Adventures in Sichuan

When I told people in Xi’an where we were going on this trip, they were universally excited. “The food in Sichuan is delicious,” they would exclaim. “You have to eat the hot pot!” “The fish in Chengdu is the best in China!” “Once you have seen the water in Jiuzhaigou, you do not have to see the water anywhere else in the world.”

Sichuan lived up to the hype.

In Chengdu, we visited Kuanzhai Alley and Jinli Ancient Street, two pedestrian shopping areas full of souvenirs, delicious snacks, and teahouses. We also saw Wuhou Shrine, a temple in a beautiful garden. We ended our first day with Sichuan Opera, which showcased a variety of acts, from hand shadows to comedy to musical instruments, and culminated in the famous face-changing show.

We then traveled south of Chengdu to see the giant Buddha, which guards the place where three rivers intersect in Leshan. We also visited Mount Emei, one of the holiest sights in Buddhism, with its green forests full of bamboo and its crystal-clear streams. There, we took a cable car, visited multiple Buddhist temples, and went for a hike into the mountain to see the wild monkeys.

We also visited Chengdu’s famous panda base, home to the world’s largest population of captive pandas. We watched these adorable animals sleep and eat bamboo, their two primary activities, and we also saw red pandas and peacocks.

Our next stop was Sanxingdui, the site of a remarkable archeological discovery, where there is now a museum displaying the unique artifacts of the ancient Shu culture. We saw pottery, jade, and bronze objects that are over 3,000 years old, the most distinctive of which are the large, bronze masks.

The next day, we took a long journey by bus to Jiuzhaigou, which turned out to be more than worth the trip. Jiuzhaigou is a valley in Min Mountains, featuring clear turquoise waters, pine forests, and snow-capped peaks. The water there is truly stunning, both crystal-clear and vibrantly colored. My students kept asking, in disbelief, if it was natural (it is!).

Finally, we drove even higher into the mountains to Huanglong Valley. As we climbed, we passed pine trees dusted with the previous night’s snow, then drove into the clouds, finally emerging at the highest point of the road before descending to Huanglong. In the valley, we saw terraced pools of bright blue water and blooming wild rhododendron.

Throughout our trip, I was struck not only by the beauty of the sights and the richness of the culture, but also by the generosity of the people. For example, in Jiuzhaigou, a woman literally gave Henry the clothes off her back. And in Chengdu, my host family connected us to their friends, who took the whole group out to dinner not once, but twice: first to a delicious banquet of traditional Sichuan dishes, then to hot pot. We were grateful for the warmth of their welcome – and the heat of the food. Sichuan will certainly be a place to return to next time we are in China.

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