Terracotta Army

Traveling to Xi-an to see the Terracotta Army was something I’ve always wanted to do and our trip to China and Taiwan allowed this dream to come true. Workers digging a well outside the city of Xi'an, China, in 1974 struck upon one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world: a life-size clay soldier poised for battle.

The diggers notified Chinese authorities, who dispatched government archaeologists to the site who found not one, but thousands of clay soldiers, each with unique facial expressions and positioned according to rank. And though largely gray today, patches of paint hint at once brightly colored clothes. Further excavations have revealed swords, arrow tips, and other weapons, many in pristine condition.

The soldiers are in trenchlike, underground corridors. In some of the corridors, clay horses are aligned four abreast; behind them are wooden chariots. The terracotta army, as it is known, is part of an elaborate mausoleum created to accompany the first emperor of China (Qin Shi Huang Di) into the afterlife, according to archaeologists.

According to writings of court historian Siam Qian during the following Han dynasty, Qin ordered the mausoleum's construction shortly after taking the throne. More than 700,000 laborers worked on the project, which was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings a year after Qin's death.

The Museum housing the soldiers form a large complex with the three main excavations enclosed in large buildings. Along with the Great Wall and the Forbidden City it has become one of China's most visited site.


Xi'an, located in central-northwest China was called Chang'an (meaning the eternal city) in ancient times, it is one of the birthplaces of the ancient Chinese civilization in the Yellow River Basin area. As the eastern terminal of the Silk Road and the site of the famous Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty, the city has become a top tourist destination.

One evening we paid a short visit to a street known as “Muslim Street” for its many Muslim restaurants and food stalls. Xi’an was the first city in China to be introduced to Islam when Emperor Gaozong of the Tang dynasty officially allowed the practice of Islam in 651 AD and since, has made it home to a large Muslim community.

With an estimated 50,000 Muslims in the region, the majority of them hail from the Hui group. The Muslim quarter in Xi’an comprises four neighborhoods, Huajue Xiang, Hongbu Jie, Xuexi Xiang, and Sajin Qiao and is home to about 20,000.

Shaanxi History Museum

Shaanxi Province and its capital Xi'an is the home to thirteen imperial dynasties including most prosperous Qin, Han, and Tang Dynasties. As a result, abundant cultural remains and profound historical accumulation formed Shaanxi’s featured history and culture. The Shaanxi History Museum is home to many of those artifacts.

Shaanxi History Museum

The Yaodong of Bai She Village

Planing my trip to Xi’an I was looking for interesting day trips and during my research, I saw that besides the terracotta soldiers there was something else buried nearby, houses that provided dwellings to some of the rural populace.

When I told the young tour guide that I wanted to sleep in a cave you could sense the surprise in her response. I told her that there were several “cave villages” near Xi’an and went on to explain that there were around 30 million Chinese who called caves their home.

The Yaodong of Bai She Village

She had read about how Chairman Mao on the Long March had slept in a cave but didn’t realize that many stilled did so in modern China. I asked her to look for the appropriate accommodations and warned her that I was not interested in a modern adaptation that I had seen listed on AirBnB but rather one that was still being used as a home.

After much searching about, she found an apple farmer whose parents lived in a cave and would be willing to share their home. The cave house was of the “sunken courtyard” variety (known as “di keng yuan” in Mandarin).

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

Lao Tzu
The Yaodong of Bai She Village

We met our guide and driver and drove into the countryside where we met the farmer at his storage facility in town. There they were getting apples ready for shipment and offered us a bag to take. There were several workers there wrapping the apples individually and placing the small boxes in the back of a pick-up truck. After things were progressing nicely the farmer told us to follow him to his parent's house.

When we arrived at the villages with the cave houses there were a number of them dug into the ground, some which have gone into disrepair. Above ground, there was the outhouse, animal pens and a couple of storage buildings. We entered the house by walking down a ramp, the rooms with semi-circular roofs faced a central courtyard. The entire house was underground with only the courtyard exposed.

We were warmly met by our host family and shown to our room, furnished in pre-cultural revolution décor with a picture of Mao prominently displayed. The bed was brick and had a door where you could put burn wood in the winter. Essentially we were sleeping over a brick oven but the bed was surprisingly comfortable.

We were served a simple but tasty meal cooked on a wood-burning stove, the kitchen in a separate room. We spent a quiet evening and went to bed early. Sleeping quite soundly in the warm evening.

The next day we had a lovely walk around the surrounding area talking to some locals playing cards, in the neighboring town and a farmer tending to his apple trees. Each apple was encased in its own little paper bag to protect it from birds and insects, a form of organic farming.