Monthly Archives: April 2015

the tang dynasty music & dance show in xi’an

Monday, April 20:  This evening, I go with Mari, the Finnish lady I met on our tour of the Terra Cotta Warriors, to the Tang Dynasty Palace to see a music and dance show.

Tang Palace Dance Show

Tang Palace Dance Show

Since it was established in 1988, the Tang Dynasty Palace and the Shaanxi Provincial Song & Dance Troupe have cooperated to stage the Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show.  The venue holds about 650 diners who are served a variety of dumplings and other Chinese dishes.

The stage at the Tang Palace Dance Show before the show

The stage at the Tang Palace Dance Show before the show

Mari and I enjoy the dumpling dishes very much, although we still feel a little hungry when all is said and done.  We can’t help but feel a little rushed by the wait staff who obviously must keep the food moving along in order to clean up before the performance starts.  We have bought a bottle of red wine to share; luckily, we can enjoy our drinks throughout the performance.

Mari from Finland.  She lives and works in Beihai.

Mari from Finland. She lives and works in Beihai.

me at the Tang Palace Dance Show

me at the Tang Palace Dance Show

The performance is composed of ancient music and dance. The city of Xi’an, formerly known as Chang’an, was the imperial capital during 13 dynastic periods. Of these, the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) was the most sophisticated of all. The Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show showcases this prosperous and peaceful ancient society (TravelChinaGuide: The Tang Dynasty Palace (Tang Yue Gong)).

The show begins

The show begins

These folk dances were originally performed as prayer rituals for a good harvest or a prosperous life.  Over thousands of years, the dances developed from a few simple postures or gestures into whimsical and elegant performances, reaching a peak during the Tang Dynasty.

Unlike some other regimes, the Tang was open to outside influences and was willing embrace the best of various art forms, not only from past dynasties but also from ethnic groups in northwestern China as well as central and western Asia. By combining poetry and stunning costumes with singing, dancing and the skillful playing of musical instruments, the modern presentation immerses viewers into ancient China’s history, brilliant arts, distinct traditions and customs (TravelChinaGuide: The Tang Dynasty Palace (Tang Yue Gong)).

I’m especially mesmerized by the enchanting stage sets and the long and elegant sleeves of the dancers’ costumes, which float dreamily and hypnotically throughout every dance.

ephemeral dancers

ephemeral dancers

so dreamy!

so dreamy!

Iconic China

Iconic China

weeping willows

weeping willows

dance to the moon

dance to the moon

musicians on stage

musicians on stage

colorful dancers

colorful dancers

honoring the emperor

honoring the emperor

the cast

the cast

The night’s performance is charming and vibrant, and it’s especially enjoyable having Mari’s company.  We part ways after exchanging numbers and WeChat information, with promises to meet at some later date in her hometown of Beihai.

Tomorrow morning, at the crack of dawn, I must fly back to Nanning for another week of work. 😦

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Categories: Asia, China, Shaanxi, Tang Dynasty Palace, Tang Palace Dance Show, Travel, Xi'an | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

the ming dynasty city walls of xi’an

Monday, April 20:  At the top of the Xi’an city wall, I rent a bicycle to ride along the top.  The wall is over 8 miles around, but I don’t plan to ride around the entire perimeter.  Bikes can be rented for a couple of hours and returned to any of the main gates, so I plan to ride from the south gate to the east gate and then walk back down the east road, Dong Dajie, to the Bell Tower and then return to my hotel.

at the top of the Xi'an city walls

at the top of the Xi’an city walls

The ride is a little bumpy over the stone pavement, but it feels great to have the wind in my hair and magnificent views over the city.

According to China Travel Guide, after the Ming dynasty was established, Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the dynasty, began in 1370 to enlarge the wall built initially during the old Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), creating the modern Xi’an City Wall. In 1568, the walls were faced with brick, giving them their modern form.  It’s the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well as being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.

After the extension, the wall now stands 12 meters (40 feet) tall, 12-14 meters (40-46 feet) wide at the top and 15-18 meters (50-60 feet) thick at the bottom. It is 13.7 kilometers (8.5 miles) in length with a deep moat surrounding it.

Along the top of the wall are periodic pavilions and buildings

Along the top of the wall are sentry buildings on some of the 98 ramparts

Every 120 meters, there is a rampart which extends out from the main wall. All together, there are 98 ramparts, which were built to defend against the enemy climbing up. Each rampart has a sentry building, in which the soldiers could protect the entire wall without exposing themselves to the enemy. Besides, the distance between every two ramparts is just within the range of an arrow shot from either side, so that they could shoot any enemy who wanted to attack. On the outer side of the city wall, there are 5,948 crenellations, namely battlements, where the soldiers could look out and shoot at the enemy. On the inner side, parapets were built to protect the soldiers from falling off (Travel China Guide: Xian City Wall).

The view into downtown Xi'an (inside the walls) from the top of the wall

The view into downtown Xi’an (inside the walls) from the top of the wall

view from the city wall to the city

view from the city wall to the city

rampart on the southeast corner

rampart and sentry building on the southeast corner

the outside of the east wall from a rampart

the outside of the east wall from a rampart

view of the east wall from above

view of the east wall from above

more views of the east wall

more views of the east wall

the east wall and the gardens surrounding

the east wall and the gardens surrounding

Traffic going under Changlemen gate

Traffic going under Changlemen gate toward the Bell Tower in the center of the old city

Traffic under Changlemen

Traffic under Changlemen on the outside of the city walls

exercises by a rampart

exercises by a sentry building

the moat and the city walls

the moat and the city walls

I spend nearly two hours up on the wall, riding and making a number of stops to admire the views and take pictures.  Afterwards, I decide I’ll walk back from Changlemen, the east gate, to the Bell Tower and then to my hotel. Little do I know how far that will be.  Once again, the map fools me into thinking it’s a shorter distance than it is!

As it is, I walk a long way until I see a three-wheeled taxi driver catch my eye.  When he does, I wave to him and he picks me up and drives me back to my hotel.  It’s a long drive in the vehicle, so I’m glad I didn’t try to walk the whole way.

