Friday, 3 April 2009

Xian: City Walls and Temple of Eight Immortals

flag/lantern thingimyjigimes decorated the wall

Having covered the main tourist draws in my first two days, on my third and last day I decided to ask the very helpful hostel staff which of the other sights I should see. One of the girls recommended that I visit the Temple of Eight Immortals, a Taoist temple outside the East Gate of the City Walls. As it had mercifully stopped raining I decided to walk there, going most of the way along the City Walls.

I was slightly aggrieved to find that the ticket to get onto the Walls didn’t permit you to get off and come back on again, as I’d wanted to walk the whole Wall, stopping at the Temple and didn’t want to pay twice, but in the end it was just too cold anyway. After the warm spell in the middle of March, north eastern China has suddenly had a cold snap this week and I’ve had to dig out my longjohns, thermal tops and down coat that I’d thrown higgedly piggedly into my wardrobe that I’d folded away, foolishly thinking winter was over.

area of wall that is being restored

Perhaps the most entertaining thing about walking the walls was watching the people on tandem bicycles, especially the number of red faced forty and fifty something fathers who all looked like they were about to have a coronary and who were universally exhorting their children to ‘Pedal! You’re meant to be pedalling!’

an ungentrified area of central Xian

I peered down at Ancient Street, an area of Ming and Qing style houses built in the early 90s, which house a selection of art galleries and cafes, the Forest of Stelae Musuem and by the East Gate an area of small, shabby, traditional houses. I wondered how long they would be allowed to occupy such a valuable real estate before being bulldozed to make way for new shops, apartment buildings or hotels.

hell money, the stall owner found it very odd that I was taking a photo of this!

Descending from the East Gate was slightly hair raising, as it deposited you on the side of a rather busy road that lacks pavement. On the way to the Temple I managed to get spectacularly lost by virtue of a rather misleading street sign at a T junction, that despite being the sign for the street at the top of the T was placed several metres along the other street. I ended up walking for half an hour, getting increasingly grumpy, when if the damn street sign had been where all common sense dictated it should’ve been, I would have been there in under five minutes.

statue of one of the Eight Immortals

I was at the point of giving up and jumping in a taxi to go somewhere else, when I noticed that all the shops were selling ‘hell money’ (fake notes that are burnt as offerings to ancestors/gods, I believe). I just followed them and found myself at the temple entrance.

incense sticks being burnt

It was well worth the frustration of getting lost. Slightly out of the centre of town, and not included on the itinerary of tour groups, even on a Saturday morning, I was the only Western tourist there. There were a couple of Chinese tourists too, but unlike most of the temples I’ve visited, this was a place were the majority of visitors were there to perform religious rites. There was a peaceful and soothing atmosphere, and I was free to wander around the place, stumbling across charming little hidden courtyards.

hidden courtyards

Then I realised I needed to use the toilet. I could smell them from several metres away, and they were the most gag-inducingly disgusting toilets I’ve yet encountered in China, and possibly anywhere. It was enough to make me wonder if some sort of dirty protest had been staged!

in the garden

Luckily my ruffled senses were soothed by the beautiful garden at the back of the temple. I tried to sit and read my book, as it was the kind of spot to rare in China not be totally taken advantage of, but it was just too cold. So I wandered back to the entrance, only realising that I was in the temple resident’s living area when I noticed their clothes hung out to dry! No one challenged me though, not even the woman cleaning, and I couldn’t resist snapping this abandoned game of Chinese chequers or chess (if anyone knows what it is, I’d be most grateful) before quietly and quickly moving on to the public area.

an abadoned game

I think if I lived in Xian I’d visit this place regularly just for the atmosphere and the soul soothing effect it had on me.

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek


  1. You must have had an amazing time there. It's beautiful.

  2. I love the culture, thankyou for sharing those wonderful pictures with us!

    great photo friday

  3. Wow...what amazing adventures you have!! I am always jealous of people's travels...especially on PSF days when I get to see all their photos...FABULOUS captures of your trip!

  4. The "hell money" is a strange concept. Good idea not to burn real money, though!
    I'm glad you found the temple. Looks like a lovely and interesting place.

  5. It does look calming and beautiful hidden gardens.

  6. The money is very pretty - why wouldn't you take a photo of it?

    thanks for the tour!

    Tink *~*~*

    Strolling into the EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival

  7. The cherry blossoms are beautiful. What a great find.

  8. What an exciting adventure! You captured some beautiful parts of your trip!

  9. Lovely shots taken during your walk.
    That game could be Chequers, but usually there are just two colors.

    Thank you very much for the lovely words you left about my blog at David's. It means a lot to me.