AS someone who has never set foot in China, visiting Xian was a memorable experience and I wouldn’t mind going back for a holiday in the future.
Dubbed one of the oldest cities in China, Xian is more than just home to the famed Terracotta Army, a historical relic of great dynastic significance which I was looking forward very much to see, as the city is also a treasure trove of arts and collective manifestations of human intellectual achievements.
On a recent trip to Xian, I immersed myself in the rich reservoir of arts, cultures, and traditions of this vibrant capital of Shaanxi Province in Central China.
The trip was in conjunction with AirAsia X’s Media Familiarisation Trip to Xian.
During the four-day stay in Xian, our media group was taken round the city to various ancient structures, local museums, and even up Mount Hua in the city of Huayin, about 120km east of Xian, to view the spectacular landscape nestling the Five Great Mountains of China.
AirAsia X has daily flights to Xian from Kuala Lumpur with easy connections from Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. It is the only airline with direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Xian.
After arriving in Xian early and meeting up with our local tour guide, Ivy, we were able to get some sleep at Xian Grand Dynasty Culture Hotel before heading to Hu County (now Huyi District) later that morning.
Hu County is popularly known as the painting village, as more than half of the farmers there are talented painters.
At Hu County, we were taken straight to the home of renowned painter Zhang Qingyi. There, local farmers in green traditional costumes greeted us with dance performances, accompanied by musical instruments such as traditional drums and cymbals.
We had a quick tour around the residential areas for a glimpse at the daily activities of the local people.
During a walk, we came across Hu County’s famous bright-coloured building wall murals, depicting the daily lives of the locals and the beautiful landscapes, among others.
It wasn’t long before we were back at Zhang’s Villa to see a painting demonstration at the artist’s studio.
For this occasion, Zhang chose to paint pink flowers with two birds perched on a branch on top, completing the painting seamlessly and professionally in under 15 minutes.
We also had the opportunity to try our hands at painting by colouring Chinese Zodiac animals of our choice. I chose the rabbit. Zhang encouraged us to be creative in using colours.
A sunny morning on Day Two was ideal for a ta chi experience at the large gardens surrounding the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.
Walking through the park, we happened upon a musical group taking a break from their performances. Much to our delight, they agreed to entertain us with their classical songs, backed by traditional instrumentalists.
With the hot sun beating down on us, we looked forward to our next stop – the Shaanxi History Museum, northwest of the Pagoda and a 10-minute bus ride from the park.
Completed in 1991, the museum adopted the architecture of the Tang Dynasty. It houses a wide range of precious collections, including bronzeware of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, exquisite pottery figures of ancient China, gold and silverware, and mural paintings of the Tang Dynasty.
Subsequently, we ambled to a nearby food street, and after losing our way momentarily among the labyrinth of lanes and stumbling upon a souvenir side alley, we found our way back to the main lane and headed to the Folk House of the Gao Family for some traditional pastime entertainment.
We were also given a quick tour of the Gao Family’s compound and later attended a shadow puppet play and a Shaanxi opera in the same premises.
After that, we went over to the Great Mosque, one of the highlights for visitors to Xian, especially for Malaysians who are used to dome-shaped mosques back home.
Located at 30 Huajue (Change Feeling) Lane in the centre of the city, The Great Mosque is the largest and one of the most important Islamic places of worship in China. It was added to the Unesco Islamic Heritage List in 1985.
The Great Mosque was built in 742 AD during the Tang Dynasty, according to historical records carved in stone tablets preserved in the Mosque. It covers over 13,000 square metres with the buildings taking up more than 6,000 square metres.
A combination of traditional Chinese architecture and Islamic art, the mosque was built in a rectangle shape – from the east to the west – and is divided into four courtyards.
Visitors can walk through all four courtyards and venture into the historical buildings, platforms, pavilions and halls at their own pace.
The Worship Hall, which can accommodate a thousand worshippers, is located in the fourth courtyard. According to the guidebook, inside the hall, all the pages of the Holy Koran are carved on 600 pieces of huge wooden boards, 30 of which are in Chinese, while the rest in Arabic.
This was the day I had been looking forward to since being given this travel assignment. And what better reason for my keen anticipation than the Qin Terracotta Warriors, also called Guardians of Immortality.
Before visiting the collection of terracotta sculptures, depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, we stopped over at the Xian City Wall, an ancient landmark, considered one of the most famous attractions in the province.
According to the website of Xian’s Tourism Administration, it’s the most complete city wall that has survived in China – apart from being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.
Spanning 13.7km long with a surrounding deep moat, the Xian City Wall is today considered a landmark dividing the city into the inner part and the outer part.
Besides the North, East, South and West main gates, the city wall has another 13 side gates with arches for traffic to go through.
After strolling through a part of the walkway atop the wall, we attended another interactive class where we learned how to write Xian in calligraphy at the Xian Beilin Museum or Forest of Stone Steles.
As its name implies, the museum houses more than 4,000 stone steles and epitaphs dating from the Han Dynasty to modern times.
After exploring the various halls of ancient Chinese steles, we headed for lunch and later took the bus to the Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Lintong.
I felt a surge of excitement as we approached our destination. Coming up was the one thing I had been waiting and wanting to see. And yes, it was the stupendous Terracotta Army, detailed life-sized models, representing the army that united China at the end of the Warring States Period, and was constructed to protect the tomb of China’s first emperor as an afterlife guard.
The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, containing the Terracotta Warriors, the bronze chariots and horses and the emperor’s tomb, was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987. It is considered one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century.
It was evening when we left the museum after an unforgettable encounter with the Terracotta Army. We headed for Elegant Oriental Hotel, our accommodation for the last night in Xian.
Before turning in, we had one more event to attend – the highly-rated musical performance ‘A Song of Everlasting Sorrow’ at Huaqing Hotspring.
For those not familiar with the presentation, it’s actually a poem written by Bai Juyi during the Tang Dynasty. The poem was inspired by the tragic love affair between the seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Xuanzong and his consort Yang Guifei.
With Lishan Mountain looming behind the stage, this entrancing performance even made use of the natural backdrop with preinstalled lights in the mountain forest to look like twinkling stars in the night sky.
The last full day in Xian centred around Mount Hua or Hua Shan, one of the Five Sacred Taoist Mountains in China.
The cool rainy morning meant we had to suit up in raincoats and put on disposable rain boots to get to the cable car station for the ride up to the North peak.
Arriving at the mountain station, we climbed up several steps to reach the meeting point before going on to explore the area.
Although the cool weather was a welcome change from the heat of the past few days, I was slightly disappointed at the shrouded views that greeted us as we walked around.
Mist and fog covered the mountain tops, preventing us from capturing what would have been a picturesque scenery all around us.
Occasionally, the winds would shift the white puffs, allowing us to snap a few photos before everything was covered up again.
Some of us climbed up more steps past a temple to a small open area where there is a rock inscribed with the words “Hua Shan North Peak”.
Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the other peaks of Hua Shan and perhaps even attempt some of the more challenging walkways such as the Thousand-Foot Precipice, Hundred-Foot Crevice and other adrenaline-rushing passes.
It was afternoon by the time we descended to our meeting place and waited for the rest of our fellow travellers to arrive.
As luck would have it, the mist and clouds gradually lifted, giving us a clearer view of the precipitous mountains under a bright blue sky. It was a breath-taking view and I was in awe of the majestic landscape.
A beautiful and refreshing conclusion to this memorable trip, Hua Shan definitely warrants a visit when in Xian, especially for those seeking an exciting adventure.