I have a plan to go to a performance tonight with Mari, the Finnish lady from our small Terra Cotta Warrior tour group, so I want to shower and change before that.  When I arrive back at the hotel, I stop at a cafe for a beer, and then go up to my room to get ready for the evening ahead. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Changlemen, China, Shaanxi, Xi'an, Xi'an City Walls, Yongning | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

the muslim quarter & the great mosque of xi’an

Monday, April 20: After leaving the Drum Tower, I venture into the heart of the Muslim Quarter to explore.  I’m assaulted by colorful banners, food carts and stalls, along with the delicious smells of dumpling soup, beef or mutton Rou Jia Mo (Chinese Hamburger), northwestern style noodles, and Yangrou Paomo, or crumbled flatbread (unleavened bread) in mutton stew.  It’s noisy and lively, a vibrant scene where I can wander along aimlessly among the crowds toward the Great Mosque.

The Muslim Quarter in Xi'an

The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

Below is a stall of stuffed flatbread, simply dough fried on a large pan surface and pressed down. Once fried, the flatbread is opened and stuffed with meat.

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

The lively Muslim Quarter in Xi'an

The lively Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

Food for sale!

Food for sale!

a Muslim food vendor

a Muslim food vendor

Sea creatures

Sea creatures

Enticing food

Enticing food

Muslim Quarter in Xi'an

Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

Muslim Quarter

Muslim Quarter

After a leisurely stroll, I wind up at the Great Mosque, the largest mosque in China.  Established in 742 during the Tang dynasty (618-907), it was restored and widened in the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.  It was built in the shape of a rectangle from east to west, and it is divided into four courtyards.

Islam was introduced into Northwest China by Arab merchants and travelers from Persia and Afghanistan during the mid-7th century when some of them settled down in China and married women of Han Nationality. Their descendants became the Muslims of today. The Muslims played an important role in unifying China during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Hence, other mosques were also built to honor them (Travel China Guide: Great Mosque).

In the first courtyard is the Wooden Memorial Archway with upturned eaves and glazed roof tiles.  This archway was built at the beginning of the 17th century, dating back over 390 years.

Entrance to the Great Mosque

Entrance to the Great Mosque

Entry gate to the Great Mosque

Entry gate to the Great Mosque

In the middle of the second courtyard are three connected memorial gateways supported with four pillars.  On the top of the main gate is a title inscribed in Chinese calligraphy: “The Court of the Heaven.”  Stone carved fences are around the gateways with two passages on both sides.  This stone complex was built in the Ming dynasty.

Another gateway to the Great Mosque

The Stone Memorial Gateway

Gardens at the Great Mosque

Gardens at the Great Mosque

Pavilion at the Great Mosque

Pavilion at the Great Mosque

Another gate at the Great Mosque

Another gate at the Great Mosque

Yizhen Pavilion is also known as Phoenix Pavilion.  The main pavilion in the center is hexagonal with cornices and pinnacles, which looks like the head of a phoenix. Pavilions on two sides are triangular with reflexed wings.  These three pavilions are connected in a unique shape, as if a phoenix is spreading its wings.

pathway leading to the Great Mosque

pathway leading to the Great Mosque

Yizhen Pavilion, also known as Phoenix Pavilion

Yizhen Pavilion, also known as Phoenix Pavilion

The Great Mosque melds Arabic motifs into familiar Chinese designs, making it different from mosques found in other Islamic countries.  The mosque has neither domes nor traditional-style minarets.

The Worship Hall has a turquoise roof and exquisite carvings on the doors and eaves.

Final gateway to the Great Mosque

Final gateway to the Worship Hall at the Great Mosque

The main hall can hold 1,000 people at a time and according to traditional custom, prayer services are held five times everyday respectively at dawn, noon, afternoon, dusk and night.

Door at the Great Mosque

Door to the Worship Hall

On the inside of the Worship Hall, all the pages of the Holy Koran are carved in the 600 pieces of huge wooden boards; 30 of them are in Chinese while the others are in Arabic.

Doorway at the Great Mosque

Doorway to the Worship Hall

In 1956, the mosque was decreed to be an important historical and cultural site under the protection of the Shaanxi Provincial Government.  In 1988, it was promoted to be one of the most important sites in China.

Eaves on the Great Mosque

Eaves on the Worship Hall

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

Islamic motifs

a hall flanking the Great Mosque

a hall flanking the Great Mosque’s main prayer hall

looking through a gateway to the main prayer hall

looking through a gateway to the main prayer hall

In the middle of the third courtyard, “The Introspection Tower” serves as the minaret, which is the tallest building in the whole mosque for calling Muslims to prayer.  With two stories, three layers of eaves, and an octagonal roof, it would be very impressive if it weren’t being renovated on this day!

Pavilion being renovated

Pavilion being renovated

relief sculpture

relief sculpture

Returning to the entrance, I see the Wooden Memorial Archway from the other side.

back to the first courtyard

back to the first courtyard

The Five-Room Hall sits at the entrance to the second courtyard.

looking back on the grounds of the Great Mosque from the main gate

The Five Room Hall

As I make my way out of the mosque and back into the Muslim Quarter, I find these interesting T-shirts with pictures of “Oba Mao.” 🙂

Oba Mao

Oba Mao

Suddenly, I’m back in the bustling Muslim Quarter, where suddenly I’m feeling very hungry.  Though all the food looks enticing, I’m determined to find a bread soup that one of my colleagues told me about.

Muslim chefs

Muslim chefs

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

Food vendors in the Muslim Quarter

back to the Muslim Quarter

back to the Muslim Quarter

Muslim Quarter

Muslim Quarter

Jujube, otherwise known as Chinese dates, are commonly seen here in the Muslim Quarter.

Market goods

Market goods

streets of the Muslim Quarter

streets of the Muslim Quarter

Every kind of dehydrated fruit imaginable is sold in the Muslim Quarter.

Goodies for sale

Goodies for sale

more goodies

more goodies

dinnertime

dinnertime

Muslim market

Muslim market

Muslim market

Muslim market

a street in the Muslim Quarter

a street in the Muslim Quarter

Lively street

Lively street

Finally, I find a restaurant where I see people sitting at outdoor tables busily tearing bread into tiny pieces into bowls.  I’ve found the famous soup!

