The last couple of days we took a break from exploring treelines to cross the high cold desert along the Silk Road between the once-oases but now thriving cities Dulan and Ge’ermu (a.k.a. Golmud). This 500-km stretch of the Xining-to-Llhasa highway provided incredible views of geology-in-the-raw, and today’s day-trip from Ge’ermu south to the Kunlun Pass added camel trains, huge herds of sheep, a glacier field, and a railroad built atop permafrost.
I’ll get to the sights later. The really fascinating part of the last two days was the foraging for wild foods in a desert that, in the main, gets < 100 mm, and in many places, < 50 mm of rainfall a year. René Redzepi could have a lot of fun here!
Early Saturday morning, Eryuan Liang and I flew from Beijing to Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, which is the province to the east of Tibet. Qinghai and Tibet together span the Tibetan Plateau, but it’s much easier to travel into and around Qinghai. Even for Chinese scientists like Eryuan, who is a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Tibetan Plateau Research, which itself has a branch campus in Lhasa, it is far easier to do research in Qinghai than it is to do research in Tibet. And here be treelines, which are the focus of this nine-day field expedition.
Well not really a first look, but my first for this trip and this blog.1 I left Xi’an mid-morning on Tuesday on a high-speed train to Beijing. The Xi’an high-speed train station (across town from the regular train station) is its own marvel. With more than 20 platforms, the whole complex felt a lot more like an airport—complete with security checks, x-ray machines, pat-downs, and gate-checks—than a train station, and it was easily as big as a standard international airport terminal, too.
After two weeks in downtown Xi’an, I, along with Professor Chen Yi-ping, graduate student Chen Dong, and an indefatigable driver Liu, set out on the morning of 29 August for a 6-day road trip through the Qinling Mountains of southern Shaanxi Province, northern Sichuan Province, and Gensu Province. The goal of this excursion is to introduce me to the two subspecies of panda (the Qinling and the Sichuan), their remaining habitat, and the challenges associated with conserving this iconic endangered species.
And of course, I am hoping to actually see a giant panda!
For a rapidly expanding city of 9 million people, Xi’an is fortunate to have a number of temples, parks, and gardens that provide islands of green space an places for enjoyment, exercise, and contemplation. Spending day in and day out in a hotel, in an office, and in the midst of Xi’an’s sidewalks, streets, and traffic, I longed for a bit of green and a bit of quietude. So I avidly scanned my otherwise incomprehensible city map (it’s in Chinese, of course) for green spaces and made it a point to visit four of them during my two weeks in the city: the Xing Qing gardens, the Xi’an Botanic Garden, the Green Dragon Temple, and the Ba Qiao wetland reserve.
There are apparently two things that one must do when in Xi’an. One is to see the city wall. The other is to eat a bowl of yáng ròu pào mó (羊肉泡馍).1 Yesterday, post-doc Liu Wan-gang2 and I had the soup with the requisite pickled garlic and chili for lunch, (top left click for larger image) and then in late afternoon after a visit to the central tea market (top right and bottom row; click for larger image),
we walked around the city wall of Xi’an. Actually, on top of it. And if you visit and don’t want to walk, you can rent a bike or hop on an electric open-sided bus-let.
We walked across the drawbridge around 6pm, entered through the South Gate (above), and headed east.
I knew I needed some photos of dumplings, and a dumpling extravaganza at the De Fa Chang (aka Da Fa Zheng) restaurant in between the Two Towers of Xi’an (which could be a title for an updated Tolkein novel) not only provided many photogenic opportunities but also enough food to set me on the path to becoming a dumpling myself.
On August 21, 2016, I flew from Singapore to Xi’an, China, to begin a two-month research, teaching, and travel fellowship awarded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This exciting opportunity is allowing me to visit and work with colleagues and their students at the Institute of Earth Environment in Xi’an, the Institute for Tibetan Plateau Research in Beijing, the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences in Beijing, and the Computational and Medical Ecology Laboratory in Kunming.
It’s also providing an incredible opportunity to eat!