China’s history and culture is amazing, and it seems every Chinese person has a great depth of knowledge about their country’s past, so it was wonderful to have cousin Wei as our personal guide through some of China’s best sites. Coming from the West, I had previously only paid attention to the much publicised Chinese icons such as the Great Wall, the Giant Panda’s and the Terracotta Warriors. But after our visit, I am in awe of the vast array of heritage sites far beyond those we typically associate with China.
As a key historical region, Shaanxi rates at the top. “It was here were it all started for China. As the heartland of the Qin dynasty, whose warrior emperor united much of China for the first time, Shaanxi was the cradle of Chinese civilisation. Later on, Xi’an was the beginning and the end of the Silk Road and a buzzing cosmopolitan capital long before anyone had heard of Beijing.” (Lonely Planet)
Apart from our visit to Shaanxi’s Terracotta Army, and riding the Xi’an City Wall, another highlight was a drive in the country to the Qian Tomb, where China’s only female Emperor, Wu Zetian (AD 625-795) is buried. To protect its treasures, the tomb has not been opened, but the walk along its “Spirit Way”, and climbing atop the mountain which sits above the tomb is really worth the effort. The views from the top were fabulous. It was great to be out of the City.
Not far from the Qian Tomb are the tombs of Princess Yongtai and Prince Yide, grandchildren of Empress Wu Zetian. Both these tombs date back to 706 AD and have been opened to the public. Whilst the original treasures and relics have been removed for safe keeping, the fresco’s along the entrance tunnels remain. It’s amazing to think that these were painted more than 1,300 years ago!
This did not conclude our day in the country. Our final stop was for a late lunch in a local peasant farmer’s restaurant. This is not something we could have done on our own. We needed the knowledge of our local driver and Wei’s translation abilities. We discovered on leaving the restaurant that we were the first international visitors to pay it a visit. The host insisted on taking a photo with us on the front steps. Even the other clientele seemed excited by our presence. They too mobbed us and requested a photo.
The food was simple but fabulous. There was bean curd, wild vegetable and egg, “helmet bread” (damper) with lotus root and potato dip, a noodle soup and some steamed yam sprinkled with sugar.
There were no pictures of food on this restaurant’s menu, so without Wei, Anne and I would have gone hungry. That’s how we pick our restaurants now – if there aren’t pictures of the meal choices on the menu or the wall, we move on to the next restaurant.