Xi’an: Guanren Lama Temple & Little Wild Goose Pagoda

One advantage of travelling solo is having the freedom to make choices to delay, speed up or take a different fork in the road. Xi’an managed to provide all of these options. Despite having already seen so much I knew I had barely scratched the surface. I decided to stay another two nights, thinking this would still give me time to revisit some places in Beijing and spend time with friends without overstaying my  visit. Considering, yet again, the mishmash of directions I was glad I made that decision!

Before anything else I had to figure out why I could not make phone calls anymore. Ah, I owed an astronomical amount of money – alright, not really unless from a Chinese sense of cost. I owed 50CNY. I added another 50CNY and would be set for the rest of my trip. Sort of. I still did not have great access to a map and my data was sporadic. However, armed with at least a way to call people I was happy. On my agenda – the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, hop on the subway, or walk about 4.5km. After receiving directions, inccluding where to get off, which exit to take and which way to turn once I have exited, I was ready. Even now I am laughing at my gullibility. When will I learn that despite truly wanting to help too many people get the important things wrong. Unfortunately those errors often include left vs. right.

So, after being assured, by two hostel staff, then someone at Mcdonald’s when I arrived in the general area, to go right I did. After 30 minutes I was convinced I had been led astray. One more conference, some map searches, and even one phone call by a couple trying to help I was headed back to the subway – to turn left! (if the pagoda was on a map I did not see it) Presto, there it was. Closed. Every Tuesday. For extensive renovation. I was so close – I could see the greenery through the slightly ajar door, I was not allowed to sneak in. Ming tian. Oh well, I did have some delicious jiao.zi from a place next door. I headed back to the subway, my hostel, and a reassessment. Onward to Guanren Lama Temple! The temple I had seen from above. I already knew it was in walking distance, all I had to do was find the nearest corner to take me to the other side of the Wall.

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Stupas outside the entrance

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Entrance

Originally built in 1705, this is the only Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the province of Shaanxi. The temple, rebuilt in 1952, with extensive repairs done in 2006, the temple houses over 6700 volumes of sutras in the aptly named Sutras Keeping Hall. These volumes are carefully wrapped in yellow silk, many are displayed while others are in the upper reaches ofvthe library. This is a working temple, monks and adherents actually outnumbered tourists. I was quite taken with the outfits worn by many of the culturally Tibetan visitors. The whole space is relatively small, three acres, yet does not seem crowded. Five Gates and Halls plus lesser halls and off limit wing-rooms – the latter seem to be relatively new living quarters for the monks. A lovely way to while away my afternoon after missing out on the Little Goose. That was on my agenda for the next day.

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Only on recent trips to China have I seen any attention paid to maintaining the luxurous colours in temples. Even the doves look regal.

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Outside the gate of the Hall of Wealth – a pig with a golden ingot wrapped in ceremonial scarves (khata)
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The Hall of Wealth
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Just one side of the hall and the offerings left
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If in any doubt as to purpose of this Hall the ATM is an excellent reminder
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Prayer flags
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Prayer flags 
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Hall of Scriptures – Thousand Hand Boddhisattva
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Hall of Scriptures – on the upper floor are the majority of the sacred writings

 

Wedding Wednesday: Xi’an style

As my trip entered November I noticed there were fewer wedding photo shoots. Considering I was in China again it could have been that there were not any auspicious days along with fewer, easily accessible places for excellent shots. I doubt anyone would want to attempt heading up to the Longmen Grottoes even with the safe steps and paths. There is also the fact it is doutbful such photos would be allowed there, or at the Terracotta Warriors Museum. Which meant that running across the following two shoots when I was walking on the Ancient Xi’an Wall was an opportunity I did not want to miss! Although I did not really capture it, red dresses of each bride also showed how deep the pollution in the air was that day. As always, most of my pictures would not go into any photo album – these are the amateur bits in between the glamour shots.

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I just love those shoes! This is one bride who understood it is necessary to have proper footwear on the rampart.
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It is unlikely, at 60 and not even considering dating, I will ever marry again. However, I may have to find an excuse to buy a red gown!

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This couple seemed to have only remained below the ramparts – no escalators here
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You want me to do what?
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A little support from behind
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Check out the red slippers – although the weather was fine for walking in it was necessary to wear a coat/sweater and proper footwear

Xi’an: Hitting the Wall and finding a Temple

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.

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A sea of neon. Necessary for the pea soup smog.
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Before the mad dash – non-participants (that meant me) headed up the opposite set of stairs
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Before the run all was quiet on the rampart

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.

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He was one of a few drummers along the wall
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A statistician would have kept track of how many mobiles were in use!

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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.

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Blurred Solitude: smog, distance, architecture, movement

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?

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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.

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Still impressive despite tourism, smog and the modern age
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my first glimpse of Guangren Lama Temple from the ramparts of Xi’an Wall

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Looking down – is this how the gods see things built to them?

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.

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Not helpful!
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Of course I did not write down the name, yet alone take a photo of it.
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Books and coffee – perfection.

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.

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Entrance at the Ancient Home to the Ancestral Shrine
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The room where the master of the home would entertain guests
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One person shadow puppet show
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Bath time – they were looking quite grubby but unwilling to be thrown into the washing machine

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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.