memories of family outings.....

Tuesday

The Amazing Army of Qin Shi Huang

China was high on my Must-See list, mainly because I wanted to see The Subterranean Army of The Terra Cotta Soldiers in Xian.

Year 1974. I remember being zapped by a news item in our papers about an amazing archeological find. Three farmers of Lintong County in Shhanxi, had unearthed a life size terracotta figure of a warrior , broken but with all parts intact, while digging a well. Intrigued, they had turned it over to the state officials. In no time at all, archeologists started excavating and discovered what was long rumoured, in ancient writings, to be underground, but never before found - a vast subterranean vault teeming with whole battalions of warriors, horses, officials, musicians and acrobats, all lined up in formations in honour of Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China, who had died.
The age of this Necropolis was established as 250 BC. Today it is a UNESCO notified World Heritage Site .

When we started planning a trip to China, the only place I was very keen on visiting was Xian, the district capital of Shaanxi, the nearest city to the site.

Down the years since the tomb was first exposed, many excavations have taken place( and still continuing) . Some 400 pits with 50,000 artefacts of cultural importance have been unearthed so far in an area of 56 Sq.Km.at the foot of The Lishan Mountains.
Three "pits" ( with approximately 8000 figures) have been converted into museums , in a well protected layout, far from any traffic or urban sprawl. The parking lot and ticketing counter are a kilometer away from the "pits". Visitors are driven to the site in special buggies.
The Museum area is airy and beautifully landscaped; the domed buildings protecting the pits are of spartan, utilitarian design and maintained in spic and span condition. The first hall is a circarama movie theatre, where the glory of the Emperor's reign is projected on a 360 degree screen, with surround sound. Though the commentary is a bit muffled, the total effect is stunning and prepares one to enter the pits in suitable awe and respect !

Pit 1 is the largest and the most magnificent of the three. Row upon row of soldiers stand in readiness in trenches, all life sized and each one a very definite INDIVIDUAL, with his own individual features, expression and hairstyle. Some show remnants of the ancient paint that had once made them lifelike.The sheer numbers and variety leave one reeling in amazement.


Visitors cannot get too close to the warriors, but can walk on a viewing ramp that runs all around the pit. Lighting is dim, but the place is ablaze with the flashes of a hundred cameras, at any given point of time. It helped to have a guide with us, for without her help, we would have missed many a finer detail.
After Pit 1, Pit 2 and 3 appear rather small, sparse and unexciting. Here, a few excellent specimens ( soldiers, carts, weapons) are exhibited in glass cases so that we can have a closer view from all angles of the wonderful works of art. Pit 3 , still being excavated, serves as a stage-by-stage manual to the process of excavating ruins. Reportedly, bones of some ancient grave robbers were also found here.

The Museum Shop, selling souvenirs and refreshments, is always crowded because, here sits a wizened old man who is one of the three farmers who first discovered the Terra Cotta Army. He is also an exhibit ! His function is only to sign the picture book bought from the souvenir shop, for which sole purpose, the illiterate man was reportedly taught writing ! He does not smile or speak and photographing him is strictly prohibited.

Outside the museum premises, there's a huge village fair of shacks selling Terra cotta warrior and horse figures of all sizes at dirt cheap prices. And they are ready to concede to bargaining too ! You come away feeling sorry for the salesmen.
One buy we really enjoyed was Persimmon fruit, packed in bright pink plastic baskets. They were so delicious ! Since the fruit perishes very fast, we got 2 baskets of it free with the purchase of one , which too was bought almost for a song!


The visit to the Terra Cotta Army is an unforgettable experience.

( photo quality not good due to insufficient lighting )

15 comments:

Sunita said...

I cant help thinking of what must've gone through that old man's mind when he saw the first of the Terracotta army...
Superb post, Yosee!

YOSEE said...

Sunita : Thanks for dropping by.

The old man would never have imagined what a change he'd bring to his own life ( a paid exhibit !)and to his village that is flourishing on tourist money :-)

avdi said...

This is awesome. I am glad there are countries that try to perserve their heritage.

YOSEE said...

Avdi : Now that preserved heritage also brings in tourist dollars everywhere, there's added incentive !( but in apna desh, lethargy rules !)

Kamini said...

What a great post!
I would love to see the terracotta army one day. Like you, when I first read about it, it seemed fantastic beyond imagination!
Thanks for sharing this with us.
How did you get there from Beijing? And how long were you there for?

YOSEE said...

Kamini : Thank you.
From Beijing we took Hainan Airways flight to Xian. We purchased a 2-days tour package(with English speaking guide,private car)at Beijing itself.One day for the Terra Cotta warriors, one day for City of Xian.

Maddy said...

something I am looking forward to see..my brother who lives in beijing was telling me about this..

YOSEE said...

Maddy : Do visit. I'm sure you'll find it most interesting.

Satyask said...

Very Nice..!
Do you know there was a story about a an army of mud soldiers of Vikramarka used to actually defeat the enemy?

There are those who insist that this army moved by magic and others by technology and others who dismiss the whole thing.
My father says that he must have used it to scare the enemy into thinking that his army was much larger than the enemy army.

I agree with avdi. at least some countries preserve their material heritage...

YOSEE said...

Satya : I've not heard that one about Vikramarka's clay soldiers ! How interesting ! Perhaps you could blog about it in detail.
Thanx for dropping by.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

This would be a reason to visit China indeed, especially archaeology buffs like me. Nice to be back blogging again, thanks for your kind comment, looking forward to more of your posts and definitely more of your sketches!

YOSEE said...

Thanks Anup, for dropping by. Am sure, you'll love Xian.

茂恒 said...

人逢順境不逞強,身處逆境不示弱。 ....................................................

Indrani said...

WOW! I love this description.
Great pics too. One has to survive on fruits there I guess.

YOSEE said...

Indrani, thank you.
Fruits were fantastic supplements, but not the survival kit ! Vegetarians can manage get noodles, rice and sauteed greens on special request.