Exploring the Muslim Quarters in Xi’an, Shaanxi, China
Xi’an Shaanxi Accommodation: Youth Alley Hostel (Private Room)
Airport pickup: Pre-organized private car from the hostel ($64 CAD)
I remember learning about the Terracotta warriors in elementary school which were built for China’s first emperor and buried with him for the purpose of protecting him. The life sized warriors were built from clay, were placed in a specific order according to rank and duty, they differed in height, uniform, and hairstyle. The emperor was entombed together with his clay warriors, courtiers, concubines, servants and workers with their families, which were buried alive. Yup you read that right, ALIVE! I was so mesmerized by this historical event and special archaeological find that in August 2010 I went to visit the special exhibition “The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army” at the Royal Ontario Museum, since then I looked forward to seeing the authentic site where this all took place. To this day Archaeologists are still excavating the site.
I took advantage of this time in in China, so I flew from Beijing to Xi’an Shaanxi using http://english.ctrip.com/ to book my flight. This site is known by locals for booking affordable travel within China. In Xi’an Shaanxi I stayed at the Alley youth hostel, where I was picked up by the driver at the airport. I chose the hostel because it had a high rating on Trip Advisor and was located right in the Muslim quarter. The Muslim Quarter is the hub of the Muslim community just west of Xi’an City with 20,000 Muslims living in the quarters. There are ten mosques in this area which were easily accessible by walking from the hostel and one of them is the popular Great Mosque in Huajue Lane. Since so many Muslims reside here there are countless halal restaurants to enjoy.
The day after I arrived at the hostel I took an organized tour for approx. $100 CAD to see the Terracotta warriors which took most of the day. I could have easily done this tour on my own for a lower price but I did not want to get lost and risk not seeing the warriors because I was short on time. The whole excursion was great, a bit longer than expected because they took us through this huge gift shop before taking us to see the warriors and we had an early lunch which was included in the excursion. The whole site in itself was as I had expected but with more tourists there than I had initially thought. I would recommend renting the audio headsets to explain what each pit is about because the tour guide does not explain anything once you are inside.
Later on in the evening I went for a troll to explore my dinner options in the Muslim quarter and decide to have my first hot pot experience. It was a very unique and interesting experience for me because I am a huge bread/roti lover and there was none in sight of this meal just lots of meat and veggies. It was delicious and refreshing!
The next day I decided to walk to the Xi’an city wall from the hostel, once I got there I decided to bike to get a nice and thorough view of Xi’an. I did it! It took me a whole 3 hours but I biked the whole wall, it was totally worth it!
I went to Xi’an on my own and was feeling a bit lonely so I decided to use couchsurfing.com for the first time with the hopes of finding someone I can hang out with in Xian. Couchsurfing is a service that connects locals to a global community of travelers. Fortunately I found Sara, a Pakistani girl like myself completing her PHD in Xi’an. She was looking for friends on couch surfing too so I messaged her and luckily she wasn’t creeped out by me and she responded right away! I then met up with her after exchanging a few messages. Right when we met we hit it off in Urdu, talking about our different lives, religion and cultural expectations. I was amazed at how friendly, genuine and funny Sara was. We ended up visiting the great mosque together and shopping inside the mosque where they sell beautiful Chinese art products with Arabic and Chinese calligraphy, they are worth a buy.
Later we got fish pedicures near the mosque for $5, which made me laugh super hard because I am ticklish and they really get in there! We then headed back to the area where I was staying and had delicious beef noodles (hand stretched rice noodles and not the instant kind!) and we bought Chinese sweets for my family. Sadly at the end of the night we had to say goodbye and part ways as the driver was waiting to take me to the airport right when I got back to the hostel.
All in all Xi’an you did me good I shall be back!