The Terracota Army- Kinda

A good pair of flip flops is essential to a pleasurable travel experience. Crucial for wear around a dormitory as well as out and about in sweltering cities, this versatile and reliable footwear is a must have in any backpack. Personally, I’m sliders man. That type of adaptable shoe that provides comfort in all situations whether it be on a hot high street or in the water and wherever I’ve been, I have been in my trusty black Adidas slides. Providing a fresh respite from the claustrophobia of a sweaty shoe my slides have always been there when I need them I can’t imagine going anywhere without them.

Tragically, however, I’ve had to say goodbye. One of the best qualities of these perfect feet pillows is that they were soft and squishy, almost cloud like and had a memory foam effect that magnificently moulded to my feet. Every step was a wonderful one in comfort. But this plush positive came with a nasty negative that was the downfall of an old feet friend. The spongeyness that made it oh so pleasant came at an absorbing cost.

In the punishing humidity and relentless heat every cushioned step not only took in the impact of heavy heels but also a small drop of sweat. After walking about ten miles every day since arriving in China each step has added an extra drop to a catastrophic concoction, an extra nail in the coffin. Unable to wash them without worsening the terminal problem, their fate was sealed. After a cross country train Georgie picked up on the “issue”, and when that happened, nothing could save them. We arrived in Xi’an and grudgingly I laid them to rest in the bin. A short moment of silence, maybe a hint of a tear, and it was over. Noses are renowned for smelling, but it was the feet’s ability to do so which ended a trusted travel companions time.

With over a month remaining a replacement had to be sorted. There was no chance my feet, or Georgie’s sense of smell, would survive that time subject to the harsh conditions of a sweaty shoe so it was off into town on the look out. The mega- malls of Xi’an turned up no viable solution with their overpriced options and the chances of a true replacement of genuine quality were slim. It was on the way to dinner that an answer appeared. “New Barlun” a cheap, likely illegal, offshoot of expensive “New Balance” had a pair on the side of the street at just £6 (only £3 a foot) and with plenty more hot-weather-hiking remaining the investment was made.

Their inaugural outing was to the famous Terracotta Army. The first emperor of China’s immortalised soldiers who were built to protect him in the afterlife. Made over two thousand two hundred years ago but somehow forgotten this phenomenal attraction was not to be missed and is a key visit on anyone’s trip to China. Rediscovered by locals digging a well in 1974, the fortunate find now houses three huge pits of history as well as a museum and exhibition hall, not too far away is the gargantuan burial mound of the emperor himself as well as many other important figures from his reign. Often heralded as the archeological find of the century the massive excavation is home to more than 8,000 life size pottery figures as well as weapons, horses,

birds and treasure.

Being such a well visited site, transport routes to the attraction are well serviced and an array of tour companies and public buses are available to ferry you to the iconic army. After taking a screenshot of the directions from our hostel we checked out, and carrying all our belongings, headed into town. It seemed simple. A quick ride on the metro before jumping on the bus and we’d be there. We’d be able to check our big backpacks in at the train station lockers before returning to pick them up and jump on a train to Chengdu. It wasn’t that simple.

We got to the north train station and began our search for the bus as well as the luggage lockers. Neither were available. To use a locker a Chinese phone number was required to access it but that was only a minor setback in relation to the bus. When we left the hostel we also left WiFi and so Georgie wisely took a screenshot of the directions from the Chengdu train station to our next hostel for the night. I, stupidly, brisked over the information provided and failed to register that the directions I was following weren’t those to the ancient mausoleum but the ones to our hostel a whole state away. Burdened by my backpack, with the weight compounded by Georgie’s frustration at my idiocy, we headed back into town. Now in the blistering midday sun we trudged to the west train station and, following Georgie’s commandeered command, made it to correct bus stop, only three hours later than we should have done, with my feet bleeding from the new slides of sandpaper.

Through determination, persistency and a change of footwear we had made it to the home of ancient Chinese warriors. Wielding cameras and selfie sticks instead of swords and spears, the elderly local generation just this side of being in the burial chamber are a force to be reckoned with. Despite small statures and fading muscle they do not let anything come between them and a crisp photo of their counterparts made of terracotta. Arriving as a battalion by bus and utilising their boney elbows at stomach height, their coordinated assaults will brush you aside to get to the front of the crowd. If you are lucky enough to catch a close up glimpse of the first emperors protectors do not hang around because before you know it you will be swept aside by a tide of voracious veterans.

The train station/ oven complex that encases the main pit is where the majority of life-like statues and pesky pensioners reside. Although the exhibition hall offers calmer closeups the first pit is where the figures stand as they have for thousands of years and the best place to view them as the ancient emperor would have. The scale of the project as well as craftsmanship is unbelievable. The replicated detail across so many thousands of man sized sculptures is remarkable, especially when how long ago they were created is taken into account. The time, for me, is the truly mind blowing factor. The huge cemetery has stood there since the dawn of the Roman Empire, since before Christianity existed and before a united China was founded. For thousands of years a whole army has hidden underground, forgotten for centuries. Now unearthed they still stand largely undisturbed, dutifully standing in formation, and it is the viewing platforms that provide the battleground.

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