Sunday, May 25, 2014

Arm Chair Travel - Planning Tibet - First stop, Chengdu, China

We're flying into Chengdu, China before boarding the Qinghai-Tibet railway or the "Rocket to the Roof of the World" for Lhasa. 

The railway, an engineering miracle, is built on elevated bridges across the most delicate permafrost to prevent the train from warming the ground. Other parts are located on elevated mounds designed to protect the ground, keeping it cool and stable. Much of the line runs at altitudes as high as 13,000 feet. The sealed cars are designed to protect passengers from the rigors of high altitudes with amenities such as regulated oxygen level and UV filters on the glass to keep out the glare of the sun. 

We'll be on the train either from Chengdu or Xining to Lhasa. From Chendu it's 40+ hours while from Xining the trip is about 24 hours. 

"Rocket to the Roof of the World". Qinghai-Tibet Railway. 

Even though Chengdu is not on my bucket list, nor on Richard's, or Zuzu's or Debra's, we'll stay there for a couple of days to get over our jet lag before taking the train. While there, we'll plan a few easy excursions and look around the city of 11 million people.    

The big thing to see in Chengdu (besides the crowds) is the giant Panda Breeding Center where you can view the pandas and even hug them. Hugging them seems a bit much to me, but I gather it's a method for the center to raise money. You pay $330.00 donation, dress up in blue protective clothing, gloves and shoes covers and get up close and personal. The web site states that "if you're lucky a panda might sit in your lap." I don't think so. Not in mine. It bothered me to read the speculation that the show pandas may be lightly drugged to make them more tractable and appealing to the donor/huggers. 

We're visiting the center in August when we might see babies. There are always some in the nursery because pandas frequently have twins - actually about 50% of the time in captivity. I've read from a couple of sources that the twinning is due to artificial fertilization. 
The little babies are very fragile and born after only a 3 - 5 month gestation period. Compared to other mammals they seem to be born prematurely; they're blind and cannot move. They require nursing up to 14 times a day, 30 minutes at a time. The poor mothers can't cope with two babies with so much care required. In captivity, one is removed to a nursery while one stays nursing with the mom; they rotate the babies between the nursery and mom. It's not uncommon for a giant panda mother to go days or weeks without eating or drinking while they nurse. In the wild, if twinning occurs, the mother endures a "Sophie's choice" only in this case instead of a Nazi, Mother Nature forces her to pick. One is left to die - usually the weaker of the two. The babies are dependent for 18 months.

Seems odd to me that Pandas are solitary in the wild but seem to thrive in the sanctuaries in packs. 

The Sichuan Opera is on the "do not miss" list. "More talent show than opera" says Nigel Marven of T Travel. The make-up sounds extreme and coupled with soap bubbles, shadow shows and epic face changing, it should provide an interesting evening. 

On the streets, the sizzling stalls sell all things spicy - hot pots being the most popular. I don't know what I'm going to eat, but I know I'm not eating this. 

The thatched cottage of Dr. Du Fu, a famous and loved Chinese poet is another spot to visit. I read a dozen of the poem on line and rather liked them, even though I'm sure there's plenty of meaning lost in translation. The cottage is in a park-like setting which is well known for bird watching, a kind of bonus. 

Clearing Rain 
Du Fu

The sky's water has fallen, and autumn clouds are thin,
The western wind has blown ten thousand li.
This morning's scene is good and fine,
Long rain has not harmed the land.
The row of willows begins to show green,
The pear tree on the hill has little red flowers.
hujia pipe begins to play upstairs,
One goose flies high into the sky. 

The largest buddha in the world, at 420 feet, the Spring Temple Buddha is just outside Chengdu in Leshan. Taller than the huge one outside Kyoto (which we missed) and the monster in Burma, you can't help being a bit skeptical about these claims. Frequently you find out there's a base at the bottom built into the height or some kind of pole on the top which serves to make the structure a questionable record setter. I was going to stifle a yawn until I realized the little white things at the bottom of the photo were people. I have to admit, this is one very huge buddha.  

That's about it for Chengdu. Now I start planning a schedule for Lhasa. But first, after we get off the train, we spend another couple of days resting, adjusting to the altitude and hoping like heck the Diamox helps us all acclimate. 

 Acetazolamide (Diamox®) is a medication that forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate, the base form of carbon dioxide; this re-acidifies the blood, balancing the effects of the hyperventilation that occurs at altitude in an attempt to get oxygen. This re-acidification acts as a respiratory stimulant, particularly at night, reducing or eliminating the periodic breathing pattern common at altitude. Its net effect is to accelerate acclimatization. Acetazolamide isn't a magic bullet, cure of AMS is not immediate. It makes a process that might normally take about 24-48 hours speed up to about 12-24 hours. 

Acetazolamide is a sulfonamide medication, and persons allergic to sulfa medicines should not take it. Common side effects include numbness, tingling, or vibrating sensations in hands, feet, and lips. Also, taste alterations, and ringing in the ears. These go away when the medicine is stopped. Since acetazolamide works by forcing a bicarbonate diuresis, you will urinate more on this medication. Uncommon side effects include nausea and headache. A few trekkers have had extreme visual blurring after taking only one or two doses of acetazolamide; fortunately they recovered their normal vision in several days once the medicine was discontinued.  

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