Known for its forest-clad mountains and fiery cuisine, Sichuan is the second largest province in China—home to more than 80 million people. While the capital of Chengdu bustles with gleaming skyscrapers and highways, just beyond the city’s outskirts, the countryside unfurls with mist-shrouded valleys, ancient towns, lakes, and rivers. North of Chengdu, the city of Dujiangyan is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, making it a popular tourist destination with an array of cultural treasures. The city is also a gateway to a beautiful oasis of bamboo and cedar forests, where Twinkle Valley—one of China’s newest eco-lodges—awaits.
Dujiangyan Panda Base was built in 2013 and spans more than 100 acres. The center, which houses some 30 giant pandas, cares for sick and aging pandas and also rehabilitates pandas for release back into the wild. It encompasses an educational center and a state-of-the-art research laboratory where scientists work on a range of issues including disease control. In addition to a standard visit, a one-day volunteer program also gives visitors an opportunity to get in closer contact with the pandas while helping to care for them.
Constructed around 256 B.C., Dujiangyan is the oldest surviving non-dam irrigation system in the world, which is still in use. This marvel of Chinese engineering was originally conceived as a way to prevent annual flooding of the Chengdu flatlands by the Minjiang River (a tributary of the Yangtze). Today, this ancient irrigation system, which has been designated a World Heritage site, is a popular destination for both Chinese and foreigner visitors. Encompassing a vast acreage of irrigation canals, parks, gardens, and suspension bridges, the site continues to play a critical role in flood control and provides water resources to many cities in Sichuan Province.
Located in the southwest part of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, UNESCO-listed Mount Qingcheng is one of the most important centers of Taoism in China, where Taoism is believed to have originated. It’s also an exceptionally scenic spot, with serene paths, gently meandering streams, and thickets of evergreens. The front of the mountain, which can be explored either on foot or by cable car, is home to numerous temples, some dating back more than 1,000 years. The rear side of the mountain boasts an evocative landscape of waterfalls, caves, and forests, and is a popular spot for hiking.
Located at the foot of Fengqi Mountain near Mount Qingcheng, Jiezi is an ancient town endowed with more than 1,000 years of history. Here, visitors will find a wealth of interesting sites, including Buddhist temples, pagodas, tea houses, and well-preserved streets.
Sichuan is home to more than thirty percent of the world’s giant pandas—considered a national treasure in China and among the most beloved animals on the planet. Less than 2,000 of these rare creatures survive in the wild. While they will occasionally eat small animals and fish, bamboo accounts for 99 percent of their diet—which is why they are most commonly found among the bamboo forests of southwestern Sichuan. There are several panda research centers throughout Sichuan, and the Dujiangyan Panda Base, located about 30 minutes from the lodge, offers a truly interactive experience. The center’s one-day volunteer program allows visitors (by application) to assist staff members in caring for the pandas, which involves feeding, cleaning out the enclosures, and learning about the conservation of these magnificent animals.
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