4 Hours In …

The Chi­nese me­trop­o­lis holds an abun­dance of an­cient relics – and all with­out mak­ing the trip to see the Ter­ra­cotta Army

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Scott Carey

Xian

1 BIG WILD GOOSE PAGODA Be­ing the clos­est city to the Ter­ra­cotta Army is Xian’s main al­lure for tourists – it is si­t­u­ated 20 miles from the UNESCO World Her­itage Site – but there is plenty to ex­plore in the city it­self.

The eas­i­est way to get around Xian is by taxi. My jour­ney from the Hil­ton (in­side the city walls) to the Big Wild Goose pagoda (4 miles south) cost ¥22 ($3.50) and took 15 min­utes in some typ­i­cally heavy traf­fic.

Sur­rounded by busy roads, the pagoda com­plex is a sanc­tu­ary of peace and quiet, and the per­fect jux­ta­po­si­tion of Xian as it is and was. Orig­i­nally con­structed in 652 AD dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, the pagoda has been rav­aged by war over the years, with the cur­rent ver­sion be­ing con­structed dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) and ren­o­vated again in 1964, fi­nally stand­ing seven sto­ries and nearly 200 feet high.

The com­plex costs ¥50 ($8) to en­ter and the first thing you will see is two small stone struc­tures, the drum and bell tow­ers, which were used to mark the pas­sage of time for the tem­ple’s Bud­dhist monks. There are also tran­quil gar­dens, Bud­dhist stat­ues and relics, elab­o­rate re­lief wall carv­ings and a li­brary.

If you are feel­ing up to the climb then the pagoda it­self is open to visi­tors, cost­ing an ad­di­tional ¥40 ($6.50) to en­ter. The seven flights of nar­row wooden stairs can pose quite a chal­lenge on hot days but the pay­off is wholly grat­i­fy­ing – the views from the top are spec­tac­u­lar. Tick­ets are dis­counted in the win­ter. Open daily 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM.

2 CITY WALL

Now head back to­wards the city wall, which is an at­trac­tion in it­self. Xian has seen 13 dy­nas­ties come and go, and is con­sid­ered the an­cient cul­tural seat of a fledg­ling uni­fied China.

Orig­i­nally built by the Tang Dy­nasty, the wall was ex­tended and for­ti­fied dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty to its cur­rent grand form, mea­sur­ing 40 feet high, and 8.5 miles in cir­cum­fer­ence.

The wall is sur­rounded by a large sunken moat and gar­dens, where the city’s older res­i­dents prac­tice tai chi or play cards. If it’s not too far, it is best to walk around to the south gate as it is ar­guably the most or­nate and im­pres­sive.

If you want to do a lap of the wall, the best way is by bike, which can be rented for ¥40 ($6.50) for 100 min­utes. A de­posit of ¥200 ($32) is re­quired. Ad­mis­sion to the south gate is also ¥40 and it’s open from 8:00 AM un­til 11:00 PM spring and sum­mer, un­til 7:00 PM fall and win­ter.

3 MUS­LIM QUAR­TER

Walk di­rectly north, to­wards the cen­ter of the in­ner city, for 15 min­utes to reach the Drum Tower. The struc­ture, another Ming Dy­nasty pro­ject, is lo­cated at one end of the city’s Mus­lim quar­ter, home to thou­sands of de­scen­dants of the Is­lamic mer­chants who came here when Xian held a key strate­gic po­si­tion on the an­cient Silk Road.

Just be­hind the tower you can find the bazaar. This snaking al­ley­way fea­tures an end­less chain of sellers hag­gling over sou­venirs and fake de­signer goods. Once you reach the other end you will be de­posited back into the bus­tle of the Mus­lim Quar­ter, where you’ll find a host of street food ven­dors selling meat skew­ers, yang rou pao mo (mut­ton stew) and sickly sweet rice cakes.

Don’t sam­ple too much, though, as a feast awaits at your next stop…

4 DE FA CHANG

Xian is in the Shaanxi re­gion of China, where the dry sum­mers mean there is lit­tle rice pro­duc­tion, so the lo­cals are more in­clined to noo­dles and dumplings.

To try a dumpling ban­quet, head back to­wards the Drum Tower to the fa­mous De Fa Chang dumpling house. While a bit on the touristy side – prices are high, rang­ing from ¥120 ($20) to the thou­sands for set menus – the the­atri­cal na­ture of the ban­quet in the busy din­ing room makes for a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence.

The dumplings come in a va­ri­ety of shapes, many mir­ror­ing the fill­ing, though vege­tar­i­ans should not fear the rab­bit-shaped baked dumpling, which is in­stead packed with sweet black sesame paste. They come out in gi­ant stacks of bam­boo steam­ers in a ran­dom pro­ces­sion of sweet, sa­vory and spicy; fried, steamed and baked. Open 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM; 3 West Street, Lianhu; tel +86 29 8721 4060.

5 DE FU AL­LEY

If you’re here in the evening, end with a drink at De Fu Al­ley, a 15-minute walk di­rectly south of the Drum Tower. This nar­row street is lined with bars and cafés with out­door seat­ing.

Head to the De Fu Lou Beer House for Chi­nese girls in Bavar­ian dress serv­ing up Ger­man beers by the liter. Be­ware of the prices, though – the im­ported beer will make a NewYork bar look like a bar­gain. Most of the bars are Euro­pean-themed but the whole at­mos­phere is very re­laxed, and isn’t over­run by tourists. If you are feel­ing par­tic­u­larly brave, fol­low the rau­cous sounds of karaoke that echo up the street all through the night. BT

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