2009 World Cruise – This blog plus the next two will be VERY photo heavy and VERY lengthy due to the fabulous adventure we had on a four-day overland excursion in mainland China. There were 27 people on our tour and we were escorted by a lovely young lady named Lin who stayed with our group from the time we left the port in Hong Kong until the time we re-joined the ship in Shanghai.
We left the ship at 2:30 in the afternoon of the second day in Hong Kong after a morning wandering in the gigantic Ocean Terminal; a three-story shopping mecca at the port. The place is so big there are colour-coded arrows on the ceiling that will lead you to a guide station if you get lost.
The 6 pm flight from Hong Kong to X’ian was about 2 1/2 hours long and we were fed a nice meal on the way. Once we landed we had almost an hour drive to the Shangri-la Hotel; a new – one year old – 5-star hotel. We had a beautiful room with complimentary shampoo, conditioner and soap, as usual; also razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, and slippers.
It was after 10:30 by the time we got settled in our room and we went to bed right away because we had an early – 6:30 breakfast – start the next day.
The bus ride to the Terra Cotta Warriors Complex took an hour. Lin arranged for us to be dropped off right beside the first building (Pit #1) so we could avoid the long walk from the parking area. She kept us moving because she wanted us to see all three buildings plus the documentary film and we had a lunch reservation at Friendship Restaurant for noon.
The evening before we left the ship Jackie from the cabin next door stopped me in the hallway and told me I could borrow her 500mm zoom lens for our trip. We had only chatted in the halls and across our balconies. I didn’t even know her last name. Yet she entrusted me with a very expensive camera lens. I was really happy to have it because I was able to get some great close-ups of the faces of the warriors.
The Terra Cotta Warriors were discovered in 1974 by accident when three men were digging a well near their village. (One of the men is still alive and he was sitting in the museum gift shop where he would sign autographs.) Since that time there has been ongoing and extensive excavations. Several pits of the clay figures have been discovered; three of them have had buildings built around them so the figures are protected from air, moisture and pollution. The archaeologists have identified a mound to the east of the army that is the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang (first emperor of a unified China), who commissioned the creation of the massive army; but they have no plans to touch it until they have the technology to ensure nothing inside will be damaged when revealed to the air. The entire necropolis site is 38 square miles and was completed about 210 BC. Over 700,000 conscripted slaves, POWs, indentured servants, artisans and craftsmen took many years to build it all. It was started well before the emperor died and he only ruled for 11 years.
The emperor was afraid his enemy’s would follow him into the afterlife so he had life-size warriors, chariots, horses and riders made from clay and buried near his tomb. They were placed in regimental rows protected by wooden beams and a roof with water proofing reed mats above and brick floors below. They held real bronze swords, halberds, crossbows, spears and scimitars; most of which were looted not long after the warriors were buried. But over 40,000 items of weaponry (mostly arrowheads) have been discovered. And 2000 years after being buried the swords were not rusted and were still sharp due to a coating that had been applied to the bronze.
It is estimated that there are 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, 150 cavalry horses. The majority of which are still buried. Two half-size bronze chariots have also been unearthed and were on display in the Pit #1 building. Other pits contain figures of officials, acrobats, musicians and strongmen. I guess the emperor planned to conduct business and also wanted to enjoy some entertainment.
As we made our way to the warriors we passed these gigantic puppets. I think the warrior was always there, but the little girl was built for the Beijing Olympics and brought to X’ian after the games. She was one of the game mascots.
Over the years the wood rotted and the beams collapsed in many places and hundreds of the warriors were broken. It is a massive task to piece them together again. The bodies of the men were made from a few different posed molds yet every face is unique. They were originally painted in bright colours but time and moisture and exposure to air destroyed much of it. In order to protect the figures and allow access by the thousands of people who want to see them each year the three pits that have been extensively excavated had climate controlled buildings erected over them. Pit #1 building is 230 meters (750 feet) long and 62 meters (203 feet) wide. It contains about 6,000 figures. There is a gift shop, of course, where you can buy your own warrior to put in your house or garden. Plus some beautiful carvings and inlay. After walking the full length Pit #1 we toured Pit #2 which contains mostly cavalry and infantry. And after that we visited Pit #3, which was the command post with high-ranking officers. The figures are life-size but the higher ranked officers were taller than regular soldiers with generals being the tallest.
It’s a bit blurry but you can even see they put tread on the bottom of the boots. What an amazing place. I could have stayed for days. But we had to leave to get to the restaurant for lunch before our tour in X’ian continued.
ALL OF THIS WAS ONLY THE MORNING. The Friendship Restaurant where we had lunch is also where we had our dinner and were treated to an incredible show. It was a beautiful, and large, restaurant/theater. One must, when on a shore excursion, have opportunity to shop so we were taken to a jade factory to see how they work the gemstone and browse the large gift shop that had many types of trinkets and merchandise available. Some of these pieces were very, very expensive.
After our shopping time we went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda temple that was built in 652 AD to house the Buddhist scriptures brought back from India by a traveling monk. The original three-story structure collapsed 50 years later and was rebuilt five stories high. An additional five stories were added in 701-704. An earthquake in 1556 reduced it by three stories to the 7 levels it is today. It is the central building of a large complex that is still in use. There are 13 yards and 1897 rooms. It was the most famous temple in the city during the Tang Dynasty and is a protected historical site.Many of our group gathered together waiting while Lin secures our tickets.
The ceiling beams of the entrance gate were very ornately painted. There were lots of people flying kites in this square. Our final stop before dinner was to the Grand Mosque. The mosque was begun during the Tang Dynasty (742 AD) but the majority of the construction took place during the early Ming Dynasty (1398 AD ). It is one of the largest mosque complexes in China and, like the Big Goose Pagoda, is still a place of worship for Muslims in China. The Mosque was constructed without using a single nail. The site is comprised of two buildings and 5 courtyards. It was declared a State Historical and Cultural Site in 1956 and in the 80’s became a National Site.
This concluded all the touring on our FIRST day in mainland China. But…..the day wasn’t over yet. We still had to have dinner and see the show before bed. Thanks to Jackie’s 500 mm lens I was able to get some close shots of the performers. And, just because I could, I took lots of photos of the show. Now, after all these years I am glad that I did because I get to see the beautiful costumes and sets again – and again.
We were exhausted but exhilarated from all we had seen and done. We got back to our hotel at 10:15 and immediately crawled into bed. The next day we flew to Beijing and a trip to the Great Wall.