05.11.2007 - 15.11.2007
View Year out on Huw's travel map.
There is the old excuse."Time flys when your having fun".
I guilty slunk into a sofa at a local coffee house. Damnit, Pingyao had been months ago now and I'd still not touched a blog or diary since. In truth it had never been as easy to write as I'd first hoped. Sooner or later you discover that the few hours downtime it takes to keep it up, is a few hours you could be off finding yet more interesting things to avoid writing about. The cycle continues and for me in China times not so much flown as soared.
So... Meanwhile, In China...
Once again I'd continued south, fleeing the rapidly freezing north as winter grasped at my previous stops. I'd later meet another traveller, in Mongolia at the time, who bitterly recalled the -30 degree Celsius temperatures. As for me, I was sick enough of the low positives in the Chinese north and reckoned if I went far enough south I'd eventually hit summer again.
Bowling off the train at the station we were welcomed by the Grand walls of Xi'an. Completely encircling the city they stand like the monolithic sisters of Pingyao. Unfortunately they don't share its shielding effect. In places vast holes have been blasted through the walls, then artfully bridged to allow in roads and highways. At first glance Xi'an appears just like any other Chinese city, a sprawling growth of modern buildings blanketed in Smog, but it too has its treasures. I'd had no idea until arriving that Xi'an has always been a major stop on the Silk road. From this lingers a lasting impression of middle western culture. Not in least its Muslim district. Filled with distinctly un-han looking Chinese amongst the sounds and smells of central Asian food. We'd run into a few Brits at the hostel (We're an unexpected minority amongst travellers) who’d mentioned the Great Mosque as well worth a look. Nestled in windy lanes and a maze of trading alleys and halal kebabs the great mosque seems wholly attached to the area that surrounds it. There are no shapely white towers to distance the building from those around it, instead there is it’s an unquestionably Islamic take on a Chinese temple. Covered in symbolism from the placement and shape of buildings to the presence of the crescent moon
But all this is just a side note in Xi'an, overshadowed by the immense attraction just a half hour ride outside. The City’s main claim to fame is the tomb and death guard for China’s first emperor. The Terracotta army. You get a lot of build up before seeing the army itself. Comically poor acting in the intro movies, the vast ornate park it lies in and the looming size of the hanger itself. It all suggests your about to see something grand. I for one, found the spectacle did not disappoint. Organised by unit and rank Emperor Qin’s undead clay army is still partially buried. Only a few of the front units have been repaired and propped up to their original standing positions. The rest lie crushed, shattered or even still buried under the massive slabs of unexcavated mud, such is the fear of losing a cultural relic. The site still draws amazement even despite its current condition. Rather than detracting from the greater whole it instead hints and alludes to an even greater original vista.
Beyond this though lies the far less visually striking area of Qin’s tomb. A huge man made mountain, easily the size of any Egyptian pyramid, lies fairly quietly by the road in. Covered in grass and trees, it seems nothing more than a park with a steep hill and marginally impressive view of the area from the top. All is not as it seems here however, and the key to this place lies in buried potential. Qin’s tomb is un-excavated. It has never been opened by archaeologists and studies of the mount seem to suggest it’s never been broken into and robbed either. You suddenly realise that just below your feet lie caverns filled with treasure and artefacts befitting of an Indiana Jones film. Along with the remains of the great man himself. The site has experts polarised from all over China and the world. With the oriental equivalent of Giza, known to all but sealed off, its tempting forbidden fruit for archaeologists and many are hungry to take a look inside. Stopping them is the largely held belief, that with such a massive site and such delicate materials, in opening the tomb there would be no way of preserveing what they find inside. Once exposed to air and sunlight things may just start to fall apart again. Behind this debate is also a lasting respect and fear for man. A great Tyrant who united China into the country we know today, who unified the writing system effectively giving as many language as Europe the ability to communicate in a form that still exists and the man who committed an unspeakable number of horrific acts to forge a power which has lasted millennia. Some feel such a man deserves his rest some few even fear his ghost.
A sudden whiff of Caffeine brought me back. I suspiciously eyed the glass of Jet black Jet fuel the waitress had just placed in front of me. A few forced gulps later and i was awake again. It was starting to get dark and I felt drained. I had to finish though. Apparently, memory dims with worrying speed. Already I struggle to remember parts from the start of the trip, a dangerous fuzz which obscures the funny details that make travel so worthwhile. Last night I'd taken a flick through another travellers diary, meticulously kept for years back the joy he'd taken from seeing pictures and reading old entries was evident, opening the flood gates for old memories. You can lose a couple of hours here and there or you can lose a few days or possibly more much further down the line. Thumbing through a trove of pictures, notes and blogs gave similar satisfaction.
Thus goes a guilty psudo-apology and rational for why I will attempt shorter gaps between following blog posts. More soon… honest.