Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Secrets of the Panda

On the day after the election-to-end-all-elections, I invite you to forget Washington politics for a moment and contemplate the panda.

The giant pandas are Washington DC’s greatest celebrities. Everyone loves them. On loan from the Chinese government, they feature on the city’s Metro tickets. There are special Panda Hotel Packages. Fedex created a special plane, the fuel efficient Panda Express, to ship their baby back to China in a record 14.5 hours. They are a phenomenon. But that’s the problem. How can you visit the giant pandas at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo without having the experience ruined by the crowds?

By accident, we have the answer. Go during the week (and not during the summer) in really, really bad weather. Watch the sky and if the heavens open like Monsoon Mumbai, my advice is to rush to the Panda House at the National Zoo. We were there recently with Eloise in heavy rain and there was no one there. No one! We did see one other hapless British family wandering around but that was it. When the pandas were brought inside at around 2:30 for some biscuits and bamboo, we (and the keepers) were the only humans in sight. And to think that not so long ago, when the pair’s only baby was in residence, you had to reserve a time slot to see them. I’ve been to the National Zoo many times. I’ve seen the pandas many times but never have I come away so delighted and thrilled by the experience.

And for that matter, the rest of the Zoo was great too. The reptiles were repulsive, the birds pretty and the orangutans convivial. It’s not every day that a soaking wet thirteen-year-old and her parents can have a fine time together in a deserted national institution.

Admission to the National Zoo is free but the parking is expensive. If you want to save money, you can travel by either bus or metro but whatever you do, go in terrible weather.

The photo was taken by Eloise Hedges.

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