It was in Xi’an that we really started feeling what I would like to call ‘Chinese claustrophobia’. Perhaps we had just been oblivious before, or maybe all of China descended on the terracotta warriors on the days we visited, either way throughout our trip to the ‘Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor’, we were surrounded. Outside the gates so many locals were trying to sell fruit, food and a range of tourist cr*p that we felt so barraged that we were unable to distinguish between people who just wanted our money and the tour guides and volunteers offering useful help. Thus, before we even joined the groups of tourists with their flags and miniature speakers inside the museum area our eyes were going somewhat crazy and we were making unnecessarily harsh remarks about everyone who got in our way.
Crowd insanity had taken over.
The walk towards the actual excavation site through a green park- like area somewhat helped to diffuse the tension and relax us back into normal tourism state. We began the visit ‘backwards’, going through the pits 3-2-1, which helped reduce the crowds somewhat and allowed us different perspectives on the different pits. When you walk through them ‘backwards’ in this way you first have the ‘up close’ perspective of the third pit, which is the smallest, but also the least crowded and takes you closest to the warriors. You then progress to the larger pits, less excavated, or with more warriors, a method of visiting that leaves you impressed with the size and scale and particularly the work that goes into unearthing and reassembling the different terracotta offerings. Unfortunately, it also reminds you of how crowded it is, as the visit to the final pit (pit 1) only has two narrow corridors running alongside the walls, where people are bottlenecked and blocked by tour groups.
We finished with a visit to the museum which, typical of museums we have seen so far on our journey, spends an extensive amount of its exhibit praising its own work, citing the famous and important people that have visited and the generosity of its donors. Noteworthy was the room in which the bronze chariots were displayed, unearthed and reassembled. Another highlight for the Chinese tourists was some sort of model which had moving parts and was used to demonstrate something we didn’t quite understand. Unfortunately exhibits were only sometimes labelled in English, and often this English was some sort of ‘Google-Translate-Gibberish’, leaving us slightly baffled and guessing the real meaning of the text.
This trip had been a ‘must do’ on my list to China, as the warriors and the Great Wall were the only two things (shameful, I know) I associated with China before looking into where we could go and what we could see. While I am pleased that our entrance ticket is going towards preserving and documenting this small part of Chinese history, it was an experience entirely devoid of the mystery and magic I had imagined. The large warehouse-style buildings, the endless crowds, the people selling things everywhere subtracted from the experience.
Perhaps I had just created too much anticipation.
How lucky we were, then, that our next stop was the (somewhat touristy) Huashan Mountain and that we had it largely for ourselves as we marched up in the early morning hours! More about that walk in the following post!