Wow! Today has been just fabulous: terracotta warriors, tea ceremony and a dumpling banquet and show.
3 June 2016
We had an early start to drive one hour out into the country side to the site where the Terracotta Warriors are. It was only in 1974 that a local farmer discovered them while he was digging a well – if he had been just a few metres away they might never have been discovered. The other farmer with him didn’t think it was important but thankfully he thought it significant enough to report to the local authorities. He no longer has his farm but is apparently very rich through book signing.
We are uncertain about the weather when we leave – I have my umbrella and my raincoat – but it turns out to be a brilliantly sunny day. We were so excited when we first saw blue sky that many of us took photos to prove it.
Although the archeological sites are now covered, we walk first through some beautiful gardens to get there. Pit 1 is the first site that was discovered and there is a sign marking where the well was. All of us have read lots and seen documentaries about the Warriors but nothing can prepare you for actually being there and seeing them in person. The site is absolutely huge and your first sight as you enter is the columns of restored foot soldiers.
Our local guide Lena has very sensibly told us to rent ear pieces so that she can easily tell us about what we are seeing without having to shout above the crowds. It is crowded but we do get spaces that we can all stand at the rails and see. On some days there has been more than 100,000 people visit! We can walk right around the excavation area and see some areas that have yet to be excavated and some areas where the pieces are still in the process of restoration – they will only use original material so absolutely nothing of what we see is modern restoration of missing pieces. We also see areas that have been left as they were found: broken pieces jumbled together. There was a peasant revolution only a few years after they were first created that resulted in looting of weapons, smashing of the pieces and burning of the site. There are no weapons left but it is clear what they were originally holding.
There are estimated to be over 6000 individual soldiers in this section and each was individually moulded to represent an actual soldier in the emperor’s army. Originally it was the custom for all of the actual army, wives, concubines etc to be buried with the Kings of individual kingdoms. These warriors date back to the second century BC when all the kingdoms became united under a single emperor who was convinced (by a very sensible advisor) that it wouldn’t be a good idea to bury the whole country’s army and that model soldiers could protect him in the afterlife.
We start to see the detail of the soldiers: in front of the ranks are standing archers without any armour (they were the martyrs who would sacrifice themselves); the foot soldiers dressed in armour all have their topknots on the right hand sides of their heads as a badge of honour; middle level officers have a flat kind of hat on their heads; and the generals have a grand looking ‘butterfly’ arrangement on their heads and ribbons on their chests. There are some horses and in one area we see a chariot wheel poking out.
Next we head to the museum where there is a 360 degree panorama movie of the history which was interesting to see some of (although none of us lasted the full 20 minutes). Many of us purchased reproductions of the Warriors that were certified as genuine reproductions using clay from the same area and faithful copies. There are five statues that are the best restorations that have been used as the models for these: a kneeling archer, a general, a mid-level soldier, a horse and cavalry man, and a standing archer (who was not wearing armour). I buy a kneeling archer and a general.
In another museum building are housed two beautiful bronze horse and wagon sculptures.
Pit 2 contains many of the horses and chariots but most of it has been covered over again until they develop better methods of restoration. We can see the ruts of the wagon wheels on the ramps where they were rolled down. We can also see areas where the woven roof thatching material has left indentations in the tops of the walls, remaining long after they were burned. The five statues are displayed here and despite the crowds we get to observe more detail up close. Particularly impressive is the kneeling archer who still shows some of the original red colouring on his armour; you can see the soles of his shoes have circles and other designs much like the tread on modern sports shoes; and he has beautifully braided hair – his topknot is on the left so that it doesn’t get in the way when he reaches over his right shoulder to get an arrow.
Pit 3 was only discovered in 1988 and is a bit more excavated than Pit 2 even though it is much smaller because it is thought to constitute the army command centre.
Most of us have booked to go to a local farmer’s house for a home-cooked lunch. I don’t think this was THE famous farmer but one who’s land has now also been taken over by the museum site. Lunch included even more dishes we hadn’t seen before, starting with Chinese burritos, deep-fried mushrooms and delicious spicy eggplant, and finishing with toffee’d apples.
About half of us want to go to experience a traditional tea ceremony and tea tasting, and we are grateful that the others are happy to explore while we do so. It was a very interesting demonstration with the full rinsing and washing of the teapot and tasting cups with the first rinse of the tea. They check to see whether the water is at the right temperature by pouring it over some ‘lucky animals’ that change colour when it is hot enough. There were all sorts of different teas we could smell and they give us a list of some of the most popular ones along with a description, and we have a free tasting of 5 of them: Ginseng Oolong tea, Lychee black tea, Dragon Well (fresh green) tea, Chrysanthemum tea, and a Jasmine pearl tea. They are able to vacuum pack the tea for us to take home so most of us purchase – I also buy a special Emperor’s tea cup with a built in tea strainer (wondering how I’m going to fit everything in my bag).
Then we have an hour’s bus ride back to the hotel – seeing the burial mound where the first emperor’s tomb is. This first dynasty (the Qin) only lasted 15 years, 11 were his rule and 4 his son’s before they were overthrown by the Han. During this short reign he started many projects including the building of the Great Wall.
In the evening we have a Dumpling Banquet and a cultural show at the Tang Palace Theatre, a local bus ride away. The dumplings were amazing: we got to try about 16 different sorts – one of each. They were often shaped and decorated to show what they were: pork ones shaped like pigs, duck ones like a duck, vegetable ones shaped like a Chinese cabbage or with three little openings showing the three different vegetables. We were very full afterwards but very satisfied – what’s not to like about dumplings!
The Tang Dynasty was the longest and most prosperous of the dynasties and known for its peace and cultural activities. The music and dances that we see are representative of some of the most famous examples. The sets and costumes are just magnificent. We see examples of lots of different traditional musical instruments being played in different ways; one of my favourites was the percussion show “gossiping ducks” and “hungry tiger” which shows through drums, cymbals and gongs how ducks play, gossiping and quarrelling at the waterside and how a hungry tiger comes down from the mountain grinding its teeth in search of prey. There were several dances portraying Spring outings, Spring Purification Festival and the White Sleeve folk dance. There was a ‘large scale musical’ performance of ‘Prince Qin Breaking through the Enemy Array’ with song, music and dance combined with spectacular costumes; and the finale was the Great Tang Rites and Music: “The splendid collective dance, magnificent spectacle and colourful show reveals the unprecedented grandeur and glory of the Tang Dynasty”.
Emily, Anu and I decide to walk the 2km home to walk off our dumplings. On the way we pass the city wall and moat all lit up and looking spectacular. As we walk along the streets there are people everywhere enjoying the beautiful evening: right next to the wall there are a group of mostly Uighur people dancing, further on there are people playing cards, groups of children playing, even a father with 2 daughters driving very upmarket looking model cars.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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