I also see these two friends talking amiably.  They look like what I imagine Chinese intellectuals would look like.

two men absorbed

two men absorbed  

I step inside the restaurant where I order the Crumbled Flatbread (unleavened bread) in Mutton Stew, in Chinese, Yangrou Paomo. I’m given a large bowl and two pieces of round, flat unleavened bread.  

the unleavened pita bread

the unleavened pita bread

I observe the people at the tables around me and realize I should break the bread into small pieces so that it can absorb the flavor of the liquid.   The bread is hard and the process is time-consuming.  I see many people are breaking their bread into tiny pieces, but I tear mine up into slightly larger pieces, one, because I don’t want to sit all day tearing the bread, two, because I’m famished, and three, because I’m envisioning the bread pieces becoming something like dumplings, chicken-and-dumpling style, once the soup is poured over them.

the bread torn up in the bowl

the bread torn up in the bowl

After I prepare my bread, I take my bowl to the chef at the back of the restaurant.  He ladles hot soup over the bread, topping it off with pieces of beef (mutton is also popular). Back at the table, a Chinese young man who speaks a bit of English instructs me to add chili paste, caraway and a specially salted sweet garlic to the dish.

the soup with beef poured over the bread

the soup with beef poured over the bread

It is the most delicious thing imaginable!  I end up taking out the meat as it’s a little fatty for my taste, but I enjoy every bite of that bread, which does in fact turn into something resembling a cross between dumplings and späetzle.  I’m in heaven.

I sure wish I didn’t always have to worry about getting stomach problems or gaining weight, because I love food, especially a dish such as this!!

the Drum Tower in daylight

the Drum Tower in daylight

After lunch, I make my way back past the Drum Tower and head back to the hotel to relax a bit before I tackle the ancient city walls.

gardens and Drum Tower

gardens and Drum Tower

Categories: Asia, China, Great Mosque, Muslim Quarter, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an, Yangrou Paomo, Yizhen Pavilion | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

the bell tower & the drum tower in xi’an

Monday, April 20:  Finally, on my last day in Xi’an, I wake up to sunshine.  I’m glad because I have a lot I want to see today before flying back to Nanning tomorrow morning.  I enjoy the buffet breakfast in the hotel, then I head out toward the Muslim Quarter.  I make stops at the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower on my way there.

The Bell Tower was built in the 17th year of Hongwu (1384 AD) of the Ming dynasty.  It’s named for a huge bell hung in the tower to tell the time.  The tower is a mixed structure of bricks and wood, is 1370 square meters, and is 36 meters high with the architectural style of the Ming dynasty. It has undergone many repairs since 1949.

Bell at the Bell Tower

Bell at the Bell Tower

I walk around the perimeter of the tower, which sits in the middle of a roundabout, and see views in all directions.  This is the view to the north.

the view north from the Bell Tower

the view north from the Bell Tower

I can see the Drum Tower to the northwest.

Looking west to the Drum Tower

Looking west to the Drum Tower

Looking directly west I can see the busy streets of Xi’an and the Drum Tower to the right.

The view west from the Bell Tower

The view west from the Bell Tower

The Imitated Qin Chime Bells, 39 pieces altogether, are reproduced in line with the Yuefu bells unearthed from the mausoleum of the first emperor of the Qin dynasty and the Bianbo bells excavated in Meixian and Fufeng counties of Shaanxi province.

In the Chime Bell room are some interesting Chinese paintings.

Chinese paintings

Chinese paintings

According to a placard in the room, this set of imitated chime bells includes 7 bo bells, 18 Yong bells, and 14 Niu bells.  They are exquisite in decorative patterns and are in timbre.  Such classical musical instruments could produce tunes of all kinds, ancient and modern, Chinese and foreign.

The Imitated Qin Chime Bells

The Imitated Qin Chime Bells

I adore the colorful painted ceilings in this room.

pretty painted ceilings

pretty painted ceilings

swirls and squares

swirls and squares

another Chinese painting

another Chinese painting

Outside, I admire the iconic flying eaves that are so perfectly Chinese.

flying eaves of the Bell Tower

flying eaves of the Bell Tower

ceiling in the Bell Tower

ceiling in the Bell Tower

I see the view looking south to the south gate of the city walls.  My hotel is along this stretch, only a block or two from the tower.  It’s the perfect location for exploring Xi’an.

View south from the Bell Tower

View south from the Bell Tower

I love the red doors and the carvings on the railings that make interesting shadows on the walkway.

walkway on the perimeter of the Bell Tower

walkway on the perimeter of the Bell Tower

I come full circle and see the western view again.

View west from the Bell Tower

View west from the Bell Tower

After leaving the Bell Tower, I walk west to the Drum Tower, built in the 13th year of Hongwu (1380 AD) of the Ming dynasty.  It’s named for the huge drums laid in the tower to tell the time.  The tower is also a mixed structure of bricks and wood, occupies an area of 1840 square meters, and is 34 meters high in the typical architecture of the Ming dynasty.  Like the Bell Tower, it has undergone many repairs since 1949.

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower

Eaves of the Drum Tower

Eaves of the Drum Tower

Drums at the Drum Tower

Drums at the Drum Tower

It just so happens that I arrive at the Drum Tower just in time to hear the drum performance.

A drum performance

A drum performance

painted drum

painted drum

dragon drum

dragon drum

Fast motion drummer

Fast motion drummer

Walking around the back rim of the Drum Tower, I can see Beiyuanmen in the Muslim Quarter.  It doesn’t look quite as busy as it was last night.

View of Beiyuanmen in the Muslim Quarter

View of Beiyuanmen in the Muslim Quarter

more drums at the Drum Tower

more drums at the Drum Tower

From the Drum Tower, I can see some gardens and the Bell Tower to the east.

View from the Drum Tower back to the Bell Tower

View from the Drum Tower back to the Bell Tower

Around the north side of the Drum Tower, there is the usual bustling commerce that’s ubiquitous throughout China.

View to the northeast from the Drum Tower

View to the northeast from the Drum Tower

view northwest from the Drum Tower

view northwest from the Drum Tower

After leaving the Drum Tower, I head down and out to explore the Muslim Quarter and the Great Mosque.

Categories: Asia, Bell Tower, China, Drum Tower, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

first venture into xi’an’s muslim quarter

Sunday, April 19:  After my full day with the Terra Cotta Warriors, the emperor and his concubine, and Chiang Kai-Shek, Chelsea drops Andrew and me back at our respective hotels.  I sit in the lobby for a while checking emails and posting some pictures before heading out to check out a restaurant recommended by Chelsea; it sits on the street between the Bell Tower and the south gate of the city walls.  I find when I go inside the restaurant that it’s outrageously expensive, so I decide to leave and head to the Muslim Quarter, which I’ve heard is lively and has some of the best food in the city.

