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All the king's men

The 2,200-year-old Terracotta Warriors retain their mystery and fascination. 

While nothing compares with seeing one of the country's hottest tourist draws in person, you can make that experience richer with some advance reading on the famed Terracotta Warriors. Chitralekha Basu reports.

There can be no debate about whether it's worth traveling all the way to Xi'an, Shaanxi province, to have a look at the army of terracotta men, up close. The life-size statues, intricately coiffed and strapped up in full battle gear, created, ostensibly, at the behest of the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC), are displayed in the pits in which they were found, 1974 onwards ?a level down from the viewing area.

About 1,000 of them stand in battle formation, lined up in the 11 tunnels in Pit 1, punctuated by horse-drawn chariots (except that the chariots, made of wood, have long turned to dust, only their imprint on clay remains). The closest one can get to discerning if a figure in question is wearing a knife hung from his belt, or a smirk on his face, is by looking through a telephoto lens.

Nevertheless, getting to experience the sheer magnitude and majesty of the emperor's vision who brought the Chinese states under one scepter in 221 BC is a lifetime experience. Although there are no historical records suggesting the emperor had a hands-on involvement in the grand design, it happened because of him.

The terracotta replicas of soldiers, officials, charioteers, horses, servants, acrobats and waterfowls were assembled to serve him in the afterlife, buried with him after his sudden death from a mysterious illness just a decade after founding his empire.

Most visitors who land up in Lintong, about 40 km northeast of downtown Xi'an, at the site of the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shihuang - which, after the Great Wall, is China's most-favored tourist destination - have already been exposed to telling images of the emperor's men.

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