March 29, 2020

Xian, China

May 2014

Xian is a 3,100 years old city and was the capital of China for more than 770 years between 221 BC and 908 AD.  Xian was the starting point of the "Silk Road" in the distant past; and is the starting point for China's "One Road One Belt" initiative these days.  Xian is a large city with 12 million population (two thirds of Mumbai); is a strong and vibrant economy within China; and houses most of China's R&D facilities and Space program.

Xian has an India connection through Xuanzang.  Xuanzang was a Buddhist monk and scholar who was based in Xian.  He was concerned at the partial and incomplete state of knowledge of Buddhism in China and with the Emperor's permission traveled to India and spent 17 years in Emperor Harshavardana's court, in Nalanda University, and in various Buddhist monasteries.  He collected more than 650 manuscripts from India and returned to China.  He wrote a record of his journey to India which became the inspiration for China's much revered book "Journey to the West".  On his return, the Chinese Emperor built the "Wild Goose Pagoda" temple in Xian and made Xuanzang the first abbot of the temple.  The temple translated more than 1,335 books and manuscripts from Sanskrit to Chinese which constitute the core of Mahayana scriptures in China.  (When we were children, we studied about Hiuen Tsang - the way Xuanzang was spelt in those days when Beijing was Peking.  I was fascinated to visit his "Wild Goose Pagoda" five decades later!)

Wild Goose Pagoda.  The tower gives a panoramic view of Xian.

Temple inside the Wild Goose Pagoda Complex

Xuanzang (at right) who traveled to India in VII century to collect Buddhist literature

On the northern side of the Pagoda is a Music fountain (largest in Asia) that operates at set timings.  We waited and were rewarded with an awesome display.

Wild Goose Pagoda:  Music Fountain

Wild Goose Pagoda:  Music Fountain

Wild Goose Pagoda:  Music Fountain

Xian has an impressive 14 km long fortification wall around the old town.  The wall is 15 to 18 metres thick at the base, 12 to 14 metres thick at the top, and 12 metres high.  The wall has 98 flanking towers atop the wall and the foot print of arrows is said to cover 100% of the area around the wall.  The wall was built in XIV century as a military defence system.   These days it is an excellent tourist attraction.  People hire bikes to cycle on the top surface of the wall.

Xian's City Wall

Xian's City Wall

Xian was picked as the capital of China by its first Emperor Qin Shi Huang who ruled China for just 11 years until 210 BC.  He unified the empire, standardized the writing of Chinese script, standardized coinage across the empire, standardized weights and measures and set up the protocol for increase in trade and prosperity.  He built the Great Wall of China at the northern border of the empire to keep the Mongols away.

The Emperor had two desires.  One, he wanted his life after death to be as glorious as his life when he ruled China.  He wanted a very large retinue of warriors to be around him and protect him in his afterlife.  Two, he wanted to put an end to sacrificing the lives of soldiers so that they could accompany a dead Emperor into the afterworld.  The Emperor had artisans build more than 8,000 warriors (infantry, cavalry, and charioteers) in terracotta.  Each warrior had a unique set of facial features, facial expressions, hairstyle, and clothing,   No warrior was alike another.  The terracotta warriors were buried along with the Emperor when he died in 210 BC in Xian.

Local farmers discovered the terracotta sculptures in 1974.  The Chinese government has built a modern and spacious museum to house the terracotta warriors in a temperature controlled environment.

Terracota Army Museum

Terracota Army Museum

Terracota Army Museum:  Pit 3 (the largest)

Terracota Army Museum:  Pit 3 (the largest)

Terracota Army Museum:  A few warriors accessible to visitors for a closer look

The Museum has sculptors making modern day replicas of the warriors in life size and smaller sizes.  The shop is even more than the Museum itself.

Terracota Army Museum Shop

Terracota Army Museum Shop

Since Xian was a terminal point for the Silk route (that connected Xian with the Mediterranean), Xian received a lot of visitors from the East and thanks to their evangelisation,  has a significant Muslim population in the city.  The Great Mosque of Xian is more than 1,250 years old.  The Muslim Street in Xian is a popular shopping street for ethnic snacks and spices.

Muslim Street

Spice shop in Muslim Street

The Dumpling Banquet and Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show is a "must do" in Xian.

The dumplings were quite tasty

Tang Dynasty Music & Dance Show

Tang Dynasty Music & Dance Show

Xian is a very modern city.

Tree lined Promenades

Skyscrapers all around

Spacious footpaths &. lush gardens

Xian means "peace in the west".  Xian lives up to its name.

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