Looking at the Bell Tower from the south gate of the ancient city wall

Looking at the Bell Tower from the south gate of the ancient city wall

I haven’t yet explored the ancient city walls, but I hope to do so tomorrow.  I’ve heard you can rent a bicycle at the top of the wall and can ride all the way around the perimeter if you like.  I can only hope there’s no rain.

the south gate of Xi'an's ancient city wall

the south gate of Xi’an’s ancient city wall

As I walk north on the main street, I can see the fabulous Bell Tower glowing in its golds, greens and reds.

The Bell Tower at night

The Bell Tower at night

At the Bell Tower, I turn to the west and stroll toward the Drum Tower.  It is also lit up beautifully.

The Drum Tower at night

The Drum Tower at night

Just north of the Drum Tower is the Muslim Quarter, home for centuries to Xi’an’s thirty thousand Hui people, said to be descended from 8th century Arab soldiers (Lonely Planet China).  The quarter covers several blocks inhabited by over 20,000 Muslims. There are about ten mosques in this area, among which the Great Mosque is the most famous and popular (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).  I plan to visit the area in greater depth tomorrow.

venturing into the Muslim Quarter

venturing into the Muslim Quarter

Muslim food and souvenir vendors abound on Beiyuanmen, the flagstoned narrow street just north of the Drum Tower.  The buildings on both sides of the street are modeled on architectural styles of both the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). The owners are all Muslims (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).

the busy Muslim Quarter

the busy Muslim Quarter

Lanterns for sale

Lanterns for sale

The Muslims on Beiyuanmen are devout followers of Islam, so they form a tight-knit community, which maintains its own culture and traditions to this day (China Travel Guide: Muslim Quarter).

As you can see below, the street is very crowded this evening.

Xi'an's Muslim Quarter

Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter

I stop in a restaurant for some dinner. I’ve heard of a delicious soup with beef or lamb that’s poured over unleavened bread, but I have a hard time finding it on the menu, even using my cumbersome WayGo app.

the menu in the restaurant

the menu in the restaurant

I finally settle on some very wide spicy noodles that I see at someone else’s table.  I gesture to the waitress that I’d like whatever the man in the center table is having.

a nice little Muslim restaurant

a nice little Muslim restaurant

I didn’t mention that I’ve had an upset stomach most of the day and, even tonight, my stomach is feeling a little queasy; these stomach problems have accompanied me throughout China over the last year.  That doesn’t stop me from eating every last bite of these oily and spicy noodles, which are fabulous.

wide spicy noodles

wide spicy noodles

The crowds are thick in the Muslim Quarter and I’m tired from my long day today, so I walk back to my hotel, once again passing the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower on my way “home.”

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower in Xi'an

The Drum Tower in Xi’an

It’s been a great two days in Xi’an, and I have another whole day tomorrow, Monday.  My flight back to Nanning isn’t until early Tuesday morning. I plan to visit the Bell and Drum Towers, the Muslim Quarter, the city walls, and in the evening, to attend a performance with Mari, the Finnish lady I met today. The performance is to be accompanied by dinner, in which dumplings of all kinds are served. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Bell Tower, China, Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

huaqing hot springs: concubine love & political intrigue

Sunday, April 19:  After leaving the Terra Cotta Warriors, our small group splits up.  Mari and the Israeli mother and daughter return to Xi’an, while Andrew and I continue on with our guide Chelsea to Huaqing Pool.

Much like the fascinating story behind the Terra Cotta Warriors, Huaqing Pool also has an intriguing history, one that involves a tragic love story between an emperor and his concubine, and later, an incident involving Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Communist Party.

Pond at Huaqing Hot Spring

Nine Dragon Lake at Huaqing Hot Springs

Huaqing Pool, also known as the Huaqing Hot Springs, was built in 723 by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty.  The pool was part of the Huaqing Palace, which was heated by geothermal springs flowing from Li Mountain and other surrounding mountains. The mineral-rich water was considered to be medically beneficial and flowed at a temperature of 43C, or 110F, degrees. Huaqing Pool has two claims to fame: it was the site of Xuanzong’s legendary romance with his concubine Yang Guifei, and, later, it was the scene of the 1936 Xi’an Incident, in which Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped by former warlord Zhang Xueliang and forced to participate in a United Front with the Chinese Communist Party to oppose the Japanese invasion of China  (Wikipedia: Huaqing Pool).

Pond & weeping willows at Huaqing Hot Spring

Nine Dragon Lake & weeping willows at Huaqing Hot Springs

Pond at Huaqing Hot Spring

Nine Dragon Lake at Huaqing Hot Springs

Pond & bridge at Huaqing Hot Spring

Nine Dragon Lake & bridge at Huaqing Hot Springs

The name Hua means brilliant, Chinese or flowery and qing means pure or clear.  Huaqing Hot Springs has a 3,000 year history in which various palace complexes and the famous imperial bathing pools figured prominently. The original Tang Dynasty Palace, which sprawled over an area of more than 85,000 square meters, was larger than the present site.   All structures were rebuilt in 1959 in the Tang architectural style.  The Huaqing Pool is a National Cultural Relic and one of China’s Hundred Famous Gardens (China Highlights: Huaqing Hot Springs).

Bridge at Huaqing Hot Spring

Bridge at Huaqing Hot Springs

Li Palace was first built during the Western Zhou dynasty (1045 – 256 BC) at the foot of Li Mountain.  In the Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BC), a stone pool was built and was given the name Li Mountain Hot Springs. The site was enlarged during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), and was once again named Li Palace. During the Tang dynasty (618 – 907), Emperor Taizong ordered the palace enlarged.

Finally, Emperor Xuanzong, his successor, had a walled palace built around Li Mountain in the year of 747. It was then known as Huaqing Palace, or Huaqing Hot Spring, because of the hot spring there. Over the course of 41 years, the emperor visited the palace as many as 36 times (China Highlights: Huaqing Hot Springs).

tree of wishes

tree of wishes

Pond at Huaqing Hot Spring

Pond at Huaqing Hot Springs

Emperor Xuanzong spent his winters at Huaqing Hot Spring in the company of his favorite concubine Yang Guifei.  He was over 60 years old when he fell for his son’s concubine, and she reciprocated. According to historical records, during the 10 years from 745 to 755, the emperor brought Yang, along with his high-ranking officials, to the Huaqing Palace in October, and only returned to his capital palace in the spring of each following year. During that period, all domestic and diplomatic affairs of state were handled at Huaqing Palace, which thus began to flourish as an important political center (China Travel Guide: Huaqing Hot Springs).

