Monday, November 24, 2008

Chengdu Travel Guide - Dazu Rock Carvings Pictures

Chengdu Travel - After some enquiries regarding the Buddhist Rock carvings at Dazu, it seemed a good time to show some of the pics we took during a trip made last January - taking a couple of Italian girls on a Dazu day trip from Chengdu.
By the way the many handed lady above is the god of Mercy - apparently there are 1007 hands, if you don't believe then you best start counting!!
To see this and the other pics in their full-splendor - klick on them to get the larger image.

That last statue is in a small cave, but most of the Dazu carvings were made on open-air cliff-faces. The work itself dates between the Tang and Song Dynasties (9th -13th centuries). At the biggest site at Baoding (there are several sites - Dazu is main town of the area) the scale and state of preservation of this ancient work is very impressive - this picture gives an idea of that, and also shows what kind of viewing opportunities are offered to the visitor.

Here are the Italian girls - they were working with the then upcoming Olympics and had decided to do the Dazu trip from Chengdu. The distance to Dazu from Chengdu is about 200km (Chongqing is closer by about 50km) - and it's possible to do most of the drive by motorway. However to give our guests a bit more of a view to the "real" Sichuan - we drove to the carvings, using country roads, passing through the type interesting small towns and villages that most tourists just never get to see. We took the motorway route home.

Here's another section of carvings - this time at Beishan. These carvings, also very interesting, were not so impressive as those at Baoding.

Viewing the carvings at Beishan.

Here's the girls with Meggie - there are a few hangers-on in the background - obviously trying to get into the picture!!!

Its difficult to capture the scale of this monument in photos - the sites are very impressive.

A few more hands to count.

Its good fun just looking for the weird and wonderful. Could this be a rather grouchy man sitting on an armchair cat?

It's also a good fun place to play around with a camera.

There's something special about this face.

This guy reminds me of my old Maths Teacher at Moseley Grammar - we called The Toad.

A monk in his Lotus flower.

Dazu - a very nice day out.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chengdu Travel Guide - Chengdu Winter Weather

Chengdu Travel - Don't worry this isn't typical Chengdu winter weather - but it's close by - a winter shot in the Qincheng Mountains. To find more about the winter weather out here - read on - or just scroll through the pics.

Recently we've had a bit of a cold-spell - but today we woke up to blue skies and temperature hike. We're back to average - a nice 16C daytime high, so there's nothing to really fear with Chengdu's November weather. And even during our coldest month of January - the average day tempt lies around 9C. In the 5 years I've lived here, only once have I seen a Chengdu frost. And that snow that occasionally falls - well it never sticks, but melts away as soon as hitting the ground.
However being outdoors is one thing - going inside is another. Even at this time the nighttime temperatures fall quite a bit - dipping under the single centigrade figure to 9C. If you're indoors and don't have adequate heating - and are not wearing at least 4 layers of clothing - this can feel cold!!! For those visiting Chengdu during our colder months - then finding accommodation with good nighttime heating could be rather important if you don't like to wear their outdoor gear while being inside. All good places like Sim's Cozy Garden Hostel - will provide warm accommodation, but its always worth making sure that everything is in order before booking.

Outside Chengdu the situation may be different - here its quite possible that hotel rooms have no form of heating. If the nighttime is cold you at least need a good supply of blankets - and even better an electrically heated under-blanket - to keep you nice and warm. The higher you go the more important this becomes, since, at altitude, nighttime temperatures can be expected to sink bellow zero during the winter.

But enough of that - pictures often speak louder than words - are here are some that illustrate the winter weather of this region.

What better way of starting than picturing today's skies - patches of blue can be seen - were enjoying a November day at 16C. However as soon as the sun sets it'll get colder.

I don't actually live in Chengdu - but in the countryside about 15km outside the city. However this pic from our back balcony shows what kind of environment this area supports - lush vegetation, lots of bamboo, also some banana fronds in there. But remember that although we're bordering sub-tropical areas - our climate is temperate and the few Autumn browns that are mixed into this shot show that we also get the usual four seasons.

Here's a closer glimpse of one of local banana plants. Its warm enough for them to grow - but around here there's not the prolonged heat necessary to produce fruit.

Well its going to get colder tonight - and we want to keep warm. since our house has no central heating system we opt for electrically heated oil-filled radiators. These work pretty well - send off a nice pleasant heat - and are quiet economical compared with other systems.

We also have an air-con unit that blows hot air. It' a system like this that heats most of the hotels around here. We don't like this type of heat so much - rather dry, and it's expensive. we rarely use the air-con for heating. Some hotels will expect you to pay extra for a room with air-con heating.

Here's a more simple heating system - our collection of hot water bottles. These can be great things to warm you up - both in bed and while watching a DVD. They are dead cheap - you can find them in nearly all supermarkets - and in those hotels that constantly supply you with hot water - they're easily re-filled.
A word of warning - buy the better models - the real ultra-cheapies may quickly develop leaks!!!!

Closer to home - a pair of the wife's long-johns. This is the local way of keeping warm - I don't wear 'em - but I'm sure they're very effective!!!

Nearly forgot our fish - now they have central heating.

If you climb you can expect to find winter snow - this is around 2,000m at Qingcheng mountains. However this snow soon melted - you have to climb to around 3,000m before the snow stays put over winter.

Lots of folk find snow exciting - but this individual guarding a Qingcheng Mountain Temple doesn't seem to be enjoying it.

But luckily spring is never far around the corner - this blossom pic was taken in Chengdu Botanic Gardens during January.

