This past September, I was invited to join an exclusive group of travel suppliers on a journey to Sichuan Province in the People’s Republic of China. Sichuan, situated in the heart of Southwest China, sits in a basin surrounded by mountains and plateaus, with the Yangtze River flowing through its midst. I had never been to China before and, like many, I went with a vision of a busy, hectic country with lots of hustle and bustle and crowds! What I found, on my China tour, was very different…
The main gateway and capital city to Sichuan is Chengdu, and I arrived here after a comfortable flight across the Pacific. After a good night’s rest and a “meet and greet” with my fellow group members at breakfast, we all set out for a day of exploring. No need to carry a gas mask here, Chengdu has a surprisingly relaxed feel to it. The streets are busy but not overly so, and the air is fresh, unlike the country’s smog-enshrouded super cities.
Our first stop this morning was at the Wuhou Memorial Temple, a 3rd Century masterpiece reflecting the melding of architecture and landscape into a seemingly cohesive whole. Our guided walk took us through peaceful gardens and into the main complex filled with ancient stone statues, tables, plaques, bells, and drums. From here, we took time to visit the Sanxingdui Museum, filled with artifacts from various dynasties that ruled the region over the centuries. After a delicious and filling lunch, we headed out of Chengdu to visit the premier attraction in the region: the world-renowned Panda Breeding Research Centre.
What a wonderful and unique experience! It was certainly a highlight for me on this China tour! It is one of those “not-to-be-missed” experiences where I was able to see up close so many of these lovable, playful animals in a safe and caring atmosphere, where the handlers treat them like part of their family. After saying goodbye to the pandas, we headed back to our hotel in central Chengdu for a relaxing welcome group dinner.
The next morning came with an early wake-up call for us all so we could be ready to get on the road to Emei Shan, one of the four “Sacred Mountains of China.” The first Buddhist temple in the country was built on its summit in 1st Century AD, and, to this day, the temple remains a pilgrimage destination for many devout Buddhists. In fact, this ancient temple is only one of 76 Buddhist monasteries of the Ming and Qing dynasties scattered around its upper cliffs. As a self-described non-climber, I was very happy to use the cable car to make my ascent to view these ancient sites easy and pain free!
The Mount Emei region is also home to one of Sichuan’s most famous attractions – Leshan Giant Buddha statue. My jaw dropped when I saw the size and huge scale of this stone sculpture carved out of a side of a cliff. The Buddha was constructed during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) at the meeting point of 3 sacred rivers, and is the largest stone monolith in the world at 71 metres. We were lucky to have the time to take in the ambience of the place, which offered a surreal landscape of mountains, big sky, and raging waters. The Leshan Giant Buddha together with the other temples in the region have rightly been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In a land full of surprises, Sichuan Province did not disappoint. I really did not know what to expect, and, as a “not-too-adventurous” traveller, I found the basics for a solid tourism infrastructure such as well-serviced, modern coaches, international-standard hotels, well-constructed highways, and exceptional customer service – making this China tour an ideal excursion for group travel of all ages.
From the fascinating ancient sites and majestic mountain landscapes to the hot and spicy cuisine famous in the region, to the friendly, smiling locals, I am now hooked and already planning my next trip… next time to the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian!