Thursday, May 9, 2013

Leshan Buddha

Ok, there was another reason that we came to Chengdu, other than the pandas!
One of the un-listed Wonders of the World (in my opinion) is the Leshan Giant Buddha, built in the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). It is carved out of a cliff face, stands at 71m tall and is by far the world's tallest pre-modern statue known to man.

It is said the construction of the Buddha was done by one man alone, a Monk named Haitong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels that went downstream. When funding for the project was threatened, the Monk gauged out his own eyes to show his sincerity for the construction. About 70 years later, after the Monk's death, a military Governor decide to sponsor the project and construction was completed by Haitong's disciples.

Now, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the entire area surrounding it has been turned into a beautiful, well-maintained park that is kept in good condition. I cannot even begin to describe just how magnificent this Buddha is... the photos are good, but nothing compared to the sheer size of this structure.

Oh, and did I mention stairs, stairs, stairs?! I did see one ambitious person on crutches going down and up the several hundred of them, but this journey in is definitely something for the able-bodied!

Entrance to the park:

Another interesting Chinese sign with the literal translation:


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Chengdu Panda Base

The reason we came to Chengdu!
This Giant Panda Sanctuary is one of three in the Sichuan region of China. This non-profit panda research and breeding facility opened up in 1987 and started with just 6 pandas that were rescued from the wild - now they're nearing 190! 
The base itself is about 200ha, so as you can imagine, quite a bit of room for all these pandas. In fact, most of the time it felt like we were walking around in the jungle as opposed to a closed-in park.

We arrived bright and early to get there before the masses and see them during feeding time, which is about the only time of the day that they're active. Eat and Sleep... now that is a life!

This was WELL worth the time and money spent getting here. The entrance fee is not cheap - but seeing as the money goes towards benefiting the pandas and making the sanctuary just as appealing for visitors, I would do it over again in a heartbeat.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan Provice, China.

I dont even know where to start with this post! Jiuzhaigou Valley is truly one of the most fascinating and beautiful places I have ever visited. We flew into Song Pan airport from Chengdu (just a 40 min flight) and what a stark difference awaited us.. I dont think anyone in that plane was ready for the beauty that we flew into. You see, Chengdu was a heavily polluted, smoggy and ridiculously busy city... with just this short flight into the smog/clouds, upon descent - the clouds parted and we were surrounded by all sides with the massive, snow-capped mountains of the Tibetan Plateau. I can still hear the choroused 'gasp' from everybody in that plane in that first second upon leaving the clouds.

Song Pan airport is located high up on one of those mountains, where nothing but snow, yak and Tibetan prayer flags were situated. We were so high up in elevation that not even weeds grew. In fact, we were starting to wonder whether the local people here had ever seen green before.
A two hour ride in a little bus, past many Tibetan villages, temples and prayer sites, led us down into Jiuzhaigou Valley, where we began our hiking journey....

Our days began pre-sunrise at 5am, so we could be at the mouth of the valley by 7am. The mornings were very cold, but by 10am the sun left us sweaty, which made packing for the day somewhat difficult. Carrying in our own food and water certainly made for some heavy packs on our back too!

Luxury potties at the beginning of the valley

By 8am, the fog had already started lifting

Tibetan temple peaking out between the fog and the mountains

Tibetan prayer flags - they certainly like their color!

Tibetan marker of some sort, one of many that were dotted in the valley

Spring has sprung! The peaking out of colored flowers was wonderful to see

Tibetan prayer wheels - the locals has prayers written on these wheels and instead of verbally reciting their prayers, they would spin these wheels with their hands instead. Smart idea!

The first Tibetan village we encountered

As the sun began to rise, the colors of the lakes became vibrant and a beautiful blue-green color

The lakes of Jiuzhaigou are well known for their petrified trees in them

Lets just say that the tripod got a good workout on this trip!

Tibetan village from across the lake

The beginning of the valley - a wonderfully constructed boardwalk made for a relatively easy walk to the trails

Local's house on the river

After a loooooong day of hiking, we enjoyed the locals way of eating - noodles, yak meat and beer - all in the famous Sichuan peppercorns of course!