Tag Archives: China

Xi’an: A return to where Xuanzang came from

Happy birthday, Mr. Paanadey- the girl at reception said extending him a glass of fireball cocktail. She was clearly struggling with the last name of the boy from Babhnan. The twinkle in her eyes and happiness on her face was absolutely real though. The boy though was mighty surprised. How did you know, and realised! Oh, she would. She was checking him in with his passport. So that was why he was made to wait- she had some way to tell her colleagues and get him the drink! Xi’an had had begun on a high- both metaphorically and really! 

Welcome drink for the birthday boy in the hostel.
Welcome drink for the birthday boy

The boy had first known about the city in his history books documenting the travels of Chinese monk’s travels in India centuries ago. Hsüan-tsang was the name he knew him by. How could someone walk thousands of kilometers on feet, he wondered. That too for going to a country he knew nothing about, not even its language. And he lived in India for 17 years. The boy was fascinated. He started dreaming of making the journey back, to the place Hsüan-tsang, known as Xuanzang in his own city. 

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, where Xuanzang returned to
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, where Xuanzang returned to

He was there, finally. He knew, now, much more about the city though. Its rich history, the famous Terracotta Warriors, Pagodas, palaces, and monasteries. Chang’an (Perpetual Peace), as Xi’an was earlier known, was the capital of China for 13 dynasties and 73 emperors- for over 1200 years. Think, if you can, of any other city. Wait, did the boy tell you that the city is home to the biggest ever palace built anywhere in the world! The Weiyang Palace, the main imperial palace of the Han and many of the later dynasties. It was built in 200 BC, just a few years after The Terracotta Army, depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China buried with him for protecting him in his afterlife.

The Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army

Back to the palace, it covered 4.8 km² (1,200 acres), about 11 times the size of the Vatican City for comparison. Sad that little, if anything, remains of that.

Of course, he first ran to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the last home of Xuanzang to pay his respects. He went in, paid his homage, chatted with him, and came out. Then he noticed that the pagoda visibly leaned to the west. He was surprised at the same not having gotten the name “Pisa of the East” as every such similarity gets! 

The boy from Babhnan with Xuanzang
The boy from Babhnan with Xuanzang and his pagoda

The evening had started descending, in the city and that birthday of the boy. It was time to head towards the City Wall- first built in 190 BC and built and rebuilt ever since till 15th. The legend is that if you do not do three things before you die, you are not a real Chinese. The three are- climbing on the Great Wall (The boy did), walking/cycling on the Xian City Wall (the boy did), and finally- bamboo rafting on the Li River (the boy did). Gosh, has the boy from the Ganga basin become Chinese or what!! 

Cycling on the City Wall
Cycling on the City Wall

The setting sun had turned the wall golden, a lovely golden rarely seen. The city looked beautiful. The boy cycled. Till he could. Soaking in the view, the history, the happiness. Cycling away to glory, and history!  Just like he would, decades ago on the muddy roads of his small villages thousands of kilometers away. This city was to stay with him, within him, forever. And yeah- temperature was Minus 7 degrees. The first time the boy from the plains had experienced subzero temperatures. He was to have many more. 

The Bell Tower with the Drum Tower in the background
The Bell Tower with the Drum Tower in the background

The sun had set. The city below was glowing below, like a river of colorful lights. It was the time to return for that night- not knowing that yet another surprise was waiting for him in the hostel. The rather warm staff had prepared vegetarian dumplings for him- for the final birthday celebration. How warm their hearts were- just like the dumplings! 

A scene in the Muslim Quarters
A scene in the Muslim Quarters

Aah Xian, my love! Those lovely days. Though never enough to live the city to the fullest. The Terracotta Army alone can keep one engaged for a full day. 

Oh, how did the boy forgot the Muslim Quarters! So bubbly and vibrant that one could just fail to notice that this was the starting point of the Silk Road! Yeah, Xian is the city from where started the Silk Road, and the Muslim Quarter its exact location! The boy had seldom seen such a medley of cultures! And spices, of course! 

Interestingly, the Muslim Quarter begins just after the Bell Tower and ends with the Drum Tower- both so Chinese! Aah, the amalgamation of the cultures!

The Grand Mask of Xi'an: the first mosque of China
The Grand Mask of Xi’an: the first mosque of China

And the Grand Mosque- the first-ever of China. The mosque has an entry fee for tourists- they refused to take from the boy,  thinking that the boy was a Muslim. He thought of telling them that he wasn’t. Then he decided not to. Ultimately they all are the same. He put the money in the donation box instead. 

