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Published: September 22nd 2012
He was a very loud eater
We spent three nights and four days in Chengdu, a city with a population of 4.1 million. The highlight of our time spent here was the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base! For such a massive city, it only took an hour (during rush hour) to get from the centre of town (where we stayed) to the beautiful nature reserve that felt like a different world. We arrived when the gates opened at 8am and it was a good thing we decided to be early birds! We had an entire hour basically to ourselves with the pandas before the tour groups arrived. There are 4 or 5 main areas to see the giant panda's; each with a specific age group housed within it. You can also see red pandas at the reserve in a few different compounds. They also have nursery's where the babies are kept. The babies are born anywhere from July to December, but August and September seem to be the most common birth months.
The first panda area we checked out seemed really quiet and we didn't even know if there was a panda around until we heard loud chomping. We walked around a corner and right there,
about 10m away from us, was a big panda lying on his back enjoying some fresh bamboo shoots. He wasn't phased by us at all, he just chomped away and let us take some pictures. Holy crap are panda's ever noisy eaters. We started listening for them instead of looking for them after seeing a few others chewing away. They are huge (Tyler was especially surprised by their size) and they are fluffy and they are adorable. They look like big cuddly teddy bears!
Next we wanted to see the babies so we headed to one of the nursery’s with a scheduled feeding time of 9am. It was us and maybe 5 other tourists when they brought out the babies that had their black fur growing in but couldn't open their eyes yet. The little boy and girls were only a few weeks old! We thought they were the cutest things ever until we went to the next nursery, but that was later.
After the first feeding, we wanted to find some red pandas. When we walked up to their enclosure we could see one walking right on the path! It totally threw us off guard until we got there
and saw there were holes cut in the fences so that the little guys could wander freely. They look like a mix between a raccoon and a fox, but have reddish fur with strong facial markings and a diet of bamboo. We didn't realize how small they were going to be nor how tame. They had no problem walking along the path with us like it was no big deal. Rebecca tried to get an even closer look before a worker yelled “no touching!!”. Oops...
After seeing the red pandas, we checked out a few other giant panda sites where we got some great views of 'teenager' pandas playing with each other and climbing trees, then went to the second nursery for the 10am feeding. This is where the tourists were! (we knew they couldn't be far). We had to stand in line to see these babies and were allotted a certain amount of time for viewing and pictures (less than 2 minutes). It wasn't the best situation and we were really happy we had a better experience at the first nursery. This nursery however had a little highlight of it's own! There was a tiny infant that didn't even
Panda in a tree
This was the third younger panda with the Mom - He preferred showing off to playing around with her.
have black fur on it yet. The babies get the darker fur around their shoulders, eyes and limbs when there are only 1 or 2 weeks so this baby couldn't have been more than a few days old and would have fit in the palm of Rebecca's hand.
We loved the panda reserve! It was such an amazing way to see the magnificent creatures outside of a zoo. There are about 1000 giant pandas and about 5000 red pandas left in the wild so it was a real treat to get as close as we did. The reserve tries really hard (and does a fantastic job) of creating a habitat similar to their natural environment (including air conditioned areas for them in the heat of the summer, since they like cooler temperatures). Hopefully the steps they are taking will help in the reproduction of more healthy young ones. All of the pandas have descriptive cards so you can learn their names, birthdays and personal characteristics. One of the male pandas there is the world ambassador for the WWF because he has whiter fur than most. Another set of twin females were the first pandas born after the devastating Sichuan earthquake
a few years ago. A different panda card went on to explain that this particular female is larger than most females in the reserve because of the “healthy” appetite she has had since she was an infant (aka she's a tad portly). When we saw her she was passed out, probably after one of those “healthy” sized breakfasts.
The reserve doesn't only house the panda's but also a number of other animals, plants and wildlife. There is a large pond/small lake that has different species of swans and ducks and also a rose garden. Rebecca was excited to see the rose garden so she could get some pictures for her Grandad who loves gardening, unfortunately it must not be the right time of year (sorry Grandad).
It kind of feels like we're writing a pamphlet or advertisement for this reserve, but honestly, it was wonderful! The whole thing was mesmerizing and sort of inspirational; we would have gone back and done the exact same thing the next day if we could have.
Most of our spare time in Chengdu was spent wandering the streets. The People's Park is so cool! It isn't your ordinary public park, there are people dancing
Main circle where the FUN is
EVERYWHERE! Some are choreographed, others just jamming to music with big amps pumping Chinese music. We also saw karaoke set up in different areas, the volume turned all the way up and some Chinese person singing at the top of their lungs. There are a number of tea houses spread around, badminton nets right by the main monument; you can get a caricature drawn of yourself, or watch old men write Chinese calligraphy on the sidewalks using water, pretty much anything. It is a happening place!
Another awesome thing we did in Chengdu was visit the Wenshu Monastery which dates back to the 600's during the Tang Dynasty. Wow what a vibe that place gives off! The second you walk through the doors, you are overcome with a spiritual, peaceful energy. A lot of people that visit the monastery will pray at each different statue or before entering each building - it's really beautiful. The smell of incense fills the air as you walk around reading about Buddhism, checking out each different room/building and admiring the many many different statues. In the garden there were seniors playing cards or drinking tea. In the courtyard there were monks playing ping pong.
Lady burning some incense
It's hard to believe this place is right in the middle of the city; what a relaxing sanctuary.
Chengdu was yet another great Chinese city and probably the last of its size we will come across. Our plan now is to get more rural and find some cool small towns or villages in the Tibetan region of Sichuan before heading to the southern warmer areas. We are currently in Kangding a beautiful town set in a deep gorge, surrounded by mountains. The town is at an elevation of 2600m (with pretty much NO English). We have already purchased warmer clothes in preparation for the next couple weeks and can't wait to get hiking.
That's all for now.
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