Yang, who was recognized as one of the most enchanting ladies in ancient China, was spoiled by the emperor. He was so enraptured by the beautiful lady, that he neglected state business. He built luxurious palaces in this area purely for their personal pleasure. General An Lushan became disgruntled by the emperor’s misbehavior, so he led a rebellion against the emperor.  As the general and his troops approached the palace, the emperor and his retinue escaped into Sichuan.  Along the way, the army mutinied and demanded Yang Guifei be executed.  In despair, she hanged herself.  (China Highlights: Huaqing Hot Springs and Lonely Planet China).

Pond & hall at Huaqing Hot Spring

Pond & hall at Huaqing Hot Springs

Pond & bridge at Huaqing Hot Spring

Pond & bridge at Huaqing Hot Springs

Lanterns at Huaqing Hot Spring

Lanterns at Huaqing Hot Springs

Pavilion at Huaqing Hot Spring

Pavilion at Huaqing Hot Springs

At night, the “Song of Unending Sorrow” is presented on a water stage at Huaqing Pool. The historical drama tells of the romance between Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei.  Originally, the “Song of Unending Sorrow” was a long narrative poem created by Bai Juyi (772 – 846), a famous realistic poet of the Tang Dynasty.  Nowadays, the poem tells the love story in four parts: Falling in Love, The Inseparable Couple, Farewell to Lover and Reunification in Fairyland (Travel China Guide: The Song of Unending Sorrow).

The water stage for the performance

The water stage for the performance

Pavilion at Huaqing Hot Spring

Pavilion at Huaqing Hot Springs

Chinese characters on a building at Huaqing Hot Springs

Chinese characters on a building at Huaqing Hot Springs

Hall at Huaqing Hot Spring

Hall at Huaqing Hot Springs

Three Chinese men wanted to pose with Andrew

Three Chinese men wanted to pose with Andrew

The Ruins of the Imperial Hot Springs (644-756 AD)

The Ruins of the Imperial Hot Springs (644-756 AD)

Near the hot spring ruins, we find a statue of the infamous Yang Guifei, surrounded by the usual entourage of Chinese tourists taking photographs and selfies.

statue of the concubine Yang Guifei, surrounded by Chinese tourists

statue of the concubine Yang Guifei, surrounded by Chinese tourists

I’m unable to get a photo of Yang without any Chinese people in it, but this one is the best of the lot.

The concubine Yang Guifei

The concubine Yang Guifei

Ivy-covered buildings at Huaqing Hot Springs

Ivy-covered buildings at Huaqing Hot Springs

at Huaqing Hot Springs

at Huaqing Hot Springs

The Hot Spring Scenic Area boasts 4 hot springs originating from Shiquan Cave.  The water is rich in mineral substances that are supposedly good for health, such as lime, sodium carbonate, silica, alum and sulphur. Water in the Huaqing Hot Spring is not only good for bathing but is considered to be good for arthritis and skin disease. In the bathing area, 100-plus bathing rooms were equipped and could host around 400 persons for bathing (China Tour: Huaqing Hot Spring).

The site of the Imperial Pool is the only one of its kind in China. The five remaining pools are the Star Pool,  Lotus Pool, Haitang Pool, Shangshi Pool, Star Pool and Prince Pool.  They are no longer in use, nor do they have water in them, but we can still see the shapes and read about them on placards.

Star Pool was built for Emperor Taizong in 644 AD.  The walls of Star Pool were built to emulate mountains and rivers and thus create a magnificent view. It is said that the former Star Pool had no roof and nothing to cover its four sides (China Travel Guide: Huaqing Hot Springs). This bathing pool looks like the Big Dipper along with the Kuixing Star Pool to its south.

Lotus Flower Pool, also known as the Imperial Nine Dragon Bathing Palace, was built in 747 AD exclusively for Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.  The pool was constructed of limestones in oblong shape with two terraces, magnificent in design and grand in scale.

Haitang Pool, also known as Crabapple Pool, or Lotus Bathing Pool, was built in 747 AD for Lady Yang, the emperor’s favorite concubine.  Therefore, it was colloquially called “Concubine’s Pool.” The bathing pool was constructed of lime stones and appears like a crabapple flower in full bloom, small and exquisite.

The Shangshi Pool was designated for officials.

After exploring all the ruined pools, we walk through some pretty gardens on our way to Huanyuan Garden.

Gardens at Huaqing Hot Springs

Gardens at Huaqing Hot Springs

Gardens at Huaqing Hot Springs

Gardens at Huaqing Hot Springs

Huanyuan Garden is the former garden of the Huaqing palace. A guest house was built here in 1878, which served as a temporary residence for some very important visitors including the Qing Emperor Guangxu and Empress Dowager Cixi during their inspection tour to Xi’an in 1900.  It also hosted Chiang Kai-shek when he came to scheme an anti-Communist offense which led to the Xi’an Incident of 1936.

Entryway

Entryway to Huanyuan Garden

Gardens & pavilions at Huaqing Hot Springs

Huanyuan Garden

Gardens & pavilions at Huaqing Hot Springs

Huanyuan Garden

Gardens at Huaqing Hot Springs

Huanyuan Garden

The Xi’an incident was a bit complicated.  As the Japanese advanced into China, Chiang Kai-shek was determined to pursue his policy of national unification, with the goal of eradicating the Communists. He went to Xi’an to oversee an extermination campaign.  The area at that time was controlled by Marshal Zhang Xueliang and his Manchurian troops.  The Manchurian troops had become unhappy with Chiang Kai-shek and his policies, exacerbated by the fact that the Japanese were at that time occupying Manchuria.  In secret meetings with the Communists, Zhang became convinced of the Communists’ anti-Japanese sentiments and on the morning of December 12, 1936, they stormed Chiang Kai-shek’s compound at the foot of Li Mountain.  Most of the household staff were captured, but Chiang Kai-shek managed to escape halfway up the mountain, having bolted at the sound of gunfire still in his pajamas and without his false teeth.  Chiang Kai-shek had to pay a ransom but was unharmed.  He was allowed to remain leader of China as long as he allied with the Communists against the Japanese (Lonely Planet China).

Finally, we make our way out of Huaqing Pool to the exit.  We find this pool covered in a dragon motif, so common throughout China.

Dragon motif covering a pool

Dragon motif covering a pool

I find this friendly man sitting on a turtle’s back in the stele garden.

a kindly Chinese gentleman sits on a stele

a Chinese gentleman sits on a stele

stele garden

stele garden

stele garden

stele garden

Our tour is over, but we have quite a long drive back to Xi’an, where I’ll go out to explore the Muslim Quarter and taste some of the legendary food that’s offered there. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Huanyuan Garden, Huaqing Hot Springs, Huaqing Pool, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an | Tags: , , , , , | 16 Comments

mausoleum of the first qin emperor & his terra cotta warriors

Sunday, April 19:  While we drive to the The Museum of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, quite some distance outside of Xi’an, our guide Chelsea tells us the story of the emperor, Qin Shi Huang. After ascending the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13, he managed within 25 years to vanquish the unruly eastern states, thus becoming the first emperor of a unified China.  During his tyrannical rule, he set out to destroy all books, except those about the history of Qin state or practical matters such as agriculture, as well as the scholars who wrote them.  He unified all parts of the empire with a network of roads, mainly to aid military campaigns, and built the Great Wall, conscripting much of the populace to construct it; this, even more than his high taxes and harsh laws, was the thing that finally turned his subjects against him (Lonely Planet China).

He seems to have been an egomaniacal man.  Ever ambitious, he died in 210 BC while on a quest to find the legendary island of immortals and their secret drug of longevity.  The Terra-Cotta Army and his mausoleum, which took 11 years to complete, reflect the workings of a paranoid mind filled with delusions of grandeur.

We finally arrive at the museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.  A scholarly statues welcomes us into the complex.

Statue at the entrance to the Terra Cotta Army

Statue at the entrance to the Terra Cotta Army

There is apparently no historical record of the Terra Cotta Army.  In fact, it was only discovered in 1974, by a group of peasants digging for a well near what is now known as the royal tomb.  They uncovered some pottery there; these discoveries immediately got the attention of archeologists, who established that these artifacts are associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC) (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).  The current museum was authorized by the State Council to be built shortly after the discovery of the Warriors, in 1975, and Vault 1 was opened to visitors in 1979.

The Terra Cotta Warriors vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers and 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum.  Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strong men and musicians (Wikipedia: Terracotta Army).  It is speculated that many buried treasures and sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his afterlife (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).

Chelsea is our guide for today

Chelsea is our guide for today

Seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors is one of those travel moments that takes your breath away.  The sheer number of them and the story behind them defies imagination.  The tale of this egotistical young emperor who ruled with an iron fist, dreamed of being immortal, built the Great Wall as a defense against invaders, constructed a mausoleum as big as a city for himself, and created an army of lifelike soldiers to guard him after he died is a story better than fiction.

Vault 1of the Terra Cotta Warriors

Vault 1of the Terra Cotta Warriors

The museum covers an area of 16,300 square meters, divided into three sections: Vault 1, Vault 2, and Vault 3 respectively. They were tagged in the order of their discoveries. Vault 1 is the largest, first opened to the public on China’s National Day – Oct. 1st, 1979.  (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).

The warriors

The warriors

The Terracotta Warriors are extremely lifelike and vividly depict the wartime scenes of the Qin dynasty. Based on their roles, they are divided into soldiers and commanders of the Imperial Guard. The soldiers normally don’t wear hats but the commanders do.  The hats, as well as the armor, vary greatly between low-level commanders and the generals. The soldiers are divided into infantry, rivalry and carriage soldiers. According to their roles, they are equipped with different weapons. (terracottaarmy.com: The Mysterious Terracotta Warriors).

Warriors in formation

Warriors in formation

Vault One is the largest and most impressive, enclosed as it is within what looks like an airplane hangar. It is believed to contain over 6,000 terracotta figures of soldiers and horses, but less than 2,000 are on display. There are columns of soldiers at the front, followed by war chariots at the back.  All soldiers and horses face east in a rectangular array. The vanguard appears to be three rows of infantry who stand at the easternmost end of the army. Close behind is the main force of armored soldiers holding weapons, accompanied by 38 horse-driven chariots.  Every figure differs in facial features and expression, clothing, hairstyle, and gestures, leading to speculation that each one represents an actual soldier from the emperor’s Imperial Guard; these provide abundant and detailed artifacts for the study of the military, cultural, and economic history of that period. (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).

warriors in Vault 1

warriors in Vault 1

The warrior figures average about 1.8 meters in height and are hollow from the thighs up.  The heads and hands were modeled separately and attached to the mass-produced bodies.  Traces of pigment show that their dress was originally bright yellow, purple and green, though it’s gray now.  Originally, the warriors carried real weapons, bows, swords, spears and crossbows, which were still sharp when found; the arrowheads contained lead to make them poisonous.  Over 10,000 of these weapons have been found (Lonely Planet China).

Me with 1,000 warriors

Me with 1,000 warriors

In the trenches

In the trenches

Vault 1

Vault 1

Terra Cotta Warriors

Terra Cotta Warriors

Warriors in Vault 1

Warriors in Vault 1

Serious warriors

Serious warriors

In the trenches for Emperor Qin

In the trenches for Emperor Qin

Advance guard

Advance guard

dedicated soldiers

dedicated soldiers

Warriors marching forward

Warriors marching forward

the rear guard

the rear guard

soldiers bringing up the rear

soldiers bringing up the rear

warriors

warriors

Terra Cotta Warriors

Terra Cotta Warriors

Terra Cotta Warriors at the back of Vault 1

Terra Cotta Warriors at the back of Vault 1

After leaving Vault 1, we proceed to Vault 3 which is the smallest one, unearthed in 1976. There are only 68 terracotta warriors, many of which are without heads, a war chariot and four horses. It’s obvious that Vault 3 represents the command post, as all the figures are officials.  They’re not in battle formation, but they form a guard of honor.  Animal bones found here suggest ritual sacrifices, which would have been made by an army going into battle.  This vault went on display in 1989 (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3

the battle headquarters of Vault 3,

We then move on to Vault 2, found in 1976; it is still undergoing excavation.   It contained over a thousand warriors and 90 chariots of wood and was unveiled to the public in 1994.  It is thought that Vault 2 holds more warriors than Vault 1.

In Vault 2, the first unit contains rows of kneeling and standing archers; the second one is a chariot war array; the third unit consists of mixed forces with infantry, chariots and troopers standing in rectangular array; and the last one includes numerous troopers holding weapons. The four units form a rigorous battle array (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).

Vault 2 - still under excavation

Vault 2 – still under excavation

Altogether over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been unearthed from these pits. Most of them have been restored to their former grandeur.  (China Travel Guide: Terra Cotta Army).

Warrior

Warrior

High ranking officer

High ranking officer

One hundred sixteen cavalrymen with horses, like the one shown below, were found in Vault 2.

