15th September
written by Hope

I can still remember the first time I heard of the Army of Terra Cotta Warriors: it was in one of my Dad’s 1980’s-era issue of National Geographic. The image of all those soldiers, each one with his own unique facial hair, clothing, and even shoe tread, stayed with me through the years, so I was understandably excited to see the real deal.

The Army is located a few kilometers outside of Xian (sometimes spelled Xi’an), easily reachable by cheap public transport. The complex consists of 3 different pits, with the most extensive excavation in the cavernous pit 1.

pit 1, army of terra cotta soldiers, xian
Pit 1, the largest excavation site of the Army of Terra Cotta Warriors.

army of terra cotta soldiers, xian
Soldiers in pit 1.

reconstructed army of terra cotta soldiers, xian
Reconstructed soldiers.

In pits 2 and 3, you can see excavation work still underway. You can also see where the tomb ceiling has collapsed in parts, crushing some of the figures beneath it.

excavation, army of terra cotta soldiers, xian

Nobody knows why the Army of Terra Cotta Warriors exists, and there is something mysterious about the place, especially in pits 2 and 3, where the dim mood lighting adds to the mystery. I mean, why would someone create 8,000 different soldiers and bury them in an underground tomb? Unfortunately, seeing the real deal is probably not much better than watching a really good documentary on the subject. Part of the problem is that you can’t get very close to the soldiers in their natural habitat. Also, the grounds and buildings that the pits are housed in are super modern and, quite frankly, kind of generic and stale…they don’t really match the uniqueness of the site or of the soldiers—you almost forget that you’re at an active excavation site at all! That being said, seeing the soldiers wasn’t a disappointment either…but some famous sites leave you so thrilled that you’d happily revisit in the future, and let’s just say that we’re happy to have seen the Terra Cotta Soldiers once in our lives but we probably don’t need to go again.

Most people spend a day or two in Xian, see the Terra Cotta Soldiers, and move on. We actually ended up getting stuck in Xian—we were right in the middle of tourist high season (in a year when the Chinese government gave out travel vouchers for domestic tourism), and all the onward train tickets to popular destinations were sold out. So, we spent a good number of days exploring Xian, and despite the fact that it was brutally hot, we had a nice time checking out this interesting town.

xian train station
Locals hiding from the sun in front of the train station.

Xian has a large Muslim population, and we were staying right in the midst of the Muslim quarter. We wiled away many an hour (when it wasn’t too hot) wandering around the neighborhood, taking in the local flavor. The Great Mosque, in the center of the Muslim quarter, was fascinating, and we happened to be there during the call to prayer.

praying at the great mosque, xian
Prayer at the Great Mosque in Xian.

shoe collection during prayer, xian
A shoe convention during prayer time at the Great Mosque.

At night, the neighborhood turns into a bustling market with lots of food stalls.

dried fruit, the muslim quarter, xian

old lady in the muslim quarter, xian

We tried a local specialty called pao mo, which is basically a lamb stew with little bits of shredded bread soaked in the soup. It was delicious, but some of the other Chinese Muslim food we tried was very heavily spiced and it did not agree with Jeremy at all. We ended up spending the rest of our meals trying to find more conventional Chinese fare, which was quite difficult in the Muslim quarter. At one point, we were so desperate that we ate at Subway (though, to our credit, we did pass up Pizza Hut)! I have never seen Jeremy so excited for a 6 inch sub.

Xian actually has a bunch of stuff that would interest a tourist: the Bell Tower, Drum Tower, Big Goose Pagoda, and the Old City Wall, just to name a few.

drum tower, xian
Xian’s Drum Tower at night.

Unfortunately, it was so incredibly hot while we were there that we spent most of our days waking up early, going out for a few hours until we couldn’t stand it anymore, then hiding in our hotel until the sun went down and the temperatures became bearable again.

this is how hot it was in xian
This is how hot it was in Xian.

Hey, at least we figured out what our upper temperature threshold is: about 99°F with about 75% humidity. Ouch.

NOTE: We’re switching things up a bit on the picture front! Since you probably don’t want to wait so long to see our photos, and you probably don’t want to see all 5 gajillion photos we’ve taken in a country at the very end, we’ll be adding Flickr slideshows for certain individual destinations! We’ll only do this for select destinations, just to keep you on your toes. :)

Check out our photos from Xi’an, China:

1 Comment

  1. joseph

    guys - i love, love love, your pictures. really wonderful. look forward to seeing you soon! joseph

Leave a Reply