CHINA - Chengdu & Giant Pandas - October 2019


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Asia » China
October 24th 2019
Published: October 24th 2019
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CHENGDU



Our flight from Lijiang to Chengdu was with Lucky Air but not completely lucky as we were delayed by an hour - but overall it was a smooth flight and we had some excellent views on our way over the mountains, with clear skies until we neared Chengdu when it became quite overcast which was so different to what we were now used too … …



We were taken straight to visit Broad and Narrow Streets and were not really impressed with this we would have preferred to book into our hotel first. These two streets were basically two adjacent long straight roads, one very narrow and one a little bit wider - both full of tourist shops and eateries. Everywhere you looked it was heaving with people, you just got caught along in a crowd, not what one needed after a flight and on long travel day … … …



Sadly this area in the central region of Sichuan had been totally devastated in a 2008 earthquake and had been re-built, many buildings using the bricks from the previous buildings and what we could see was really tastefully done. The architecture of the buildings, when you could see them through the throng of people was interesting but you could not appreciate it very much as you could not stop and look without being swept along with the crowds … … …



After this and still just wanted to chill for a while we were taken on a ‘stroll’ around Chengdu Peoples Park - really would have liked to have booked into our hotel by now, but when you are on a group tour you have to follow the itinerary and everything on our schedule was duly being ticked off whether we wanted to see it or not! We are very independent travellers and things were beginning to become a bit of a chore - a few others in our small group were feeling a little bit the same, we were all very well travelled people! Luckily though the majority of us got on really well and had a good laugh - this helped with these ‘down times’ and the plus times were always around the next corner! So on the whole we were still enjoying this long journey around China and doing it on our own would not have been as easy. We definitely would not have had some of the benefits of this group tour and seen so much of the whole country if we had been lone travellers so we kept thinking positively.





Chengdu People's Park



Chengdu People's Park is located on Shaocheng Road in the downtown area. Built in 1911 the park covers a huge area and which integrates heritage preservation with entertainment. There was the usual matchmakers corner which we had become quite used to now, where parents and grandparents search for suitable partners for their offspring as this had become part of most of our visits to large park areas.



Our guide said that many young Chinese do not want to get married these days but some parents put pressure on them and gradually they agree to their parents interference into their future probably to keep the peace … … … Sadly the divorce rate in China is over 40 percent - so not sure that these matchmaker corners really are much use … … …



We wandered around the park and watched many elder generation men playing board games whilst others were entertained just watching and every now and them making a comment - this seemed a much more pleasurable pastime than trying to find suitable partners for their offspring!



Within the park there was an artificial lake and the usual Teahouse which we had also found in most of the larger parks in China. Drinking tea has become a leisurely lifestyle of locals since ancient times.



In the Qing Dynasty, with the acculturation of western culture, teahouses in China took on a new look and provided a peaceful and quiet place for drinking tea as well as enjoying the natural scenery in every season.



As I do not drink tea, in any disguise and prefer coffee we did not frequent these and I sadly had to go without a hot drink on many many occasions in China as coffee was just not on the menu at all … … … Tea was always the first thing you were offered in most establishments and all our group enjoyed different variations as we travelling around China including; green tea, yellow tea, white tea, oolong tea, black tea, dark tea or fermented tea and Pu'er tea, even Osmanthus tea which I will mention later.



The park gardens in Chengdu were nicely landscaped with many flowers again a benefit of being in the area during their 70th celebrations. We also saw a variety of amazing hanging chrysanthemums, I have never seen a hanging variety before and they were quite stunning. Raising chrysanthemum in China has a history of over 2,500 years and along with its ornamental values, chrysanthemums can be eaten, brewed or used as a medicine. My grandmother used to love the flowers of the large pure white ones and used to cultivate them in her home in Devizes - she won many prizes at local shows with her displays.



The chrysanthemum show in Chengdu People's Park usually lasts from late October to late November. With more than 1,000 species, there are 200,000 pots of chrysanthemums on show during that period. They are displayed in nine exhibition areas, like the Potted Chrysanthemum Area and the Calligraphy and Painting area as well a Flower Arrangement Area.



We also viewed a small outdoor art exhibition of local photographs which were mainly of local town scenes and various architectural structures - many were quite good and lots of locals were wandering up and down enjoying the free open air exhibits.



Located in the northwest corner of the park there was a Memorial to the Railway Protection Movement, in memory of the heroes who sacrificed themselves in the Railway Protection Movement in 1911. In the late Qing Dynasty the right to construct railways in many part of China was 'sold' to foreign companies by the government to earn money, which angered the patriots in Chengdu and triggered the movement. Erected in 1913, the memorial inherited the traditions of Chinese architecture and drew lesson from artistic features of foreign buildings. Made of bricks and stones, the memorial featured locomotives and railways carved on four sides of the base and many characters carved in different calligraphy styles.



