Saturday, November 29

China, Day Six: The Great Mosque of Xian

The night train wasn't a great place to spend a night in after all. All three of us woke up tired and irritable, all due to a distinct lack of sleep, all for various reasons including the noise, vibrations and a strange man's snoring. Still at least we got into our hotel room early - even better that it was a swish suite, so good that it's worth a mention in this post!

After breakfast, we headed off to central Xian and spent some time up the Bell Tower, taking in the four compass directions of Xian. We then walked tot he nearby Muslim quarter - a whole road and surrounding area filled to the brim with Muslims and their businesses. We spent most of the morning there, before heading off to the stunning centrepiece of the quarter to pray: The Great Mosque.

Much bigger than anything Beijing had to offer, this was a 1200 year old mosque and courtyard built on orders of the emperor of the time; as a result it is pretty huge, venerated and preserved as an important historical place of worship. The whole place was impressive, but the most beautiful work in my opinion was left for the inside of the mosque - three of the four wooden walls of the large sub hall having the complete Quran carved into them, while the smaller main hall had a wonderful stone mithrab decorated in the usual Chinese-influenced-Arabic. I could have stayed in the place a couple of more hours to be honest - perhaps we'll revisit it tomorrow.

We then covered the rest of Xian proper - we visited the Wild Goose Pagoda, built in honour of the travelling monk who brought Mahayana Buddhism to China from his time touring India. Impressive and dominant, it provided even more awesome views of Xian.

We then stopped by the city wall, a well preserved 26 kilometre wall which surrounds the inner city of Xian. If I had the time I would have liked to have hired a bike and ride it all the way around - really testing my newly found bike riding skills at last. As it stood we made do with a couple of pictures of, from and on the East Gate.

To kill time before dinner we visited a department store in the vicinity of the Bell Tower, where we found out just how expensive China is for the regular stuff available elsewhere. Needless to say, we bought nothing.

Today was really good actually, mostly because of our really helpful and considerate guide; she worked with us and listened to what we wanted to do and adapted the day to reflect that instead of herding us around her home town. We wouldn't have seen half as much as we would have done without her help. It made the whole decision to take a tour a bit more palatable to be honest - it's just a shame we didn't have the same guide in Beijing!

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