The journey into the Wolong Reserve is significantly more complicated after the May 12, 2008 earthquake. Leaving from Dujiangyan, we immediately started driving up, until we reached to the first settlement, Yingxiu, which is located only a few kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake. The population pre-earthquake was approximately 9,000. One third of those people died.
The town was completely destroyed and has since been rebuilt. One block of shattered buildings remains as a monument to the lives that were lost.
The town has since become a pilgrimage spot, with hundreds of tourists visiting daily. The local government didn’t expect this volume of visitors and the roads are clogged with cars and tour buses.
Analysis of the fault zone indicates that a reservoir on the Yingxiu-Beichuan faultline may have triggered the earthquake. (See also this article by the Christian Science Monitor.) There are articles online comparing this reservoir to the much (much, much) larger Three Gorges Dam, but I can’t access those sites from here.
We continued along the road up to the Wolong Reserve, which is only about 30 km from Yingxiu, but which takes almost three hours to traverse due to the conditions of the roads. In some places, the road has been completely destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent landslides.
The earthquake was so devastating that, even three years after the earthquake, parts of many villages are still in ruin. Last summer extensive rains caused huge landslides that destroyed more structures, including parts of the re-built highway.
We finally arrive an the Panda Reserve and stop first in the village of Genda, where the Wolong Administration will be building the new Panda Breeding Center and Visitors Center. When the Reserve re-opens, tentatively scheduled for 2013, this will be the top tourist destination in the Reserve, with estimated visitor numbers reaching 1 million and possibly more. There has been no visible evidence of infrastructure designed to handle the car traffic that will slam this tiny village. Based on other traffic situations we’ve encountered so far, it’s guaranteed to be a nightmare.
We drove up to the site where the new Panda Center will be located. A group of houses had recently been torn down, with the residents relocated to apartment blocks in the village center. What we came to see was a temple, or more exactly, a former temple, torn down within the past month by the Administration.
Most of the sacred relics were saved and moved to a newly-built temple in Genda town, but with freshly burned incense sticks placed among the rubble, the temple’s members still come to the site to worship.
That’s how our time in Wolong began. It is clear that there would be no simple solutions to the village’s challenges we hope to document and begin to tackle. Nonetheless, we had arrived, hoping to bring about some small amount positive change for the people, the land and the species that live in the steep slopes above the Pitiao River.