Panda Pilgrimage Sichuan Province, China, April 2008

Well I must admit China had not appeared on my list of destinations before now (except maybe inner Mongolia) but the chance to attend a conference in Shanghai last weekend opened a door of opportunity.  Trying to decide what to see in just one week from the entire landmass of China was challenging!

I will skip over Shanghai – although the romantic urbanites among you would probably find its vast and ever expanding concrete and glass cityscape intriguing. Mixed among it is the historical collection of European style buildings along the Bund – relics of the era of the Opium War, and hidden away is the old town – famous teahouses, pagodas and traditional gardens from the Ming dynasty.

After some research I set my compass west to Sichuan province in Western China – a section of the old Silk Road. My destination was Mt Emei – the tallest of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China and the site of a famous Buddhist pilgrimage. It is a place of aching beauty that has been depicted for centuries by Chinese poets and calligraphers. A place of wizened juniper trees, iridescent ginkgo trees and groves of whispering bamboo.  A place where blooming magnolias and rhododendrons cling to shimmering sheer cliffs and songbirds’ calls carry to the highest reaches where monasteries perch.

So stretch my legs I did on my own personal pilgrimage – the trail to the summit was an endless stone staircase over 40km distance and 3000m vertical climb. I took a bed each night in a monastery. It was a simply stunning journey over 3 days sharing a millennium old trail with monks, resident macaques and other Chinese alike.

My other fascination with Sichuan province is that it hosts some of the limited habitat of the remaining giant pandas in the wild.  I made the trip to Wolong Nature Reserve where there is an active breeding program for the pandas (I am reliably informed that it is possible to spend weeks tracking the elusive animals in the wild without ever spotting one). I was completely enthralled with the opportunity to observe these creatures at close range – they are incredibly sociable, sensitive and comical.  I can do no justice with words in describing the hours I spent laughing at and photographing these entertaining bears, so I hope that the photo album that follows will capture some of the moments.

And so I continue to grasp every opportunity to see this world –  a week is not long enough but refreshing for the soul to have such a complete fracture in surroundings and renewed inspiration.

This entry was posted in China and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *