Big Wild Goose Pagoda
After taking a bus back to town from the warriors, we walked down to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, one of my favorite sights since I’ve been in China. This tower dates back to the Tang Dynasty, considered by many to be China’s most prosperous, and is at the heart of a temple dedicated to a monk who devoted his life to translating the teachings of Buddhism from Sanskrit to Chinese. This temple was also home to many other monks who influenced China’s culture and art over centuries.
On one side of the temple is a large plaza with dancing fountains. At some point during the day there is a show with the dancing fountains. We thought it would be in the evening, but arrived during it in the middle of the afternoon. There is grand Chinese music blaring from speakers around the plaza and the fountains shooting up 50 feet while moving, pulsating and dancing to the music, way better than the Bellagio fountain show.
This performance was on the scale and quality that I imagined Chinese performances would be after seeing the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremonies in 2008. What was even better was that it was below freezing and they still did it. Some of the surrounding trees had icicles covering them from the spray.
After the fountains finished, we went in the temple and up the tower. The temple itself isn’t anything spectacular, being very similar to most Buddhist temples. The tower is most magnificent from the outside or seeing the views from the upper levels. Other than that it isn’t too grand inside, unless you read Chinese and can understand the relics and other things on display.
Around the temple are some nice gardens with various prayer spots and at the back is a large area devoted to the story of the monk I mentioned earlier. There are three halls telling his story through beautiful bas-relief murals. In the middle hall is a large statue of him and some of the works he translated. Don’t worry, the signs here are translated to English so you can understand the significance of the buildings without knowing Chinese, though they did call him a Rabbi several times, which is Hebrew and used to talk about Jewish priests not Buddhist monks.
All around this park is a big shopping area with lots of stores and restaurants including many foreign businesses and eateries. There were also many lanterns set up for the New Year with dragons and more.
Bell and Drum Towers
At the heart of Xi’an is the Bell Tower. It was built during the Ming Dynasty about 1,500 years ago and is pretty much the center point of the city. Traditionally the bells were rung to indicate different times of the day and the tower is situated to the east with a drum tower to the west.
Inside the bell tower were some exhibits of Chinese art and a stage area for performances that are put on throughout the day. We happened to be there just before one of these and got to see it. It showcases several traditional Chinese instruments including replicas of bells that were unearthed form the nearby tombs of China’s early emperors. There was also the zither, erhu, and dulcimer. There are also these pieces of stone of different sizes shaped like boomerangs hanging on stands. They were used like a xylophone.
It was a well done performance of four or five songs from a group of musicians dressed in traditional outfits. If you visit the tower, be sure to get there at a time to see the show. Same goes for the Drum Tower and its drum performances.
Near the Bell Tower is the Drum Tower, and with our ticket for both, that was our next stop. This tower isn’t as big as the other but it is just as grand. Around the outside are drums of various sizes, some ginormous, with signs describing when they were used. Whereas the bells were used during the day, the drums were used at night to signal different times.
The upstairs houses a collection of Chinese furniture and a gift shop while the main floor has an exhibition of drums from around Asia used for many different purposes during different time periods. There is also a stage area for the drum performances in this tower. The songs they performed were very well done and very energetic. It felt like a small scale version of the drum section from the Olympic Opening Ceremony.