Xi’an, nestled away in the center of the country, was once one of the ancient capitals of dynastic China. For my first visit to China, it continually topped the list of ‘must do’ activities and quite quickly made its way into my itinerary. Arriving at Xi’an Xianying International Airport, I expected a similar greeting to that which I received in Shanghai – taxis and touts all trying to get my business to take me into the city center. I’m not sure if I was happy, or unnerved, by the fact that there weren’t. With the help of a policeman, Google Maps, and lots of pointing, I eventually found my way to The Hilton Xi’an, which was situated right in the center. My unease of how considerably more difficult the language barrier was than Shanghai was quickly whisked away by a very efficient check-in at the Executive Lounge. Supplied with the key to a superbly appointed suite, and eager to explore, I dropped my things and began to walk.
The Walls of Xi’an
Xi’an is a walled city, and scaling the walls seemed like a good place to start. Access is easy, and the views are pretty good. My intention to circumnavigate the city only lasted about a quarter of the length of the walls, as I had neglected to bring enough water with me. I went out in the blistering midday sun.. go figure why there is nobody in the picture above.
Over two thousand years old, and crafted to protect the first Emperor of China in his afterlife, this UNESCO World Heritage Site truly is one of the Wonders of the World. Soldiers, archers, horses, chariots and more, were built from terracotta, and many of these remain unexcavated still to this day. Three main excavation sites are visible today, each containing a different collection. My advice – view the pits in reverse order, in order to save the most impressive (Pit number one) till last. Stretching for what seems like an eternity, this vast aircraft-hangar style building houses the most significant collection of complete warriors of all the sites.
Getting to the archaeological site is half the fun, and was surprisingly a lot easier than I was anticipating. There are organized tours available, but instead I found bus 5(306) from the front courtyard of the Xi’an Railway Station would take me right there.
Twenty minutes by Bullet Train, and I was far way from Xi’an and in the mountains. It is one of the Great Five Mountains of China, and along with its religious and spiritual importance, is a highly recommended day trip from Xi’an. I chose to ascend the Western Peak and descent the Northern Peak, and I would highly recommend this to anyone else looking to visit, primarily due to the layout of the cable cars and the fact that the Northern Peak is significantly lower than the western!
The true highlight of the experience was The Planks in the Sky, a nerve-wracking wooden mountain pass clinging perilously to the southern face of Mount Huashan. It is a must do for any adrenaline seeker in the area.