We spent two nights in XI'an waiting for our permits to come through for Tibet. The lonely planent states that Xi'an is a polariser - you either love it or hate it. From what we saw we found it hard to believe that anyone could hate Xi'an, and wished it had worked out that we'd had a few more nights there.
The city is laid out around an ancient city wall (which is up to 18 m thick in places) which makes it an awesome mix of old and new. There are loads of parks and sculptures that make use of public space really well - something that I suppose is rather important in China, yet not seen so often in other cities. We spent heaps of time walking around these areas and the Muslim Quarter which is inside the city wall. I find the Chinese Muslims a really warm people - they always have a big smile for you and want to share their food (which is amazing) and ask you where you're from.
Most peope visit Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors. These guys are about an hour out of town on what was once farmland and is now a massive tourist complex. The warriors are divided into 3 pits that are hierarchical - soldiers to generals. There are over 6000 in total that guard the tomb of a Qing Emperor. They all have individual faces and decorations, and were found with 40,000 bronze weapons. They were actually found a couple of hundred metres from what is believed to be the Emperors tomb, which begs the question, what else is buried down there?
As with any good story there is a conspiracy theory - that it has all been fabricated to boost the Shaanxi region's economy. It'd be pretty hard to believe this, but given that it is China, that the discoverer was a farmer (go Communism!) and that he miraculously hit the corner of the site while digging a well, and that the Qing Emperor left just enough room between his tomb and the warriors to build several acres of tourist complex including shops, restaurants, and a cinema - I can see how the conspiracy theorists could have a field day! It was a worthwile trip anyway, and quite an amazing site.
We're now back in Chengdu waiting for our train to Lhasa tonight - 45 hours! That makes a grand total of 80 hours on trains in the last 6 days! We're pretty excited though, and in any case, Tibet seems like the kind of place that should be hard to get to...which is how I am trying to rationalise it anyway. More soon...