Cavalryman with his saddled war horse

Cavalryman with his saddled war horse

Another warrior

Another warrior

Vault 2

Vault 2

Vault 2

Vault 2

small museum beside Vault 2

small museum beside Vault 2

In a small museum beside Vault 2, two bronze carriages are displayed.  They were mainly made of bronze, but there were 1,720 pieces of golden and silver ornaments, weighting 7 kg, on each carriage. The carriages were so well-made, and so vivid, that they boast being the best-preserved and having the highest rank among the earliest known bronze relics in China. These chariots are the biggest pieces of ancient bronzeware ever found in the world (China Highlights: The Terra Cotta Army — Why and how they were made).

Sadly, I couldn’t get a very good picture of them as it was so dark.

You can almost see the bronze chariots

You can almost see the bronze chariots

fountain at the museum

fountain at the museum

After we finish with the Terra Cotta Warriors, we go by car to the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang, which is just an artificial hill.

According to UNESCO: Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor: The mausoleum is “the center of a complex designed the mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyan.”

According to accounts by historian Sima Qian, 700,000 laborers spent 36 years creating an imperial city below ground.  The heavens of the central chamber were depicted with pearls on the ceiling and the geography of the world was shown on bronze floors, with seas and rivers represented by pools of mercury made to flow with machinery.  Crossbows were set to protect gold and silver relics.  High levels of mercury have been found in the surrounding soil, suggesting that at least parts of these accounts are true (Lonely Planet China).

The tomb has yet to be excavated and Chelsea tells us that it may be a long time before it is. She says scientists need to figure out ways to excavate without exposing the inside of the tomb to the elements and without being poisoned by the mercury.

Stone marker for the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang

Stone marker for the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang

Our small group poses near a rock marking the site of the emperor’s tomb. The hill in the background is apparently the tomb, but as there’s nothing to see inside, we head on to other sites.

Our group at the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang: L to R: Andrew, me, Mayan, Dahlia, and Mari

Our group at the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang: L to R: Andrew, me, Mayan, Dahlia, and Mari

Andrew, Mayan, Chelsea, Dahlia, and Mari

Andrew, Mayan, Chelsea, Dahlia, and Mari

Andrew and I will head with Chelsea to Huaqing Pool, and Mari and the Israeli ladies are returning to Xi’an, as they only wanted a half-day tour.  Mari and I have arranged to meet at a show arranged by Chelsea on Monday night.

Categories: Asia, China, Holidays, Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, San Yue San, Shaanxi, Terra Cotta Warriors, Xi'an, Zhuang Song Festival | Tags: , , , , , | 20 Comments

the xi’an art ceramics & lacquer company

Sunday, April 19:  This morning I’ve arranged to go on a tour to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, as well as a couple of other sites. Our guide is a young Chinese woman with the English name of Chelsea.  As I generally dislike large group tours, I’m pleased that this group consists of only five of us:  Dahlia and Mayan, a mother and daughter from Israel; Andrew, a British guy; and Mari, a Finnish lady who is living and working in Beihai. Our day starts as a rainy one, but we hop in a van and drive quite a distance outside of Xi’an.  By the time we arrive at the Xi’an Art Ceramics & Lacquer Company, it’s stopped raining.   We get to pose for pictures with our heads poking out of the terra-cotta warrior armor. 🙂

Me as Warrior

Me as Warrior

It turns out this is a state-run factory that’s been in operation since 1958. It reproduces terra-cotta warriors in sizes ranging from 4 inches to life-size, as well as a variety of ceramic figures, lacquered furniture, paper-cuts and silk hand-tied rugs.  We are greeted by some of the life-size warriors.

terra cotta warriors

terra-cotta warriors

One of the workers concentrates on carving details into the clay figures.

A woman carves terra cotta warriors

A woman carves terra-cotta warriors

We find a group of headless warriors waiting to be brought to life.

headless warriors

headless warriors

Some of the warriors are kneeling.  What’s interesting about these is that they are painted in colors resembling the original warriors. Later, when we go to see the actual Terra Cotta Warriors, we’ll find that their colors are no longer evident due to the passage of time and the exposure of the warriors to the atmosphere.

kneeling colorful warriors

kneeling colorful warriors

Our guide takes us outside to show us the kiln where the terra-cotta and other ceramic figures are fired.

the kiln

the kiln

The factory has all kinds of ceramic figures in addition to the warriors, including elegant Chinese ladies.

women figures

women figures

This woman is making some strange dragon/fish-like creature.

painting ceramics

painting ceramics

paint pots

paint pots

ceramic dragon

ceramic dragon

These large ceramic horses seem very vocal.  I’ve always loved horses so am tempted to take one home. 🙂

ceramic horses

ceramic horses

I do consider buying one of these cool creatures, but I resist the urge.  At least I have the picture!

little critters

little critters

I also like the Chinese lady figurines.

pretty painted ladies

pretty painted ladies

Of course, the terra-cotta warriors are the stars.  It’s too bad the real warriors no longer have their coloring.  I bet those would be even more amazing to see than they already are.

terra cotta warriors in the colors they might have been originally

terra-cotta warriors in the colors they might have been originally

life-size warriors

life-size warriors

I don’t buy anything, but Andrew buys some warrior figures for his children and Mari buys a picture and a couple of other gifts.  The two Israeli women are a little irritated because they made it clear to the hotel staff who arranged the tour that they didn’t want to stop at any souvenir shops, and yet here we are, right off the bat.  I don’t like stopping at these kinds of places either, but they always seem to come as part of a tour. Onward to see the Terra Cotta Warriors!

Categories: Asia, China, Shaanxi, Xi'an, Xi'an Art Ceramics & Lacquer Factory | Tags: , , , , | 17 Comments

the bell tower in the heart of xi’an

Saturday, April 18:  Following my long day of exploring a rainy Xi’an and having a rest in my room at Fortune Suites, I head out to look for something to eat.  My stomach has been seriously messed up ever since I ate the Indian food this afternoon, so I don’t dare venture far. I’m still hungry even though I don’t feel good, and I’m hoping whatever I can find will sit well with me.  My hotel is luckily right in the heart of the old city, marked by the Bell Tower, which sits at the crossroads of the four major streets of the city.

Luckily, in the area surrounding the Bell Tower are a number of Western restaurants.  I see a Pizza Hut, which is surprisingly popular in China, so I head there for my favorite fried shrimp meal, which is really just an appetizer portion.  I think that will take care of me tonight.

