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Published: October 29th 2015
So here I am on the road again, this time in transit at Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province in China, en route to a fortnight’s travels in Tibet. While it was a transit stop, there were some interesting sights to take in, so a group of us that were to do the Tibet trip had arranged to meet up here a couple of days earlier to get to know each other and start to get acclimatised to the high altitudes we would encounter in Tibet.
Highlight of the visit was no doubt the half day visit to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, just to the north of the huge city with a population of a mere 16 million. This ecological conservation base occupies an area of around 100 hectares, which are dedicated to conserving native Chinese endangered species, primarily the giant (black and white) panda, as well as the smaller red pandas. The base has a wide variety of trees, including many species of bamboo, the main diet of the pandas. Each panda has a heap of its own space and it does not have the feeling of a zoo at all. On the day, we probably
saw around 50 pandas, ranging from full-grown to babies to newborns in incubators.
Not far behind this was visit to Leshan, some two hours away, to check out the Leshan Grand Buddha. The Giant Buddha
is a 71-metre tall stone statue, built during the Tang Dynasty, which is carved out of a cliff face that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in the southern part of Sichuan province. The stone sculpture is the largest stone Buddha in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.
We really only got to see the head and shoulders (see photo) as the queue to clamber down the cliff to check out the full statue was 2 hours long and we weren’t that dedicated to the cause.
Apart from these major attractions, we took in Chanxi Road, Jinli Street and the Wide and Narrow Alleys, all within the central business district and while interesting, they were very touristy and extremely crowded with Chinese (but few overseas) visitors. Maybe the biggest danger of all was being prodded in the eyes with the plethora of selfie sticks, which seemed to be carried by
every second Chinese visitor. A surprise stumble onto some interesting fish markets was a greater highlight for me, with a huge range of stock, almost all of it still alive and squirming in the various very constricting containers.
On our final night, we were recommended to visit a local Sichuan Restaurant, to sample some of the cuisine that is world-famous for its spiciness, resulting from the liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavour of the Sichuan pepper. We were a little surprised to find no one serving who had a word of English and no English menus, so dinner comprised four dishes that were picked purely from the photographs in the menu. Of these four, three burnt the crap out of my throat, and one was just mildly spicy, so my dinner that night consisted of an extremely small amount of each dish, a huge amount of boiled rice, and copious glasses of Tsingtao beer!
One other aspect of Chengdu, no doubt common to other large Chinese cities, that I found fascinating was the movement of traffic at busy intersections. Despite having normal traffic lights in use, most intersections also had at
least 2 traffic police to supplement the lights, as well as ‘monitors’ at each pedestrian crossing to control the pedestrians, bicycles and motor bikes, the latter of which were in abundance and took little notice of the various instructions, coming from every direction, including often off the pavement. Our hotel room the final night was up high and overlooking such an intersection, and it was almost mesmerising to sit at the window and watch the flow of the traffic.
So, tomorrow morning, it is off to the airport for my flight to Lhasa, and the adventure begins.
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