I’m so excited – Panda time!!!!!!!
I left at 7.30am. The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base is located just outside of Chengdu city, about a 20 minute drive through the thick Saturday (!) morning traffic. It’s apparently best to watch the pandas in the morning as that is when they feed and are more active.
The purpose of the research base is to try and get the pandas to breed. March – May is traditionally the breeding time. If they cannot get the pandas to breed naturally, they will artificially inseminate them here.
Giant pandas are a conservation-reliant endangered species. There are thought to be around 1,000 left in the wild and are native to this area of China living in a couple of nearby mountain ranges. A pandas diet is 99% bamboo, although they are officially classified as carnivores.
The centre was huge, there are around 60 pandas here. They are housed in large enclosures, that try to mimic their natural habitat, having readily available bamboo, lakes to drink from and structures to climb on. But really, it’s fairly similar to a zoo!
There were long walking distances between each of the enclosures and I spent 2 hours just walking from place to place! Firstly, some ‘teenage’ pandas. These have been taken away from their mothers, but are not old enough to need their own enclosures yet. There were 4, they tumbled around in the bamboo, rolling between the trees to find more food!
To eat, they snap the shoot in half, then chew. Really cool!
The next ones, a mother and 3 smaller babies! Pandas are very clumsy. The babies were climbing over each other, falling over and playing in the bamboo (not eating it!). The mother ignored them and concentrated on eating as much bamboo as possible!
I probably saw about 15 pandas, all of varying sizes and ages.
The research base is also home to red pandas.
These are much smaller and totally unrelated to giant pandas. In total contrast to black and white bear pandas, red pandas are small tree dwelling mammals that look a bit like a large domestic cat. However, similarly it’s main diet is bamboo. There were loads of these running around, with their big orange bushy tail dragging behind them!
Chengdu city is apparently famous for its lack of sunshine. That much was clear. A grey day.
The pollution in the city was immediately obvious as soon as I walked out of the airport last night. You could see the haze lit up by the street lamps. Today, you can barely see the buildings a short distance away – they are surrounded by a grey haze. Just South from where I am staying is the central Tianfu Square.
This large patch of concrete, surrounded by huge busy roads was rather boring! The highlight being a large 30m tall Mao statue. Mao Zadong was chairman of the communist party from 1945-1976. The People’s Park is a 10 minute walk away from the Square and is a buzz of activity on a weekend. With a boating lake in the middle, cute bridges passing over the edges of the water. People performing dances, selling food and drinking tea in the many tea houses. I wandered around the lake and the pretty gardens – lots of spring flowers out!
This small little park is surrounded by huge roads and towering buildings. Amongst all the high rise buildings, the city has a few temples dotted around. Turning off the 4 lane dual carriageway into Wenshu Monastery was like stepping into a whole different city.
The small streets were lined with old Chinese style shophouses, with their wooden shutter doors and numerous red lanterns hanging from the roofs. The temple was nice, lots of black wood with gold writing painted on. Incense was burning all around. The monastery apparently contains more than 450 Buddha statues.
There are lots of Western names here – Starbucks, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and even a Carrefour!
Sichuan food is famous for being spicy. Along with normal peppers and chilis, they use Sichuan peppers – these give the dish a distinct flavour and also a lot of spice! I can’t say I’m a fan. My mouth is feeling numb.
Sunday 10 March 2013
After my busy day yesterday and lack of sleep the night before, I’m quite tired. Today has been a nice relaxing day. Having a (rare) lie in and planning my next few days.
At 5pm, I started making my way back to the airport for my flight to Xi’an. I caught the metro just two stops South. I was told it would be obvious where the bus to the airport was – look for a tall building. Are they serious. The place is full of tall buildings, no street signs and just long big roads that all look the same.
I wandered around for 15 minutes before I found someone who could point me in the right direction.
I wasn’t happy. I had left plenty of time to get to the airport. Apparently the bus takes an hour.
25 minutes into the journey, we were at the airport. Well, at least I’m 4 hours early for my flight!!!!!
It wasn’t even up on the departure board yet! It seems usual that flights are just delayed here! I had another hour delay. So was midnight by the time I was landing in Xi’an.
Even colder here!! The airport is a 50 minute drive to the city, so by the time I finally arrived at my hostel, it was 1.30am!