You’re looking at — forgive me — the dream of a lifetime: a personal, face-to-face meeting between my husband Rick and Ching Ching, a 1-year-old giant panda. He’d wanted it forever. After all, he spent a pretty large percentage of this trip’s temple visits taking photos of resident dogs and neighborhood monkeys while everyone else went after the remarkable beauty of the temples themselves. We set a pretty large detour on our China visit so this could happen and I don’t think he’s come down from his happy place even three days later.
This is the Dujiangua Base of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, in Shiqiao (‘Stone Bridge’) Village,in Dujiangyan Prefecture, 40 miles from the city of Chengdu. Our brilliant guide Selina, suggested that, since Rick wanted to “hold” a panda, which the better-known larger facility no longer permitted, we visit this brand new almost-open facility on a cool, grey morning.
Unlike the closer, more frequently visited Chengdu base, Dujiangua sits in a lush, quiet forest, panda enclosures set into the woods, a path allowing visitors to be just yards – and a low wall – from them. It’s so quiet you can hear them chew their bamboo or draw a deep breath. No noisy crowds to mar the sense of peace provided by researchers and volunteers, just a sense of closeness, and wonder.
When someone we love is able to do something this personally meaningful, it brings at least as much joy to the rest of us. The additional gift: meeting these amazing animals and being so grateful to be along for the ride.