves of coal in the region. Also at the border could be seen large thermal power stations. Taiyuan is the capital city of the province.

The Home Inn is budget hotel chain in China like 7 Days Inn (in Xi’an) and Jinjiang Inn (in Chengdu). Andy is a golden card holder in Home Inn and one breakfast was pronounced free as part of that deal! A very large weapons factory is situated quite close to the hotel. It dominates the square. The predominant use of electric scooters and carts keeps the noise and air pollution levels low. It was so in Taiyuan city too. A small scooter is priced at Yuan 1800, which Andy said could be negotiated for a better price. A bunch of schoolboys with their mothers became so enthusiastic about this foreigner that they wanted to practice their English with me. After questions like “Where are you from” and “How did you come” they ended the boisterous banter with “Welcome to China” and “Enjoy your stay in China”, which was really cute.

We decided on a dinner of dumplings and ended up in a typical Chinese restaurant, after scouring the market area for a while. Snow beer accompanied my portion of the 22 dumplings! 

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