We finally left the park and at last booked into yet another hotel - luckily we had a large room and at last quite decent Wifi connections. The air conditioning though was controlled by the hotel and not by individual rooms, which we had found to be the case in many of the hotels we used in China. Our guide Helen said this was to save energy but not having a good nights sleep made us a little edgy in the mornings and I voiced our concerns on several occasions, but hey this is China. The next night though we noticed that we were able to turn the Air Conditioning down to 23 which was an improvement on the usually 25/26! Funnily enough you were able to turn it down and got quite excited seeing lower numbers only for in to return to whatever the hotel had set it at a little while later… … …



GIANT PANDA



At last it was time for us to visit what we hoped was going to be one of the highlights of our tour - Chengdu Research Base of the Giant Panda. The facility was located around six miles from our hotel and supported by many well known charities, having a special significance for the WWF because it has been their logo since its founding in 1961.



This peaceful creature with a distinctive black and white coat and black eyes is adored by the world and considered a national treasure in China. Sadly they are now found only in Sichuan, Shaanxi and the Gansu provinces of China. It is believed that in total there are fewer than 2,000 left in the wild of which 70 percent are distributed within the territory of Sichuan Province. While still a very low number, this represents a real success story for China, with numbers increasing from around 1,000 in the late 1970s. Human activities continue to be the biggest threats to their survival. An extensive panda nature reserve network exists, but one-third of all wild pandas live outside of protected areas in small isolated populations.



Chengdu Research Base facility includes research laboratories, a training centre, breeding. living and sleeping quarters for the bears as well as a huge medical station. A large area of land has been created to imitate as close as possible the natural habitat of the panda in order that these cuddly looking bears have the best possible environment to bring them back from the brink of extinction. The facility was created on a natural hill slope and a huge number of trees, plants and thousands of bamboos have been cultivated to provide for the animals diet and of course their habitat.



Wild pandas typically lead a solitary life mainly in deciduous broadleaf, mixed conifer and sub-alpine coniferous forests between elevations of about 1,200-3,400 metres high in the mountains of western China where they subsist almost entirely on bamboo which forms 99 percent of their diet although they sometime eat eggs and even small animals too.



They can eat for up to 14 hours a day and to survive must eat from 26 to 84 pounds of bamboo shoots every day, a formidable task for which they use their enlarged wrist bones that function as opposable thumbs. In turn giant pandas help to keep their mountain forests healthy by spreading seeds in their droppings, which in turns helps vegetation to thrive.



At birth baby pandas weigh under six ounces and are under 6 inches in length. A mother will devote her entire day taking care of her newborn, caress it, clean it with her tongue, and never let it out of her sight. Except for a marsupial (such as the kangaroo or opossum), panda babies are the smallest newborn mammals relative to their mother's size. Pink, hairless, and blind, the cub is 1/900th the size of its mother but surprising they have a very long tail as you can see from the newly born cub in my photograph.



Fully grown a male panda can weigh up to 250 pounds, while a female panda can reach a weight of up to 220 pounds. Pandas can reach a length of 4 to 6 feet and a height from ground to shoulder of 2 to 3 feet when on all fours.



These bears are excellent tree climbers despite their bulk and we saw many swiftly climb a tree some moving others out of the way as they did so. Surprising to us we were also told that giant pandas are good swimmers.



CAPTIVE BEARS



Don't, think you will be seeing ‘wild’ pandas in Chengdu as these cuddly bears are kept in large enclosures and have a dedicated team of scientists and keepers tending to their every need. Home to over 100 giant pandas and 76 red pandas, the base focuses on getting these notoriously love shy creatures to breed and has been remarkably successful since its foundation. We were told that at the best of times, it can be very busy and at weekends, which sadly was when were were visiting it was swarming with visitors but we did get to see many during our visit



I will not forget the day I came face to face with one of the world’s most iconic species at this research facility. Sadly this universally loved species is rarely seen in the wild today. I had done quite a lot of research hoping to see them completely in the wild but had not been able to find out how.



Having spoken to our local guide it seems that this is nowadays quite a rare privilege. He said that he had joined a small research photography group a couple of years ago and headed out to where there was a good chance of seeing them. They spent a couple of weeks tracking these iconic bears without success. They found a few indications that they were in the area but did not get even a small glimpse. Wild bears can smell a human from a long way off and avoid them like the plague and they obviously do!



So I should be happy that we saw so many of these cuddly bears in Chengdu and I will always remember watching a very young female chewing on her bamboo shoots, she sat amongst a pile of cast offs as happy as Larry the Lamb! She was being so selective with what she liked and it was great to get up so close. We were also so lucky seeing a little new born panda tucked under a blanket in an incubator with just its long tail sticking out - I do hope that he thrives and is one of the lucky ones that can be returned to the wild in the future.



GIANT PANDAS SUCCESS STORY



The base at Chengdu is due to be expanded by a hundred acres soon, hopefully to prepare many more bears for release back into the wild. Although we were informed that it is not easy to find an ideal spot to release them and many have had to be returned to the facility due to safety concerns, frets from invading other pandas space as well as other wildlife.



