A Chinese whisper

A Chinese whisper

Xi’an is a magnificent city in the province of Shaanxi in China, about 1,100 km south-west of Beijing. The province is blessed by nature’s bounties of natural resources, six rivers and scenic mountains. It was the capital of several dynasties, notably the Tang dynasty. It was from here that the famous pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, set out to India to spend 14 years studying Buddhist scriptures.

Xi’an is a tourist’s delight with its beautiful, well-preserved historical places. I visited this dazzling city (about the same size as our own Bengaluru) on a business trip and I am glad I managed to squeeze in a few days of sightseeing.

The best season to visit Xi’an is between March and June as winters are very cold there. We first visited the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, also known as Dayan Pagoda, in Da Ci’en Temple.

This is the only relic of the monastery established by Hiuen Tsang and stands 210 feet tall, surrounded by a park that has a gurgling stream and fragrant flowers, with a statue of Buddha as the centerpiece.

Next to it is the largest musical fountain of Asia and there were at least 6,000 people when we visited it so reach early to get a good vantage point.

On the second day, we went around the city by subway train and bus. Both the networks are excellent and very economical. Of course, it would be convenient to have a local person to translate for you as you will hardly find anyone who speaks English. I figured it out the hard way when I ventured out alone, but was lucky to meet a person who used his smartphone as an interpreter!

Getting vegetarian food is a big problem in China, especially if you don’t have an interpreter with you. We had a Chinese friend who introduced us to Shaanxi noodles and how to eat it with chopsticks.

Bell Tower is a big landmark where, in the ancient times, bells rang to indicate the time or warn of an enemy attack. Musicians play bells and other instruments even now.

Brightly illuminated, it is a sight to behold at night. A similar tower called Drum Tower is just opposite that. My Chinese friend took us to an interesting place called Muslim Street where you can shop for curios, clothes, pottery and handicrafts to your heart’s content. After much bargaining, I bought gifts for my family. There is also the food street selling exotic food, dry fruits and so many things you can’t name.

When I learnt that we could ride a bicycle on the City Wall, it was too much to resist. The more than 700 years old City Wall is a magnificent relic of the ancient times and rises about 60 feet and 40 feet wide with a circumference of 14 km. There are four gates with typical Chinese architecture and bicycles are on hire at each gate. I made the trip in a leisurely two hours making several stops to have some snacks and fruits.

We had saved the best and biggest attraction of Xi’an for our last day. Also called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army buried with the Emperor who unified China nearly 2,000 years ago, is 40 km away from Xi’an. We started early to take a state run bus from near Xi’an Railway Station.

Alternatively, you can take a taxi service with an English speaking guide. It is an eerie place and gave us goosebumps but the sheer magnificence of the statues took our breath away.

Overall, the experience in Xi’an was a pleasant one and I am happy about being able to make this sojourn.

How to get there
I took a Cathay Pacific/Dragonair flight from Bengaluru to Xi’an via Hong Kong. The return trip cost Rs 56,000.

Places to stay
We stayed at The Golden Flower Hotel and the tariff was approximately Rs 5,400 per night. There are many other hotels in this range that have English-speaking staff.

Manjunatha Prasad
(The author can be contacted at ramprasadgp@gmail.com)

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