Arriving in Xian, we took a bus from the airport to the centre of Xian. The bus took us near to the Bell Tower, and the directions for our hostel stated that you couldn’t miss the drum tower. They were right. It’s the absolute centre of town – so central in fact that it now sits in the middle of a roundabout, buses and cars rushing around it.
After checking into our hostel – Han Tang House, which incidentally has the most comfortable beds in all of China [in our experience anyway] – we headed out to explore a bit of the city. As the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower are both unbelievably central, and as the sun was due to set soon, we decided to visit them both. We were pleased to find that we could purchase a joint ticket for the two attractions, saving about 10 RMB against purchasing separate tickets.
The Bell Tower is accessed from underground – below the roundabout. In the same place is the entrance to the metro, and the means of crossing the road if you’re a pedestrian…although we saw a couple of vans in there at one point which seemed a little unusual. Once you buy your ticket it’s up a few stairs and exploring time.
The views from the Bell Tower were impressive. As it’s situated in the centre of the walled old town of Xian, you’re looking out over busy streets, but it was interesting watching everything happening. Unlike most other cities we’d visited in China, most of the buildings were fairly low – most only about four or five storeys high. This was fortunate, as it meant that our views weren’t limited by skyscrapers closing in.
John didn’t understand why it was called the Bell Tower when it didn’t look like a bell – it was made a bit clearer when I pointed out the big bell on the side. And it’s a really big bell, weighing 6500 kg and bronze-cast, and dates to the 8th century during the Tang Dynasty. Then there’s the fact that they’ve a rather large collection of bells on the top floor of the tower, and you can hear them played at certain times of day.
The sun hadn’t truly begun to set when we were at the Bell Tower but it was getting there. Walking around the balcony, John was again reminded that China isn’t made for giants – he hit his head on the beams a couple of times. I did suggest that this problem could be easily remedied by chopping his feet off just above the ankles, but he wasn’t too keen on that.
We weren’t sure if our ticket to the Drum Tower had to be used on the same day, so to be safe we headed over there. Like the Bell Tower, it’s pretty hard to miss. You’d need to put in some serious effort not to find it. One floor of the Drum Tower was taken up with a museum of drums, and this was rather interesting. They had different drums from all over China and from a number of different periods, so as well as enjoying the beautiful building you can see a little of the history of the drums. Fortunately it was a little clearer to John why this one was called the Drum Tower!
The sun began to set as we were wandering the Drum Tower, and the views from the balcony were beautiful. I think we were incredibly lucky – this was the most beautiful sunset we saw in China. Truth be told I think it might have been the only actual, recognisable sunset we saw in China! It had been a remarkably clear day and we’d even seen blue skies, so we were rather excited about Xian.
As the sun disappeared and darkness began to fall, both the Bell and the Drum Tower began to light up. I’ve got to say that I think the Bell Tower, particularly, looked far nicer before they turned the lights on. Once the lights were on all I could think of was a terrible shopping-centre Christmas tree.
The Drum Tower wasn’t so bad when lit up, probably as it wasn’t lit up in stripes of red and green. It had a much warmer glow. You can see the Bell Tower in the distance. It definitely looked like a Christmas tree to me!