Sunday, October 7, 2018

Hancheng City: Hot New Tourist Destination, Part 2

 Sima Qian Temple and the park that surrounds it is a typically large complex.

For some reason we were met by a small troupe of clowns riding trikes and manipulating fanciful figures.

Sima Qian (145-87 BCE), China's most lauded historian, served as royal astronomer during the Han dynasty. His duties included determining the timing, setting the emperor's calendar of rituals, recording court events and reforming the calendar.

His passion was writing the history of China from the beginning up to his own time. So passionate, that when he committed the capital offense of defaming - disagreeing with - the emperor, he chose castration over execution so he could finish his history. His Stiiji, "Historical Records," provided the pattern all future Chinese historians followed.

The park is filled with gigantic but uninspiring statuary tableaux and brightly colored kid-friendly figures amid concrete plazas and carefully tended greenery.

We much preferred the human-sized path, Tang-era bridge and more natural pathways up to the tomb itself.

Debi decided to take the climb to the top to see Sima Qian's memorial and tomb.
I took one look at the ascent and the path to it, thought of my dicey hip and stayed below.

This is how Debi describes it.

The path is rocky, uneven and steep - much more so that than it looks in this photo.

 The route includes hundreds of stairs.

You pass through many gates, and keep climbing. 

 Finally, you find a colorful temple at the top of the hill.

 Behind the temple lies Sima Qhian's tomb. 

After a short bus ride back to town we stopped at the top of the old city for an easy, winding walk down. Along the way, we went by

a children's park,

a small zoo,

through temple walkways

and by fascinating historic architecture we wanted to know more about.

Eventually we came to what our guides called "gourmet street,"  a pedestrian-only lane lined with two-story buildings.

Stalls, stores and restaurants on both levels offered delights from beer in a bag - so-so - to barbecued lamb-filled soft "tacos" that were delicious.

Much, much more, too, but our feet were aching, rain was starting and our energy was sapped despite how much we wanted to explore and wander. We were given loaded "credit cards" with which to buy our dinners (return them and anything not spent is reimbursed.)

A beer and a snack or two at a picnic table with friends was about all we were able to handle.

We were even more annoyed at our lack of endurance during a short stroll through another visually appealing area.

Finally, there was our gorgeous hotel across the street.

Just thinking about Hancheng makes me itch to return. A bullet train in 2020, anyone?

Our colleague, travel writer Susan McKee, was with us in Shaanxi Province and allowed us to link to her hotel review to further whet your appetite.,

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hancheng City; Hot New Tourist Destination, Part 1

A just-opened museum showcasing artifacts from one of the country's Top 10 archeological finds,

a beautiful hotel,

a classic village unchanged for 670 years,

enthusiastic drummers and dancers,

classic architecture

and, are you ready, an outdoor market with Chinese pizza for breakfast.

What more could you want.

Well, how about a new airport and high speed rail station expected to open in 2020?

Hancheng was our favorite find outside of Xi'an (125 miles northeast) and has the makings of a must-see addition to tours of China. Put on the list of "Prime Tourist Cities of China" in 2007 for its historic mansions, streets and over 140 protected historic sites from Tang to Qing dynasties, it is still under the radar for most. Come along on our exhausting but exhilarating day.

After a remarkable breakfast buffet (best sesame buns of the trip) at the beautiful Wenyuan Pavilion Hotel, we made an all too short stop at the outdoor market.

With vendors setting up displays of the familiar and unfamiliar, all of it intriguing, we scattered like camera-clad, pent-up kittens.

I gravitated to the aromas emanating from the far side and found myself in the "dining" area. Cooking noodles, vegetables and meats sent up clouds of steam, but what caught my attention was a couple making what looked like pizza.

One draped freshly kneaded dough over a large, circular convex grill, adding a tomato sauce and  spices as it cooked. When he deftly took it off, his companion chopped the "pie" into bite-sized rectangles. As customers came by, she scooped the squares into plastic bags for a portable treat. A hot, spicy, satisfying one.

From there we headed to the Relics of Rui Museum at Liangdai Village, but instead of a brand new museum, we were met by Northern Shaanxi Dancers.

This mostly female troupe of drummers dancers, pennant wavers enchanted us with infectious smiles, energy and rhythm.

The museum turned out to be a stunner, built over the 1,300 tombs and 64 horse and chariot pits that were discovered in 2005. Considered in the Top 10 of archaeological discoveries in China, it provides insight into the country's early culture from the Zhou Dynasty (1046 - 256 B.C.).

It still had that new building smell when we entered and immediately were in a world of spaces that lifted the spirit then focused the attention on the exhibits, much enhanced by the lighting.

We encountered a

• jade pig dragon, symbol of potent, auspicious power over, among other things, water, rain and typhoons.

• a 3,000-year-old empress who collected antiques, including one 5,000 years old.

• Chariot and horses' tack in a royal grave. Evidently burying the emperor's carriages along with him goes back a long, long way.

• Gold and jade jewelry, some redesigned and repurposed from older pieces.

• Temple bells and an interactive display to hear how each one sounds.

Just beyond the museum is the overlook to Dang Village. Built in 1331, it is home to 320 families, 1,400-plus people, most with the surnames Dang or Ji.

A few rooms are open for visitors to visit, but we were treated to a lively Chinese marriage show

complete with narrator and entertainment. It brought color to a gray day in a gray and brown toned village.

I suspect most of us would have preferred time to photograph the old architecture and perhaps interact with some of the residents of this living fossil. But then who wants a bunch of foreigners wandering into their courtyard and compound?