Woke up to a pollution count of 200; very glad we brought breathing masks with us. On a better note we woke to an unbelievable hotel breakfast with everything from hash browns and baked beans to the now compulsory congee and fried devils, pork buns, pickles, fried rice, veg, Danish pastries, croissants, peanut chilli noodles, infinite egg varieties and banana bread!
After eating as much as possible, we travelled a little out of the city to to tomb of the Tang Dynasty 3rd Emperor and Empress (Wu Ze Tian, China’s only female in the big seat). Wu Ze Tian rose from being a concubine to the 2nd Tang Emperor before seducing his son – who then returned her to the palace as his own concubine, and later wife, on his father’s death. The tour guide hinted at lots of other exciting tales, including murdering her own daughter and deposing other wives in order to take power. We were able to visit their mausoleum running alongside their tomb – other which was discovered in recent decades but not opened – waiting for a time when what is inside can be preserved. More evidence of a foresight and pan-generational perspective within China which I bet is unrivalled in the world.
We climbed the natural hill in which the tomb was found (but sealed with molten steel to be opened on pain of death – literally). Not bad considering I was in a skirt and casual shoes. Kind comparisons to gentlewomen lady Victorian explorers as I held up my skirt while scaling the near vertical and very slippery rocks near the summit. Interesting conversation from the tour guide on the way to lunch – who answers our questions about the Chinese views on the afterlife. As with the Saxons, Egyptians (and no doubt others), people would leave precious objects – food, money, weapons, pots and pans even animals in the grave to help the departed in the next life. In current times, most monotheistic religions and all but removed these types of traditions. In China, paper effigies of objects are now burnt as funeral offerings – paper money, paper cars, paper iphones even (to the bus’s amusement) paper wifi routers.
After this we went on to the Famen Temple, an enormous national complex of Buddism with everything you could possibly seek from an Avenue lined with giant Buddha statutes and meditative gardens with delicate music coming out of fake rocks on the ground. Sadly to us most of the complex felt cold and corporate with no feelings of tranquility or peace. The site is home to a sacred relic belonging to Sakyamuni – lost for centuries then found beneath an old pagoda on the site in the 1980s. We were lucky to get a sight of it in the new building recently constructed for it – and looking disturbingly like an pagoda housed within an alien death ray machine. We left unsatisfied (particularly the practicing buddhists among the group) feeling like we had just been through some sort of tourist propaganda.
A better end to the night in the Xi’an Muslim quarter, with a bucketful of Bau – special dumplings with vegetable soup on the inside.