Sichuan is home to over 30% of the estimated 1864 giant pandas left in the wild.
There is something almost comical about these bears when you first see them. You just want to walk up to one and give it a cuddle. Which is not what you would want to do to a grizzly or a black bear. We guess it is down to the fluffiness, black and white coat, those big black eye patches and the fact that they spend the majority of their days sitting and gnawing at bamboo.
Despite this, the panda has become the most powerful symbol in the world for species conservation. Being adopted by Chinese as one of their national symbols and the logo for World Wildlife Fund makes the panda a unique ambassador.
When you consider that their life span in the wild is only 20 years, 60% of the male pandas exhibit no sexual desire to reproduce and female pandas are only fertile up to three days per year, these facts would make Darwin walk away shaking his head when we see how much money and effort is spent to help this species survive. One only has to see how well looked after these pandas are, fed with the best bamboo and housed in air-conditioned enclosures to realize nothing is spared to help them survive. China and many conservation agencies worldwide are embarking on a huge project aimed at increasing the population in the wild to 2100 by 2025 – from gene pool sharing around zoos to huge tracts of land being linked across wild areas of Sichuan mountains to allow the pandas to move freely.
A typical Longitude 80 journey to Sichuan (if there is such a thing as “typical”) allows an intense six days spent in the company of these animals, meeting with handlers, reserve technicians and conservation specialists to understand the plight of the panda and the many challenges they face. We visit the five reserves across Sichuan and take part in a two-day volunteer program in one of the reserves helping with enclosure maintenance, food handling and cleaning allowing you a close look at the bears. Your local guide has spent over four years guiding across the reserves. Whist in the city of Chengdu you will explore tea houses and stroll through wonderful city parks at night while locals compete in ballroom dancing performances.
Chengdu has over 2700 registered tea houses and thousands more “less official” ones in local parks and on street corners. It’s one of the reasons why Chengdu is so popular with Longitude 80 travelers. Spending a few hours sitting down in a tea house in one of the many parks, surrounded by bamboo groves and hundreds of locals sipping tea, chatting, playing mah-jong and nibbling on sunflower seeds is a must experience in China. Your accommodation is very comfortable and the local Sichuan cuisine is celebrated across the globe. UNESCO declared Chengdu to be a ‘City of Gastronomy’ (as is Paris) to recognise the excellence of its boldly flavoured cuisine. This is marked by an extraordinary array of local spices such as broad bean chilli paste, garlic, ginger, star anise and the unique flavour of Sichuan flower pepper.
The best months are April and September. We avoid the first weeks of May and October as these are Chinese national week-long holidays and Chinese turn up in droves to see their much loved pandas.
Longitude 80 panda expedition lasts seven days, our overall Sichuan itinerary lasts eleven days.
WHERE DOES IT START?
Fly in and out from Chengdu International Airport which has many connecting flights. We base ourselves in the city of Chengdu for the first two days, then spend four nights in the mountain areas.
Did YOu know?
Chengdu became a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2010.