I’ve written about two-thirds of my Xian-Luoyang trip but it might seem I’ve forgotten something important. That would be the terracotta warriors, one of the most famous sights in the world and the main reason one goes to Xian. The reason I’ve waited so long to write about it is because I saved this trip for the latter end of my trip, after returning from Huashan and Luoyang.
The day after I returned to Xian from Luoyang, I met up with my Cantonese travel buddy who I’d met in Luoyang. We met at the Xian train station (the central one, not the high-speed one) and soon found the special bus to the terracotta warriors in the massive parking lot in front of the station (which lies just outside the City Walls). It’s weirdly numbered – 5 (306) with the 5 signifying that it’s line number five, I believe. There are several buses that go to the terracotta warriors, but this is the most dependable one as it’s quite direct and doesn’t make much stops beforehand.
It took a little over an hour and I was confused when the bus stopped at a hotel parking lot. We were told this was indeed the final stop by the terracotta warriors and after turning the corner, we reached the entrance where there was an open-air plaza with stores and vendors. This itself was a little confusing as the way was not clearly marked and there was some walking around before we found the actual ticket booth. It was a bright Friday morning and there was a good bit of visitors, but not an overwhelming amount.
The terracotta warriors, horses (and horse-pulled chariots) were housed in three main pits. The overwhelming majority of them were in Pit 1, a vast hanger-like building. This is the famous sight that’s been seen in countless photos and TV shows, with the warriors standing in orderly rows, dozens deep in a massive pit located below you. When you enter through the main entrance, this sight greets you head on.
It is an impressive sight and one of the most major archaeological finds ever, no doubt, but is it worth all the hype? I’d have to say, unfortunately no. I was a little underwhelmed and didn’t linger too long. Of course, it’s much better to have a guide who can tell you the details and history behind the figures and the finding. That would have improved my experience immensely. At the rear, there were dozens of more figures that stood neatly arrayed. I’m not sure if these were newer, recently restored figures.
The other two pits are also large, but have much less figures and horse chariots. Most remain in their original state, with some as a pile of disfigured parts. This was indeed how most of the terracotta warriors had been found, with Chinese archaeologists eventually piecing many back together like those in Pit 1. The warrior excavation was a work in progress, and there may even be more underground. Pit 2 was also quite large and more dim, with its earthen pit in a more undisturbed state with trenches and furrowed surfaces cluttered with broken pieces here and there. However, the probability of ancient booby traps, just like in an Indiana Jones movie, are real and prevent archaeologists from proceeding too quickly. Pit 3 is much smaller than Pit 1 and is believed to be the “command center” of the other two pits.
Besides the pits, there were exhibits of ancient artifacts and actual terracotta warriors which were really good. I found it more fascinating seeing the terracotta warriors, officers, and chariots up close. In addition, the exhibits showed different kinds of terracotta figures including birds and human acrobats.
After all this, we went to the actual emperor’s mausoleum which was about a 10-minute drive from where the terracotta warriors were. Located deep inside a mound, the tomb has never been opened and all you can really do is walk around the mound. Around this area, there were certain stations where more figures had been found and further archaeological work was being done to restore them. These were small pits and the figures were not numerous. It wasn’t too interesting, though there was a weird moment when the guards at one station were blasting Gangnam Style on their small radio.
We took a different bus back to Xian, a regular area bus that stopped at various towns on the way to Xian. It took a little longer than the 5(306) but not by much. So in the end, is it worth it to go see the terracotta warriors, especially if you can only go to a limited number of places in China? Of course, but only if you don’t miss out on Xian’s other fine sights.
The front of Pit 1 from the side.