Beijing to Xián
May 10 – May 13 2017
We only had relatively short drives for a couple of days to get to a very unique city called Pingyao. It is modern on the outside and surrounding land, tall buildings and high rise apartments but this masks the walled city dating from 827 – 782 BC. The walls are made of rammed earth which was covered with multiple layers of brick and pockmarked in places by cannonball shots. There are 4 gates which allow admittance to the city which boasts and array of Ming and Qing dynasty houses and courtyards and commercial buildings . The wonderful thing about Pingyao is that active reconstruction and redevelopment is being encouraged to preserve the ancient nature of this city. The perimeter of the wall is about 6 kms and we walked almost all if it searching for an exit gate. The view was fabulous and allowed us to have a clear view of the old and reconstructed buildings. Every thing must be reconstructed in the old style, using traditional crafts and skills. Otherwise most of the buildings would just crumble into piles of wood, clay and straw. No cars are allowed in the narrow streets and alleyways only small electric or traditional carts are allowed. The redevelopment of this city has been encouraged and supported by the Global Heritage Fund.
We stayed in a typical guest house with a delightful internal courtyard. Even had a talking Myn
ah bird. The rooms main feature is the kang, which is a raised bed which is heated during winter by coals or hot air which is piped in from the kitchen. The room had with authentic furniture.
Highlights of the city were the Temple of the City Gods and the Heavenly Temple and Bell tower. There are many beautiful Buddhist temples scattered throughout the small city. At night you could wander the streets buying food from stalls or exquisite lacquered boxes.
Friday 12 May
Before setting of on another long expressway drive to Xian we stopped at the Shuanglin Buddhist temple not far from the walled city of Pingyao. Both of these sites are rated as UNESCO World Heritage status.
This ancient temple is over 1500 years old (571AD) and has a collection of over 2000 intricate statues of Buddhas, warriors, gods and teachers of the Buddhist philosophy placed in about 10 halls, around 3 courtyards. The roofs of the buildings are glazed and decorated with detailed dragon figures. It was a serene prelude to the long drive to Xian.
Xian is a bustling city full of the latest shops, H&M, Rolex, Dior sit next to the ancient bell tower, drum tower and wall which runs through parts of the city.
We spent Friday evening wandering the vibrant Muslim quarter which was frenetic. Stalls lined the streets selling lamb kebabs, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, coconut or sugar cane juice. The kebabs were very fresh being carved off the whole sheep in front of you and immediately BBQ and basted with chili and other spices, over hot coals. The dull thud, thud, thud of giant wooden mallets pounding toffee sugar, sesame and nuts together to form a delicious sweet can be heard as we wandered the streets. Some stalls were grinding garlic or chilli into pasted by pushing a huge stone around and around. The aromas wafting around us included walnuts being roasted in their shells in huge cauldrons. Other stalls included hand rolled cigarettes, nic nacs and delicious hand made icecreams. Noodle makers entertained the crowds by pulling longs strands of noodle dough right into the street. Another local delicacy is old yogurt made with sheep milk – very tasty which goes well with the spicy kebabs. The crowds were unbelievable, and to add to the cacophony of noise was the honking and beeping of scooters, bikes, and motos barging their way through the crowds. The neon lights blinking everywhere added to the spectacle.
You just had to be there….it was so good.
Saturday 13 May
Everyone has heard of the Terracotta warriors but nothing – not even pictures prepare you for the sheer size of the halls that have been erected over these ceramic marvels to protect them. Add to that thousands of people jostling to take photos of what is described as the eighth wonder of the world. The collection of horses, archers, soldiers, officials, chariots in 5 halls is stunning. To think they have been buried for over 2000 years. Each face of the men is different. All of this to accompany Qin, not really a nice emperor, to the afterlife. At least they weren’t real people. Another must visit place, too magnificent to adequately describe.