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Xi'an: more than warriors and tombs

Gian Wild Goose Pagoda

When I first started traveling by myself around China, back in the late 1980s, Xi'an was a long hike out over the western horizon.

Back then I still had Chinese classmates in Shanghai and Beijing and was trying to catch them when our varying university schedules allowed. Xi'an always seemed a capital too far.

In those days, journeys were intricate combinations of long hardseat train rides zigzagging up the eastern seaboard. It always seemed just too hard to spend the time to travel two sides of the triangle to get out to the famous old town.

Nowadays, however, with China's fleet of speedy bullet trains and cheaper airline tickets, Xi'an has surely got to be a must-see on any China trek of a decent length.

Sino-Immersions "Immersed in China's Winter Wonderland" tour (click on the link here to see more details) has included this fascinating city as one of its sites.

In later blogs, we'll include more information about Xi'an (although it is also possible to visit the section of this webpage that has some brief information), but first I wanted to showcase some of the sites other than that housing the famous terracotta Entombed Warriors. After all Xi'an is so much more than the necropolis of a megalomaniac monarch.

Xi'an's position along the Silk Road made it an important and strategic destination and it was thus a capital for two of China's most significant dynasties, the Qin and the Tang. It was enriched culturally and commercially by the caravans of traders and travelers who passed through its gates, ranging from Syrian Christian monks in the eighth century to Venetian merchants in the fourteenth and competing warlords and generals in the twentieth.

One of the most famous real people to live in Chang'an, as Xi'an was then known, was the Buddhist monk, Xuanzang (who lived in the seventh century). He has become immortalised in Chinese folklore as the monk in the story Journey to the West, made popular in Australia by the Monkey kungfu series. Xuanzang had to travel to India to collect Buddhist scriptures and religious artefacts, and this reportedly was a journey that took him 17 years. Upon his successful return the Emperor built a monastery to house the many items Xuanzang brought back. This monastery had a large tower in its grounds.

The imposing tower is called the Giant (or Great) Wild Goose Pagoda and, although much renovated, it is still highly evocative and historically significant. In its immediate vicinity has sprung up a kind of historical theme park, and large forecourts front and back are popular places of gathering for locals and tourists alike. In the summer months, there is also a water and light show performance. Nearby is the excellent and fascinating Shanxi History Museum, with over 370, 000 items. Near that again are a number of excellent cafes, and small restaurants, making this a great place to visit, once the inevitable trip to the Warriors has been done.

For me, it was most enjoyable to ascend the tower slowly, enjoying the views out over each direction. As I did so, various generations of tourists, pilgrims and school children also made their way up the pagoda's many platforms. I always find it humbling to encounter the antiquity of China. Here, this structure was first built almost 1400 year ago and its obvious that the city which lay sprawled out beyond the windows has been attracting people to its doors for well before that as well.

And who can go past a pagoda named the Giant Wild Goose?

To find out why it is called that, then come on our Immersed in China's Winter tour and enjoy these experiences for yourself!

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