Naans, Sheermals... Food
Naans, Sheermals…


Xiapu, the most beautiful mudflats perhaps in China

Xiapu? What is that? And where exactly- asked most of my local, Chinese friends, taking a little of my guilt of not knowing about this gem just 6 hours away by high speed aka bullet trains from Hong Kong- perfect for a long weekend getaway, okay even for a weekend one! Sample a few pictures to begin with while remembering that I am not a photographer- and think how this place would look in reality as well as to a real photographer! Quick facts about reaching there and other logistical details at the end…

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Xiapu has the most beautiful mudflats in China, perhaps one of the most beautiful even in the world! Mudflats are many things. The coastal wetlands also known as tidal flats built by tides depositing mud by tides or rivers are a delight for the photographers with sun rays falling on them making fantastic patterns, sea gypsies (human ones) working on the mudflats, whole village on the sea, kelp growing half a meter a day and so on. They are also a retreat for those getting maddened by the urban chaos, a gateway to the times gone by- and of course a magic of walking on the water during high tides! Well, okay, only the feeling- as it looks like one is walking on the water and not the real thing, but even that is worth dying for, no?

Mudflats are also a celebration of sheer human endeavour- human capacity to farm even the sea! yeah, they farm all kind of seaweed there, as well as fishes and crabs and what not with all the colourful gear one can ever think of! Just sample this- and I was cursing myself to not get a fisherman resting in his boat inside but then… what I managed to get was no less impressive in any case!

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And then there is the mother of it all! A blast from the past- a scene right out of a China of perhaps at least a few centuries ago- just that it is all faked. No, don’t let your enthusiasm dampen down even a wee bit, forget it getting killed altogether! They faked it with elan, down to the smoke from the fire by an old lady, but it is worth all the travel (some 30 kms from Xiapu town). It was, in fact, one of the highlights for me there!

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And then, while you are there- there are much more to come! Like an ancient village- more than 300 years old that we first passed by, and then returned to, small sleepy towns, devouring vegetables filled steam bun by the roadside shops, and if you get lucky enough as we got- a full throttle religious/cultural parade celebrating something we had no idea of- but which was just breathtaking with all the fireworks, traditional clothes and what not! And of course the whole cities on the sea! With proper wooden houses!

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How to reach Xiapu: Xiapu is just 6 hours away from Shenzhen on China’s High Speed Train network. It has a station of its own, well connected to the town.
Where to stay: Though very small, the town has many nice budget hotels. We stayed in Hotel Hanting Express, a nice chain hotel we had stayed in Fuzhou as well and will recommend that. Interestingly, the bathroom in our real big, almost a full apartment size by Hong Kong standards, looked strangely like a spaceship- really quirky. Hotel was spotlessly clean as well.
For Backpackers: Xiapu has no Hostels yet, but the hotels themselves cost just about the same- Ours cost us about 30 USD a night, that is it. (Photos at the end.)
How to see places: Xiapu has many places to see- most importantly Dong Bi, Xia Qing Shan, Ba Chi Men, Xiao Hao, Beiqi, Nan Wan, Yangjiaxi, Sha Wan, Yantian and so on. But as they are all located at distances some even 30 kms from town centre, and the timings would be odd- some for sunset, some sunrise, some mid day and so on- so best would be to book a Guide. It would be fun though- you watch sunrise, come back to hotel, have breakfast, go out again…

That said, Lin is the most famous, and celebrated on Tripadvisor and other travel websites, of them all! And he is miraculous! His WeChat contact number is: 15359700706. He is a local, a sweetheart who knows the place like the back of his hand! His English is just about okay, but he is a master of Baidu translation- like even if it looked bizzare in the beginning to converse like- we speak to Baidu, it translates, then he reads and he speaks to Baidu, and so on- but we had longish conversations even about his family, India! It made us feel so rooted!

What to do in Xiapu: Nothing much other than soak in the vibes of China that it had been a few decades ago- not too many malls, though a real big Wallmart- lazy, laidback life unlike other cities in China where they keep building something everyday! I loved to roam around in the night…

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P.S. 1: Fujian is a Mecca for vegetarians, such a pleasant surprise in China.
2. You can couple Xiapu trip with Fujian Tulous in nearby (just 2 hours by train) Yongding county in Longyan prefecture-level city. Wait for next post on that.

See ya soon..