Stories from the Old Silk Road - CHINA Part 1
​Dateline: August/September 2018
An Ancient Capital and the start of the Silk Road

The street was alive with a cacophony of different sounds; the hubbub of thousands of visitors, the beat of drums, the yelling of merchants spruiking their wares and attractions, the scent of spices, the fragrance of cooking pots and various meats, the tantalising aroma of bread ovens cooking a whole host of different and varied breads and rolls, and the waft of incense carried on the breeze.
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Expertly removing ALL the meat from a sheep carcass.
While the crowds jostled in the street, butchers stood on their stools above the crowds cutting up sheep carcases, while ensuring every last morsel of meat was removed from the bones. With some hard won space around them noodle makers stretched, twisted and spun their dough into long filaments of pasta ready for cutting and cooking into such delectables as fresh 'Biang Biang'- noodles in a spicy sesame oil.

Some of the most popular food stalls, crowded with hungry customers, were those making the city's favourite -rou jia mo, a spicy burger in a pitta-like roll that originated here - made from slow cooked lamb, pulled and heavily spiced with cumin and fiery chilli. We tried a couple of different ones, preferring the one from the not-so-popular stall!

Then there were the jiaozi, or pastry wrapped dumplings, each maker and stall seemingly specialising in another form with fillings varying from duck and fish, to shrimp and mutton, to sweet versions with marzipan. Other stalls served Xiaolongbao, a beef and vegetable soup dumpling, while others dished up deep fried squid, 'Yang Rou Chuan'spicy kebabs,or men-ding (door nail) meat pies.
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Hammering a toffee like mix.
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Making noodles.
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Deep fried squid.
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Ron trying out 'rou jia mo' or spicy burger in a roll. One of his favourites.
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Polishing pearls.
There were artisans too. Jewellers working fine metal into works of art; engravers chiselling Chinese characters onto metal pots and dishes, bangles and bracelets; while others beat copper and bronze into fine and intricate shapes of varying sizes; and other stall holders, just a few, took pearls from oysters and polished them in a gentle spinning pot.
 
Few places in our modern world would ... could ... compare!

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Intricate silver engravers.
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Artisan jewellers working fine metal into works of art.
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Drum Tower in Xi'an is beautifully lit at night.
We were in the heart of the Muslim Quarter in the centre of the ancient walled city of Xi'an, wandering into the human maelstrom that is Beiyuanmen, the ancient thoroughfares north of the city's Drum Tower. This outstanding Tower had been built in 1380, a mere 650 years ago, but that wasn't the start of this city, which for over a thousand years was the capital of Imperial China. 
 
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Exploring the Great Mosque in the Muslim Quarter, Xi'an.
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Excavating and archeological work still continues near the great Tomb.
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An army of Terracotta Warriors.
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History records that a sophisticated agricultural society grew up around here 5000 years ago and by 1000BC, Xi'an was the cultural and political centre of the country. Ol' Emperor Quin ordered the construction of a great tomb guarded by a terracotta army around 220BC (you surely would have heard about that!), while 80 years later, Emperor Wu Di sent his imperial envoy, Zhang Qian, to investigate the territories to the west, via the Hexi Corridor, near current day Jiayuguan, at the western end of the Great Wall and at that time the outer edge of Chinese territory. That 13 year long expedition was the very beginning of what became known - surprisingly only in the first half of the 19th Century though - as The Great Silk Road. 
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The busy, noisy, vibrant Muslim Quarter that is Beiyuanmen - the anciant thoroughfares north of the city's Drum tower. Fabulous!!
We were about to embark on our journey along the fabled route!


If you want to read about all our travels and adventurers we had following the Silk Road, see: www.polarsteps.com/RonMoon/968969-following-the-silk-road
Copyright Ron & Viv Moon