And here is spring proper - Rhododendrons, at around 2,000m, flowering during April.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chengdu Travel Guide - A frosty November trip to Laba He

Chengdu Travel - We've just come back from another trip with a mother and daughter ex-pat team from Beijing. They wanted to see some real live wild Sichuan animals - so where better to go than Laba He Forest Park. We'd driven past the park a couple of days before this trip was due to begin - then it was grey and overcast - but not too cold. However when we arrived last Monday the temperatures had suddenly started to fall - we were in for a chilly visit.

we spent a night in one of the Park hotels - they have electric blankets on the beds - but our guests still felt cold during the night. In such situations its best to ensure that the Hotel provides extra blankets - especially if you have Children.
The next day we were all up and ready for our walk - and as you can see from this pic the lower parts of the park were free from frost and snow.

Here we are enjoying the fresh-air.

However it wasn't that far up the path that we encountered the frost-line - a bit further on and their was a light flurry of snow.

In this pic you can see how the autumn colors contrast with frosty conditions slightly higher up.

Here we come to the end-point of our walk (about 3 km up the track - we adjusted the length of our walk to suite the stamina of our smallest traveler) - although cold the conditions make for a wonderfully scenic landscape to enjoy this kind of nature you need to have warm clothing. After or walk our guests wanted a warmer destination - so having a good transport can also help in these kind of weather challenging situations. We drove them to Leshan and the Big Buddha.

Pine forests in in a frosty setting.

We were lucky enough to see animals - here's a Samba deer that we photographed the night before the walk. The park has an illuminated night viewing area - where animals are attracted down with feed. These deer are quite tolerant of humans so it's possible to get quite close. Since there were very few other guests we were the only ones viewing. Getting to see interesting stuff in China outside a crowd is always a big plus!!!!
On the way to the viewing are we also bumped into a Great Indian Civet Cat, which was patrolling the side of the road. During the trip we twice ran into sizable troupes of Short-tailed Macaque.

Here's an amusing looking character - a Collared Owlet. These are tiny Owls - but the other birds didn't take too kindly to its company - they were busy mobbing this tiny hunter - trying to drive it away.

A picture that sums up the trip - a Black-faced Laughingthrush singing in the snow.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tagong - Chengdu Roundtrip - From Chengdu Pandas to The Top of The World - in 5 days

Chengdu Travel - We've been pretty busy over the last couple of weeks guiding folk out and about through Sichuan. Our last guests were a couple of bird interested travelers who also wanted to experience some of those interesting parts of Sichuan that most tourists never get to see.

The trip actually started on a very normal note - with a quick visit to the Chengdu Panda Research Center. This site is one of the best places around Chengdu to watch birds - and of course there are a few Pandas there as well.

One of the great things about the Chengdu Panda Center is how close you can get to the animals. In the background Meggie is snapping away while Kerry and Che take advantage of getting to actually see something in China without having to fight their way through a massive crowd of people.

The Pandas were pretty playful and quite active. This is around 10 o'clock in the morning - but because the temperatures are lower during this time of year - the Pandas feel more comfortable and are out and about, rather than being kept inside, in air-con pens, as is so often the case during the summer.

This guy seemed to be setting up a pose.

While others seemed more concentrated on a popular subject - bamboo.

But here we have a meeting - The Panda Union.

Five hours drive out of overcast Chengdu took us to a whole other world of fresh-air and sunshine. This picture is from the second morning of the trip - on the road between Moxi and Kangding - where Kerry snaps up a photo opportunity.

And here's what he's taking - a view towards the Hailuogou Glacier area - where snow covered peaks and blue skies are being revealed as early morning cloud is blown away.

The lower areas around Moxi are home to the Yi Tribe.

A Yi woman is taking the goats out to feed.

But we've got birds on the brain - and there are plenty of them about. Here I'm explaining which species we've seen while referring to pictures in the Chinese bird handbook.

At that spot we were watching this bird - White-collared Yuhina.

You can get pretty hungry while birding - and even though we're in November it's starting to get hot. That means picnic.

When we drive a little higher we can look back in the direction of Chengdu. Something tells us they may not be enjoying the same kind of brilliant sunshine as us!!!

This is high - around 4,000m - taking a walk up here can be very tiring.

Here are two supposed cures for altitude problems - a can of oxygen that you can pick up for 20RMB a piece - and Tibetan herb medicine that has some extract from Rhododendron. I've only taken the pills - and they seem to make me feel better - but then again, for most folk, the longer you're up at altitude the more used and acclimatised you get to this type of environment.

There are birds that are tough enough to survive at these kind of altitudes - this guy, who's sporting a Zorro mask, is called a Horned Skylark.

Over the mountain through Kangding and we're into the third and fourth day - on the Grasslands around Tagong. This picture seems to suggest we've given up birds for yak watching - but I think we've spotted something with feathers.

We could well have been checking out a Godlewski's Bunting - a pretty common bird around here.

And it's not just small birds - here are massive Himalayan Griffons (a type of vulture) - soaring over the prayer flags.

We're also being watched. In this pic old meets new - the horse and rider plod on as the speeding Land Cruiser throws up a cloud of dust.

This pic is dedicated to my nephews - they seem to appreciate this kind of subject more than artier pieces. Drying Yak dung - nearly ready for burning in the stove.

Sorry guys we also have to give some room for art - horses on a sun flooded grassland.

On the subject of guys - here's the local gang checking out my binoculars.

All this high altitude fun is best done on a full stomach and a good breakfast. On this trip we made great technological advances - we brought along a toaster. It's my home-baked bread that's been toasted in our grubby machine.

All good things must come to an end - day five - we're on our way home. We made a few stops on our way back to Chengdu - this is the old town at Xilai - around an hour out of Chengdu.