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Xian – another highlight

Xian is absolutely one of the silk roads highlights! It is the capital of the Shaanxi province and one of the oldest cities in China with more than 3,100 years of history. Xian has more than 8 million inhabitants and is home of the famous Terracotta Army.

After a 122 km journey with just a few climbs in the morning, we arrived in Xian metropolitan area. Although it’s a big city, cycling through it is easy. Traffic is relaxed and the flagging is properly done. After cycling most of the day on my own, I met Candice at a busy intersection. Together we find our way, the last 10 km to the hotel, which was a bit confusing at the end. Apparently there was extra flagging for the support vehicles, which was a dead end for us… anyway, after reaching the hotel, we checked into our rooms and went for McDonalds, just around the corner! Ice cream for Candice, milkshake for Jan 😉

I went for a walk through the old Muslim quarters, and found myself walking in very narrow streets with a lot of people, ‘restaurants’, and al kind of stuff for sale. Really interesting to see what people eat, drink or otherwise consume. My favorite was the ‘egg-kebab-stick’. Or maybe the ‘sticky-rise-with-sugar-dessert-stick’. Ah, and I found the bicycle bell I was looking for. It’s like an old traditional bell, with two bells, producing a great ring-ring-ring-ring sound! My roommate Pascal says I put too much stuff on my bike, but it is good fun! The old Muslim quarter is a great place to walk around, relax, look at all what’s for sale, eat a little bit here and there. Perfect ending of a nice Silk Route day.

Although it was a rest day, I had to get up early. Zaibi has organized a tour to the Terracotta Army. This collection of terracotta sculptures was discovered by a group of farmers when they were digging a water well in the spring of 1974.

The warrior and horse sculptures are a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife, and to make sure that he had people to rule over.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.

It’s a one hour drive from the hotel and we get there around 08:30AM being one of the first. A Chinese tour guide, he ‘working name is Simon’, led us to the first and largest pit. Impressive! To me it seems a pretty weird idea to create terracotta warriors for the afterlife. But then again: different times, different ideas. And these terracotta warriors were made more than 2000 years ago. Although there are many warriors and I can imagine that it was a lot of work to create these, the size of the hall makes the sculptures themselves rather small. Even more due to the distance from where I’m able look at the sculptures.

Still, walking around the three pits, the terracotta warriors are impressive! It gives a really nice insight on China’s history. This has always been, and still is, a very proud nation which has created impressive things, including this terracotta army.  And although there are many sculptures still buried in the ground and restoration will take a long time before completed, this was absolutely one of my highlights so far!


The afternoon is spend in bicycle cleaning, laundry and again a McDonalds Milkshake 😉

What a great city Xian is!


Saolin temple

Being a Silk Route cyclist is a busy job: get up early (6AM!), take a shower and into cycling cloths, pack duffel back, bring duffel back and bicycle downstairs (walk twice when no elevator is available), check out (be careful not to pay for polluted towels), riders meeting at 6:30AM, breakfast around 7AM, start the journey soon after, enjoy the ride and make stops when appropriate (temples, views, lunch, photo’s, ice cream and/or ice tea, peaches for sale along the road, say hi to other riders), arrive at the hotel, bring duffel and bicycle to room, shower, get something to drink (usually go to a supermarket of some sort), sometimes laundry or going to the local market and walk around the city, dinner at 6PM, after dinner walk at approx. 7PM, bed time somewhere at 9:30PM. What I want to say, is that there are so many experiences that I’m not up to date when writing my blog… I’m already in Pingliang but still wanna share Shaolin temple (in Dengfeng) and the Terracotta army (in Xian) with you.

After a tough day, 150 km with climbing at the end, we reached Dengfeng. The village is known for the Shaolin temple. Founded in the 5th century, the temple is associated with the Chinese martial arts, particularly Shaolin Kung Fu. So in the evening we went to see a great outdoor performance about Kung Fu’s life. The décor was awesome, in the mountains, with waterfall, bridge, two ancient houses and light effects high up on the top. The performance was even more spectacular! It started with Kung Fu’s birth, water and a small child on stage. His childhood and how his martial art developed. At a certain point, there were even goats walking around! Light effects were amazing when there were people flying in the air, performing martial arts! Buddhism was introduced with huge horns and Buddhist rituals. I was surprised to see how much influence Buddhism has in China, particularly in this province and I never associated martial arts with Buddhism. Along the route, I see quite frequently a temple with different statues, small and big.

In the morning we went to the Shaolin temple itself. Communism in China does not exclude capitalism. They go very well together! There were many tourist shops with tourist prices at the entrance (10 Yuan for an ice tea instead of the normal 3 Yuan). The Shaolin area boasts rich cultural and natural attractions such as the thousand year old Shaolin “Zen Buddhism, Martial arts and Medicine” and beautiful natural views (when there are no clouds or smog I assume).

One of the first very impressive things we saw was the start of a school day! The Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School is located on the Shaolin temple premises, and has more than 30.000 students and staff. “The martial arts teaching include general basic skills (not sure what that is though), kick boxing, boxing, taekwondo, martial arts performing etc. (not sure what the etc. is).  The rate of student perusing higher level education or being employed is more than 80% (which is low to me, since I have the impression that everyone is working in China and I can’t believe there is an unemployment rate of 20%)” Anyway, the early morning exercises were impressive:

There were many many students, all doing some kind of King Fu exercise. Very impressive! Same as the rest of the complex! There were temples behind temples and the drum tower was certainly one of the most memorable ones. There were very old tables with inscriptions, some of the ‘carried’ by a turtle. Of course there were buddha’s and other statues.


After seen the temple itself, I walked towards the … when I saw a sign for a temple which I thought to be ‘just around the corner’. Wrong… The path led up to a Buddha statue all the way up the mountain, a 250 meter climb! Something I did not expect… The Chuzu temple was somewhere halfway and I assume it doesn’t get many visitors. The climb was steep, and somewhere I met a student briefly. No words were exchanged, but his ascent with hands and head first, made quite an impression! At the summit, I had a silent moment with a monk, watching over the valley. That was cool!

Back in the valley again, I visited the Pagoda forest. During various dynasties some 248 stupas (or small pagoda’s) were made out of stone bricks and build between trees, hence the name Pagoda forest.

And that was when I noticed time. Almost 1PM, and there was no Silk Route rider around… I hurried back to the hotel, found a note from Paul that they left at 11:30AM and made a phone call that I was leaving as well. He knew I have made other cycle tours by myself, so he knew I would be OK.

Although not necessary, Paul and Ingrid waited at the lunch stop and Paul and I cycled the last part together.


Silk on the road!

Well, it was a surprise like many other things I see along the route. This one is special though: silk!

As you might know, silk was one of the Chinese secrets in ancient times. It is said that Lei-tzu discovered silk while walking in her garden, somewhere around 2600 BC. She noticed a strange worm gorging on mulberry leaves and watched it spinning itself a golden net for several days. Then she saw it close itself and thought the worm died, until the reincarnate moth burst from its cocoon.

Toying with the cocoon and mystified of what just happened, the empress accidently dropped the cocoon in her tea. When she picked at the softened fibre, and began to unwind it, she discovered a long, glistening filament of silk. In time she became the teacher of silk-weaving and of the rearing of the mysterious worm…

One afternoon I was pedaling with Nate when we saw something we haven’t seen before. Lazy as we were, we stopped to have a closer look. We didn’t immediately recognized it… not eatable… can’t be cotton… there are some cocoons… must be silk! Wow! Silk! The old men, playing some Chinese chess next to the road were friendly and smiling. Yes, this was silk!

Something that has been priceless for ages was just lying on the same street where we were cycling! I took two hands full of silk cocoons and was just so happy and astonished that I was holding pure silk! The Chinese men were also smiling and probably astonished as well that we were so happy and taking pictures of something that they see every day…

I’m now carrying a little bit of silk with me! All the way to Istanbul!



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