After the hectic day catching buses to and from the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors, plus attempting to move against the flow of the masses while there I needed an outdoor activity that meant absolutely no riding vehicles. My goal was to reach the nearest accessible gate to the wall surrounding Xi’an to view the city from above. Once again the hostel (Ancient City International YHA) proved to be in an ideal spot for an easy walk, this time to the arched gate that would lead me to the stairs on the inside. Of course there is a fee – 54CNY=10.50CAD,most likely used to help with daily maintenance suh as sweeping, garbage and light security. After all, even with the heavy gates still on their hinges, the wall is no longer there to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.
Thr first difference I noted from Nanjing was the stairs are inside, after going through the gateway with two sets to keep the comings and goings less muddled. That might have worked out but for the excited crowd I walked into. Jumping jacks, stretches, running on the spot, numbers fluttering, cheering – I had walked smack dab into a gathering marathon! I did find someone to direct me, same way all of the runners would eventually be heading once above. I followed some young men carrying, then setting up heavy drums – similar to the drums on dragon boats to keep a beat, but these ended up being used as encouragement once things started. I did have a fairly good headstart and figured out where I should not be based on stations along the top of the wall.
What I was not ready for was another, far more fun, smaller mass of marathoners wearing clown wigs, painted faces, painted T-shirts and some pretty nifty silly colours overall, coming from the other direction It was the clash of the marathoners. Later I found out that this was the Xi’an City Wall International Marathon – from what I understood the marathoners started at the same gate although it appeared to me they were going different directions – I guessed those finishing were coming towards me as the 13.7 km runners were starting where I had been – it seemed to prevent any clashes.
Considering the density of the soupy smog they very well might have had difficulty seeing each other at times. I was beginning to wonder if I should seek out a mask from one of the very few stores that I might come across – I had passed one, after buying more water. However, I decided to just stay out of the way, cheer people on as they ran by, and take photos when I could. How often would I see a marathon, let alone two, on one of the ancient walls of China?
A little history lesson: Xi’an, once known as Chang’an, is considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization, with a 3000 year history of which 1100 years it was the capital city of a few dynasties. The area is rich in history. The Xi’an Wall is the most complete of walls that has survived and can be traversed all around the top, walking, bikes, even some motorized tours, and of course running. Originally build as a fortification in the old Tang Dynasty (618-907) it now forms the base for the City Park. I started at the South Gate and walked to the East Gate. The smog did not improve which made me glad I was not running and rather worried about the children who were running in the family groups. We did some high fives and hellos. Even the most serious runners, on their return run, were smiling at times.
As I wended my way along the wall there were some interesting sights. I discovered a temple I planned to visit the next day. There were families enjoying little picnics, cyclists, (I did not want to attempt riding when I knew hudreds of runners would be soon surging through) groups of young people being young, and below, at one of the secondary gates, wedding shoots were taking place. (I decided to save those photos for my Wedding Wednesday blog) I spent my time trying not to worry about the AQI (air quality index), found my way down the east gate, became handily lost (I really must get a map App I can use anywhere) before coming across a coffee shop that seemed to beckon. Of course I went in. It is pretty hard to get lost in Xi’an when all the main streets within the walls are on a fairly simple grid plus the very visible Bell and Drum Towers standing as beacons.
Once I made it to the Drum Tower I knew where I was, the Muslim Quarter, what better time to explore some of the side streets this time as well as visiting one of the few ancient homes still intact, and I think in the same family. I even paid to see a shadow puppet show. Although I did not understand a single word of the high pitched opera style nor very little of the story it was a fun 15 minutes to end my long day and time to take my weary pandas home to our hostel.
Dinner, bathed, tired and the next day planned out. I was looking forward to seeking out the path to enlightenment at the Guangren Lama Temple.