A Trip to the Roof of the WorldPart 1: Xi’an


To the Roof of the World! Notes from our trip to Tibet, Part 1.

We are going to Tibet, The Roof of the World, The Land of Snows, The Place With Many Capitalized Names! It has been seven years since the last time Pam and I were there together (my last trip was five years ago), and I am sure many things have changed. But so have we. We are older (and wiser?), we now have three wonderful kids, and I am closer to finishing my Ph.D. The main reason we are going to Tibet is, in fact, so I can do some dissertation research. Since my in-laws are also visiting, we decided to make a family trip out of it.

Pam and I have been to Tibet several times before; in fact, Lhasa is the place where we met in the summer of 2001 for the first time (we may have to leave that topic for a different post). I lived in Tibet for two years, Pam spent two summers studying Tibetan in Lhasa, and during the six years we worked for SIT Study Abroad, we took students every semester on some pretty incredible trips across the plateau to learn about Tibetan culture. So going back to Tibet has a special meaning for both of us, and we are particularly excited to show the kids the culture we both fell in love with many years ago, and to which we have dedicated our academic careers.

To try something new, though, and since we are currently living in Beijing, this time we decided to take the famous Beijing-Lhasa train, a 4,064 km (2525 Miles), 40 hour (although, news from the future: it ended up being 44) trip, crossing six provinces, and going from an elevation of 44 meters (144 feet) in Beijing to 3,650 m (11,975 feet) in Lhasa. In between you even go as high as 5,072 m (16,640 feet) when crossing Tangula Pass, making it the world’s highest railroad. In order to make it more sane (we are travelling with three kids after all!), we decided to split the trip into two, with a stop in Xi’an, the ancient Chinese capital.

The first leg of the trip was actually quite pleasant. We were at the train station with time to spare (a rather new experience for us), we had booked a soft sleeper cabin all for ourselves, with 4 comfortable bunk beds), and it was an overnight train, so we were able to enjoy the train ride, while also getting a pretty good night’s rest. Little did we know that this was going to an exception more than the norm (you will have to read part two of this trip in order to know what I am talking about). You can get a sense of our first train ride from the pictures below.

Terracotta Army: “Mommy, why aren’t they moving?”

Xi’an, the ancient Chinese capital, is an incredible city, beautiful and full of historical sites: the city walls, the Drum and Bell Towers, the Muslim quarter. The highlight of our visit was, though, checking out the Terracotta Army, the most famous component of the complex burial complex created by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Sophia was particularly excited about this visit, since she had just read Day of the Dragon King, the Jack and Annie book where they visit this particular period of time and face the Dragon Emperor, the evil Qin Shi Huang, who was on a rampage burning books (and killing scholars, though that’s not emphasized in the book). I had already visited the site, but it was really amazing doing it this time with the kids. Dylan was also quite impressed, although at one point he commented: “Mommy, why aren’t they moving?” which makes me wish I could see the world through his eyes…

There is also a great PBS documentary about the terracotta warriors that you can watch here.

Tomb of Emperor Jing of the Han Dynasty

Our visit to the tomb of Emperor Jing of the Han Dinasty was a pleasant surprise. It is not as spectacular as the Terracotta Army (nothing is!), but it is definitely worth a visit. For starters it’s not as crowded, which in China is always a plus. But the way the tomb is displayed is also quite unique. You can see the excavated tomb as you walked across glass panels that allow you to have a bird’s eye view of the organization of the tomb and its many different objects (soldiers, vases, animals, chariots, dancers).


Here, I just want to add a few pictures of some of the places we visited in X’ian, like the Great Goose Pagoda (a seventh-century pagoda famous for holding some of the sutras and sacred objects brought to China from India by the famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang), and the Drum Tower.

But this was only the first leg of out trip. If you want to know what happened during the second half, you’ll need to read Pam’s post, “How Our Charming Trip to the Roof of the World Ended up Being Thirty-Four Hours in Hell, Police Visit to our Cabin Included.” Stay tuned…



4 responses »

  1. Looking forward to part two! I’m fascinated. =3

    I’m currently learning Mandarin Chinese, and I’m hoping to teach in China for a year or two one of these days. I’m excited to have found your blog!

    • I’m glad you’re finding the blog interesting. Will post part two very soon. I imagine you’d find teaching in China very rewarding, so I hope it works out for you!

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