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?

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