Chine/China – Sichuan



Chine/China - Sichuan dans Chine drapeau-grande-bretagne  After crossing mountainous Yunnan, we arrive to the hilly Southern end of Sichuan, crossed easily with modern highways towards the flat Chengdu basin.

On the way from Yibin, we stop at Leshan, to see the Giant Buddha.  This was not on our original program, but Tristan noticed the large Buddha on a photo in our Lonely Planet travel guide, and was so enthusiastic about it that we requested a change of route (actually a shortcut) to see the Leshan Buddha instead of a monastery at Neijiang!  This 71m high Buddha, carved 12 centuries ago in a sandstone cliff facing the confluent of two rivers, is really impressive: each ear is 7m high, ie the size of our truck!  This is now the largest Buddha of the world, since the Talibans destroyed with cannon guns the larger Bamyan Buddha in Afghanistan a few years ago.

The arrival in Chengdu, a metropolis of 7 million people is another striking image of the “New China”: we do not intend to visit the city at all, but the must-see Giant Panda Centre is in the Northern suburbs of Chengdu so we use the 3rd Ring Road (out of 4) to drive around the city from the South.  It is a modern 8 lane highway, with a two lane sideway on either side, and for 60km passes by an incredible collection of 40 storey apartment towers recently completed or under construction.  We also drive by huge high-tech factories, one of them producing 95% of the Apple I-Pads in the world… we are definitively in one of the places where the West is investing in the “Factory of the World” to produce any consumer product around us at home… where will this crazy world end?

The Panda Centre is a great zoo dedicated to the protection of only two animals: the Giant Panda and the Red Panda.  It accommodates 200 Giant Panda, and a very organised breeding program helps protect this species from extinction.  Thanks to the cold and wet weather, we can see many pandas actively eating bamboo, or cubs playing with mum.  A real pleasure for our children, and definitively something not to miss when visiting China.

We then leave the Chengdu Basin to climb the Eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau.  This starts by a brand new highway, made mostly of tunnels (40km of tunnels over the first 60km!) then, after Wenchuan a more sinuous climb along the Miu Jiang River up to Songpan (alt. 2300m).  This valley was one of the routes for the Tea and Horse Road, used over many centuries for the trade between meat eating Tibet and the tea producing Southern Provinces (tea is a necessary food complement to meat only diets), and the Songpan monument is a mere tribute to the hardships endured by the porters.  Songpan is also a lovely classical town, partly original, partly rebuilt in the classical style and circled by a fortress wall.  We are lucky to sleep on the main square of the old town, right next to the Police Station (after one official passport check, it is a succession of police men or women interested in taking pictures with our children)!

The next day, we keep on climbing, to a pass at 3850m altitude, to the Langmusi Monastery (alt.3500m) where we do not enjoy the scenery: the village is completely under re-construction, including most of the houses in the main street and the street itself.  This chaos leaves us sleeping in the a school yard, with one of our first real cold nights: we turn on the heating  in the evening, close everything during the night, and wake up to a brisk 14°C inside the camper.

One more stage through a more interesting monastery at Xiahe (alt.3200m), one of the six most important in Tibet.  The guided visit with many other Chinese tourists is quite interesting (although we feel that the children will not tolerate too many more!), and we all enjoy the nice weather and scenery afterwards.  We now arrive in Qinghai, where our journey will be severely impacted by acute altitude disease to… Serko.





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