We begin our discovery. If you have any knowledge of Tibet, then your most visual cue is the Potala Palace. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site which is leased from China and acts primarily as a museum for Tibetan culture. Resting on top of “Red Hill” overlooking Lhasa, it was first the site of the king in the mid-seventh century. It actually was the 5th Dalai Lama who decided to move the seat of his Gelugpa government to this site and work began on the White Palace in 1645. It was completed in 3 years with 9 stories. The accompanying Red Palace was not completed for 12 more years and the 5th Dali Lama’s death was concealed until it was completed and he was buried there.
Since construction the Potala has been the home of each of the successive Dali Lamas. The opening of the Norbulingka summer place in the late 18th century, changed the Potala’s occupancy to only a winter residence. It was the seat of the Tibetan government as well as its religious functions – self contained.
It suffered both in the 1959 uprising and the Cultural Revolution although Zhou Enlai, the Chines premier, is said to have protected it during the Revolution. It reopened in 1980 and completed with US $4 Million in 1995.
It is 13 stories, housing 1000 rooms and
The title says it all. We spent the day at the airport waiting for our flight to Lhasa to depart. We made it into Tibet around 4:30 PM and traveled 90 minutes following the Kyi Chu River valley, a wide wash with water moving in channels along side of the road. After our first road check point to review our Tibetan visa, we cross over the river into the main part of the city and our hotel. Our room at the Shangrri-la faces the eastern edge of the Potola Temple so we have a view morning and evening
Dinner at the hotel was Chinese and surprisingly delicious.
We start at 7:30 AM for an hour and one-half drive to the panda center. As volunteers for the day, we may have a more intimate view of the park and animals.
We are outfitted in a blue one-piece jumper with gloves. Lockers are provided for our personal stuff. Although we cant take pictures while working, our guide, Bruce, was there to capture all the exciting moments.
Our first job is to clean up the play yard of one giant panda- just like at home, cleaning up after our dogs. The giant pandas are solitary so they each have their own space. Then we clean the interior cages and replenish their bamboo ration
All this so that we have the opportunity to feed them carrots and specially made panda bars.
The park is built on a hill with the panda areas scattered on the hill side. Tour trolleys run up and down the hill taking groups of people to different areas for viewing. The morning is cool and quiet until the hoards of school children descend on the park. Although there are signs for quiet throughout the area, they screaming non-stop once the school buses arrive.
We spend the morning viewing all the giant panda play areas. By lunch time, the bears retreated into their shelters to get cooler. Our lunch is in the park cafeteria with the staff, the visiting kids and other volunteers. The food was not fancy but tasty and plentiful- including ubiquitous watermelon.
In the afternoon, we view a movie on the history of the Center and its work in panda husbandry. There are 4 panda centers in the Sichuan area. Chengdu has a center dedicated to giant panda breeding. Since it is in the city, it is the most convenient for the majority of tourists to visit it. The Dujiangyan site is a retreat for bears that will never be released back to the wild. Here we see a number of bears that were born in international locations as Washington DC. The Chinese government requires that the pandas return back to China after 3 years. The other 2 locations are used for scientific study and preparation for return to the wild. Each one is more remote than the other and not set up for human interaction.
There are red pandas that look like foxes or raccoons only red and weigh significantly less than the giant ones.
We finished a few more clean up projects and participated in the 2 PM feeding of the giants before sharing in making a few panda bars (soy milk dried, beans, sugar).
Heading back to Chengdu, we stopped for a few minutes in the ancient town of Jiezi,although we did not have time to view the old Guangyan Buddhist Temple.
Traffic was challenge so we went straight to dinner when we arrived in Chengdu. Our meal was less spicy this evening. We finished dinner and went to a Chinese Vaudeville show, Changing Faces, with puppetry, music, slight of hand mask changes, etc. Trying to stay awake we drank lots of tea and ate sunflower seeds.
We arrived Chengdu on Monday after 14 plus hours. Since it was 5:30 AM we went to our hotel, The Temple House, to check in, catch a bite to eat and then explore the area on our own.
The Temple House, part of a group of hotels one of which we stayed in previously in Hong Kong, is a Qing dynastic era fusion of old and new.
Situated adjacent to a high-end shopping area, we strolled around to find Starbucks that we knew would be close by.
But first a picture at the Nike store and a peek at the Apple digs.
In the rear area is the old Daci Temple with its attached tea house. Chengdu is known for its peaceful environment in which there are hundreds of tea houses and parks for relaxation any time of day. With retirement age of 50/55, the city has a heavy population of older people, often accompanied by grandchildren whose parents may be employed in other cities.
Our break away from winter was a week in Maui since we have only spent one day there in previous travels.