A giant panda named Xiang Xiang was released into the wild after training in 2006, but he couldn't survive life with wild pandas and eventually died.



Learning from the tragedy, the centre has adopted a new way of training, where panda cubs live with their mother in half-wild environments. In addition, researchers have placed captive female giant pandas in the wild, so that they mate with wild male pandas, and bring a new bloodline to the captive giant panda population. As of December 2018, 11 giant pandas had been released into the wild of which nine survived.



Very recently a captive giant panda gave birth to a pair of twins in southwest China's Sichuan, becoming the second giant panda to successfully deliver cubs after mating in the wild. Qiao Qiao, a 10-year-old female panda, was rescued from the wild and later released back in the Tiantai Mountains where she mated with a wild male panda. One of the offspring is being cared for in a protection base whilst the younger one is being looked after by her mother. The birth of the two baby pandas has been hailed as a great achievement in panda conservation. Without this special care in China there probably would not be any panda left in the world for anyone to see.



RED PANDA



At Chengdu we were also able to visit a large area which housed several Red Pandas. Despite sharing a name with the black and white pandas, Red Pandas are not closely related to them. However, like Giant Pandas they are bamboo eaters native to the high forests of the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China.



These mammal are much smaller though about the size of a fox, 20-26 inches long from head to rump, and their tail adds another 10-20 inches and they weigh between 10-20 pounds. Red pandas have large round heads and short snouts with large, pointed ears. Their coats are reddish-brown, although their faces are mostly white with reddish 'tear tracks' extending from their eyes to the corner of their mouths.



The Red Panda is listed as endangered because the wild population is estimated at fewer than 10,000 and continues to decline due to habitat loss.



Despite its name, the red panda is not a member of the bear family and the species is not closely related to the giant panda or as one time thought the Racoon. In fact, the red panda is the only living member of the family Ailuridae.



MOVING ON TO CHONGQUING



It was time for us to move on yet again - this time we were catching another Bullet Train to Chongquing which took us just over two and half hours. A chief industrial centre of south west China, Chongqing is a city perched high on the steep hills overlooking the confluence of the Jai Ling and the mighty Yangtze Rivers. The city has been completely reshaped by the Three Gorges Dam Project which now allows larger sea vessels to sail all the way upriver to China’s most famous waterfront mountain city.



On arrival we noticed that it was colder, overcast and it was raining quite heavy. We had to wait a while as we lost one of group at the terminal but she was finally found safe and well! We finally boarded our coach to take us to nearby Ciqikou and it was still raining so we were hoping that we did not have to get out. However of course we had to follow the itinerary and walk around this ancient port in the pouring rain.



RAIN RAIN RAIN



Ciqikou (Porcelain Village) is a timeless ancient river town built in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Sadly the weather was not a good day to explore this ancient town. I am sure if it had been dry we would have enjoyed it more and had a longer wander around it narrow streets. That being said a few less tourists like us would also had made it more enjoyable but experiencing it in such a wet chaos particularly with soaking feet as I still had my sandals on was not good!!



Ciqikou ancient village was formerly known as Long Yin which means 'porcelain harbour' in Chinese. In the early 1900s due to its convenient location it gradually brought prosperity to the area gaining prominence as a commercial port and market town, shipping goods both by land and water.



Moving forward several centuries and the government decided to preserve the old charm of the district to attract tourists and have restored many of its ancient buildings. Many small souvenir shops have now emerged around them, together with numerous food stalls and restaurants that serve local specialties. The ancient town originally only had two main streets but now there are around 12 streets all with the same purpose of feeding and selling to tourists.



It was fun to watch some of the eateries preparing such a variety of foods and some of the smells were tempting but to stand in the rain and eat is not. Outside many of the shops assistants were shouting to try and attract people into their particular store with various incentives …. …. … The noise level was immense bouncing of the walls of the narrow streets and together with hundreds of wet umbrellas bumping up again each other and huge puddles on uneven surfaces beneath ones feet it was not pleasant to try and manoeuvre along the streets - so finally giving up we returning to our starting point soaking wet to find the others of our group huddled around a stone gateway …. ….



It was time to head off and catch our ship to cruise along the Yangtze River, hopefully with some better weather along the way - see you there.


Additional photos below
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3rd November 2019
Chengdu Research Base

Chengdu Research Base
I want to see the Pandas.
10th November 2019

Giant Pandas!
What adorable animals, and what lovely photos of them you have taken! I enjoyed reading about your trip to Chengdu and Chongqing. I probably would not have enjoyed the throngs and the rain either... I bet you were indeed looking forward to your river cruise from there 😊
10th November 2019

Giant Pandas
Thanks Alex - The pandas were a real treat but the rain was not - but once we upgraded on the boat we soon dried out ... ... ... with a glass of wine to help ... ... Regards Sheila

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