Experience the journey of an entire civilisation at Xian
I ran my fingers over the map of China, stopping to ponder over little-known destinations as the names rolled over my tongue with a certain mythical quality about them. Dunhuang, Niya, Yumen, Ganzhou… My fingers stopped at Xian, in Shaanxi province — the famed ancient capital. The edge of the Silk Route. The name whispered a promise through a journey of an entire civilization.
And, as with most destinations, the reality had more to do with me standing at the train station, clutching my backpack as sheets of rain poured through the concrete city, making it difficult to even wade to a taxi.
The next morning, the sky had cleared up, and I wandered through its meandering streets, musing on the habits of the Chinese. The men seemed to fold their shirts at midriffs as it was too hot, and, at the same time, did not remove their shirts out of modesty. Three-wheeled cars rolled around the roads as older people aligned into rows, gearing up for an evening of Tai Chi. This city is a stark realisation of how commercialism always closes in on something that was once held sacred. Like how some of the spires of the pagodas were elbowing with satellite dishes.
The street markets always seemed to end in the steamy walled corners of dumpling shops. Entering one, I ordered based on the sticks and square boxes of the Mandarin menu.
I was served some delicious white steamy shells filled with pepper accompanied by a colourful palette of side sauces. Delicately eating dumplings with wooden chopsticks and watching the noisy streets is one of the best ways to spend a warm Chinese afternoon.
The ‘imperial Two Geese pagoda' as my guide book put it, was as imperial as it claimed. Swathed in royal scarlet and decorated with Chinese lanterns, it was echoing hymns.
The museum inside this tower was quite peculiar. From ancient drums to snuff bottles, you could see a lot of items that would tickle your curiosity.
A two-hour drive away from the city of Xian, lie the excavated pieces from the mausoleum of the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. As far as my eyes could see, there were rows and rows of life-sized warriors in war formations with their swords raised to the cry of battle from a hollowed bottomless pit.
Kites in the air
Back in the city, I reached the balcony of a nondescript shopping mall from which I could see the entire landscape that consisted of the golden spires of pagodas basking in the evening glow of the setting sun. The town was protectively hugged by the Qinling Mountains and the Wei River.
There were some colourful kites in the sky with a slow dancing movement reminiscent of corals moving in water. Couldn't help thinking of Anais Nin — “Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”