Bell Tower in Xi'an

Bell Tower in Xi’an

The Bell Tower was originally built two blocks west of here in 1384 during the early Ming dynasty. It contains several large bronze-cast bells from the Tang dynasty.  The present structure was built in 1582 and restored in 1739.  This colorful triple-eaved wooden structure built on a brick platform is lit up tastefully and provides a beacon for people trying to get their bearings in the city (Lonely Planet China & Wikipedia: Bell Tower of Xi’an).

Bell Tower in Xi'an

Bell Tower in Xi’an

It’s quite a busy spot as it’s in the center of a roundabout that is at the crossroads of the four major streets in Xi’an.  You can get to it by way of a tunnel which also leads to the subway.

City streets around Xi'an's Bell Tower

City streets around Xi’an’s Bell Tower

Bell Tower in Xi'an

Bell Tower in Xi’an

Just west of the Bell Tower is the Drum Tower.  I will visit both of these the day after tomorrow.

Bell Tower, with the Drum Tower in the distance

Bell Tower, with the Drum Tower in the distance

After my dinner, accompanied by a German beer, I head back to the hotel, where once again, though free wi-fi is advertised, I have to use wi-fi in the lobby as it doesn’t work in my room.  It seems I’m encountering this problem too many times in China.  Tomorrow, I’m going with a guide and a small group of tourists to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and a few other sites outside the city. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Bell Tower, China, Fortune Suites, Shaanxi, Travel, Xi'an | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

daci’en temple & the big wild goose pagoda in xi’an

Saturday, April 18: After eating my Indian lunch, I wander into Daci’en Temple, home of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an.  The skies are still quite dark and dreary, but the slight drizzle breaks occasionally.  I’m surprised at how much I’ve been able to see on this day, in spite of the uncooperative weather.

Stepped waterfall entrance to Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Stepped waterfall entrance to Big Wild Goose Pagoda

I can see the pagoda ahead of me, but it and the Daci’en Temple are encircled by a large wall.  I have to walk quite a long way around the huge wall to find the opening.  On the outside of this wall is where I find China at its worst: tacky souvenir stands, children’s rides, food kiosks and multiple music venues where loud, obnoxious and cacophonous music bombards the senses.  It’s the too-typical dog-and-pony show that accompanies many tourist attractions in China.  It’s really too bad, because once I finally get inside the walls of the temples, it’s much more peaceful, although crowded, as always.

First view of Big Wild Goose Pagoda

First view of Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Once I finally get inside the walls, I encounter the usual incense burner with a Chinese woman posing beside it.

Incense burner

Incense burner

Walking up the stairs to the temple, I admire the dragon relief sculpture in the center.

In 648, Daci’en Temple was built to commemorate the dead virtuous queen. In its heyday, it had over 2,000 rooms and over 300 monk residents. Today, it’s still quite grand, with an area of 12.5 acres (50,738 square meters), one seventh of the original area (Travel China Guide: Big Wild Goose Pagoda).

Temple & Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Temple & Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Inside I find a serene golden Buddha.

Buddha

Buddha

Manna Hall is a place where vegetarian hosts chant scriptures, ask blessings, dispel disasters, and pray for the deceased. Its service includes mainly yoga tanggal (from Tagalog: detachment) and repentance. Here, amrit, an immortal or heavenly wine, is consumed at the beginning of all sacramental rituals.  Those who drink it can enjoy longevity, safety, strength and smoothness.  Buddhists believe those who drink it can lead a long and secure life and go to a better world.

Manna Hall

Manna Hall

In Avalokiteshvara Hall, I find this bodhisattva with multiple arms, which symbolize his limitless capacity to perceive suffering and to help all beings.

Avalokiteshvara Hall

Avalokiteshvara Hall

According to Travel China Guide: Big Wild Goose Pagoda: The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was originally built in 652 during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).  It’s function was to collect Buddhist materials that were taken from India by the hierarch Xuanzang.

Xuanzang started off from Chang’an (the ancient Xian), along the Silk Road and through deserts, finally arriving in India, the cradle of Buddhism.  Enduring 17 years and traversing 100 countries, he obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics. Having gotten the permission of Emperor Gaozong (628-683), Xuanzang, as the first abbot of Daci’en Temple, supervised the building of a pagoda inside it. With the support of royalty, he asked 50 hierarchs into the temple to translate Sanskrit in sutras into Chinese, totaling 1,335 volumes, which heralded a new era in the history of translation. Based on the journey to India, he also wrote a book entitled ‘Pilgrimage to the West’ in the Tang Dynasty, to which scholars attached great importance.

I climb up into the pagoda for some fabulous views of Xi’an.

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The entire seven-story structure leans several degrees to the west. It was extensively repaired during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and renovated again in 1964. The pagoda currently stands at a height of 64 m (210 ft) tall, offering great views over the city.  It was added to the World Heritage List on June 22, 2014, together with other sites along the ancient Silk Road.

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

There is a legend as to how the pagoda got its name.  There are two branches of Buddhism and for one of them eating meat is not prohibited.  One day, the monks were unable to find meat to buy, so a monk said to himself, ‘Today we have no meat. I hope the merciful Bodhisattva will give us some.” At that moment, the lead bird in a flock of wild geese fell to the ground.  The monks thought it was a sign for the monks to become more pious; thus they built the pagoda and stopped eating meat. (Travel China Guide: Big Wild Goose Pagoda)

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Even in today’s dreary weather, the views from the pagoda are fabulous.

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi'an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

View of Xi’an from Big Wild Goose Pagoda

After coming down from the pagoda, I wander through the Peony Pavilion, where lots of Chinese people are posing for photos.

Peony Pavilion at Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Peony Pavilion at Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Peony Pavilion at Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Peony Pavilion at Big Wild Goose Pagoda

I walk through to the other end of the temple complex where I find a kind of museum.

at Big Wild Goose Pagoda

at Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Museum on the grounds

Museum on the grounds

relief carving on the wall

relief carving on the wall

Inside, a monk first takes some photos of the Buddha and then kneels to worship.

Monk and Buddha

Monk and Buddha

HIstorical images

HIstorical images

elephant parade

elephant parade

Finally, I make my way back out, passing this little garden of shrines.

little shrines at the pagoda

little shrines at the pagoda

shrines at the pagoda

shrines at the pagoda

At long last, I head back to my hotel, where I rest a bit before going out to dinner.

Categories: Asia, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, China, Daci'en Temple, Shaanxi, Xi'an | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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