I happened to wake very early and went up on deck to see what was around as we approached Chongqing. The river had changed considerably as we had travelled overnight - it was much narrower, heavily trafficked with cargo vessels and the smell indicated we were in a heavily industrialised area. It was not attractive enough to linger, so I went back to bed!
When we did wake for the day, we were already docked and the morning light was promising a much sunnier and clearer day than we had experienced as we sailed through the Three Gorges - ah well, them’s the breaks when you travel. So too is the risk of injury and for some unknown reason Ray’s back went into spasm during the morning and persisted all day. Painful and annoying!
Our guide, Anna, arrived soon after breakfast and we disembarked to begin a busy day. We have mentioned previously about the scale of construction in China and Chongqing, the Western-most point of our trip, is no different. Right next to the dock a stylish-looking, multi-tower complex is nearing completion. We are not sure if it will be a retail and business or residential mix - probably all three - but it does look good. Also, based on what we have been told by several of our guides, the cost of a 100 m2 apartment in this block is likely to be $AUD1m - at least!
Blending in with all this modernity are still-vibrant remains of the old ways. Our suitcases were brought off the ship by “stick men” - wiry porters carrying two suitcases on a pole across their shoulders - and other dock workers carrying massive bales of other goods on their backs. As we have travelled around China, we have seen many old-fashioned and ingenious ways in which enterprising locals are managing, despite the rapid modernisation going on around them. China is definitely a society undergoing rapid and uneven change.
Back to our day - our first stop was to the famous Chongqing Zoo, primarily to see the pandas. A 30 minute drive, mostly alongside the Yangtze, brought us to the zoo. Along the way Anna told us, and we could observe, the rapid change sweeping over this city. During World War II, the Nationalist government relocated to Chongqing. Consequently, it was targeted and heavily bombed by the Japanese, which reduced 75% of the city to rubble. Most of the population survived, thanks to the many deep shelters hewn out of the surrounding mountains.
Following the ‘Opening Policies’ of the 1980s, Chongqing has undergone a massive rebuilding programme that continues unabated. Bridges, rail lines, apartment buildings - all are springing up like mushrooms. Unfortunately, as previously noted, it is uneven and poverty can still be seen in many parts, along with the ever-present smog pall (mist?).
Anyway, back to the zoo!! Naturally, our firs stop was the Panda enclosure. It was wonderful to see these beautiful but endangered animals up close. Along with a couple of other site, Chongqing Zoo is responsible for much of the breeding programme that is protecting this species and we saw several of the progeny of that programme, including a rare set of twins. Like koalas, they seem to enjoy their own company and sleep a lot, but we did see some interesting activity and interaction with keepers.
The red pandas were nearby and were also interesting and quite a bit more active. Unfortunately, we found much of the rest of the zoo to be a bit outdated. The enclosures for the primates were OK, if a bit small, but those for most other mammals were generally very poor. The spaces available were small and often just concrete paved, which is no good for the hooved animals at least, and areas that should have had grass were simply muddied masses. On the other hand, the wildfowl space was great, and the aviaries were pretty good, as far as aviaries go.
To be fair, the Chongqing Zoo has probably suffered the same fate as many other city zoos from the past. When built, it was in the rural outskirts of the city, but has now been completely enveloped by the rapid expansion of the last 25 years or so. One can only hope that plans are in place to redevelop or even relocate the zoo in the near future.
Lunch followed at the restaurant in the Science and Technology Museum but the museum was closed for renovations, so we could not enjoy our planned hour there. No matter, it meant we had more time for the next stop, which was brilliant. We drove alongside the other main river in Chongqing, the ???, and arrived at the Ciqikou Ancient Town area. This is a part of Old Chongqing that has been preserved to showcase the ‘Old Ways’ and act as a tourist attraction - it is hugely successful on both counts. We spent a very happy couple of hours wandering the narrow, crowded streets, full of noise, colour, and aromas (some not so pleasant, but mostly of delicious food!). We didn’t spend much money, but felt we had enjoyed a delightful slice of old China.
Our schedule for the evening was dinner in the hotel, then prepare our bags for our flight tomorrow to Xi’an. The baggage restrictions are strict - check 20kg, carry 5kg - so we need to be creative because of our purchases way back in Shanghai! By the time we had finished, it looked as though we would be fine. Tomorrow will be a slow day, with an evening flight.