Jiuzhaigou: Beauty in Blue

If there were a magical place on earth, it would have to be Jiuzhaigou. The scenery is breathtaking with its lakes, spectacular waterfalls, lush forests, towering mountains and unique wildlife. The hues and shapes are always changing, coming together to make this landscape a masterpiece of nature.

Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou consists of 3 main valleys in the shape of a “Y”. All 108 lakes here are linked to each other through waterfalls, lakes and rivers. All scenic points are accessible by roads, wooden boardwalks and small pavilions. The boardwalks are built to preserve and maintain the natural look of the landscape for the many visitors, tourists and buses that throng the Jiuzhai National Park throughout the year.

Multi-Coloured Lakes and Mirror-Like Ponds

The Jiuzhai Valley is best-known feature is its dozens of stunning blue, green and turquoise-coloured lakes. The water is so clear that the bottom is often visible even in very deep water. The lakes vary in colour and aspect according to their depths, residues and surroundings. The mirror-like reflections from the lakes make it quite difficult to distinguish the line between land and water! After looking at these unique waterscapes, I felt that it was well worth the long journey and lack of sleep from the previous day.

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Cuscading Waterfalls

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Plant Life

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Getting Around

No private vehicles – not even bicycles, are allowed inside the park. Buying a bus pass gives you access to an efficient hop-on hop-off bus transport system inside the park. A second option to view the natural scenery is to walk on the wooden boardwalks that run through the lakes and forests. Do note, however, that the distance from one scenic spot to another can vary between 90m and 4000m (4km)! In the interest of time, it’s best to combine walking with taking the bus if you are spending only one day at the park. If you are in a group, it might make sense to charter a bus. In this way, you are guaranteed that all must-see spots are covered.

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There is a cafeteria serving buffet lunch at the intersection of the Y. Although hot and cold drinking water was available, no drinking cups were provided. I suspect it is common practice to bring your own drinking bottles and re-fill from the dispenser. As I didn’t carry a water bottle with me, I had to use a rice bowl as a cup!

One final point. The visitor maps are all in Chinese. Most of the service staff and bus drivers do not speak English. If you are like me – can’t read Chinese, it is best to download an English map of Jiuzhaigou and bring it along with you. Trust me. It will save you a lot of time, frustration and disappointment.

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Long Road up the Jiuzhai Valley

Eleven hours covering a distance of 460 kilometers! That’s how long it took for me to travel from Chengdu International Airport to Jiuzhaigou.

Jiuzhaigou nestles in big mountains, isolated from other cities in the province. Chengdu remains the gateway to Jiuzhaigou. Domestic flights from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou are available. Flying would have taken only an hour, allowing me more time to explore the place and conserving my energies for the days ahead.

However, I had already purchased (a mistake??) my online travel voucher seven months earlier at the special price of US170.00 per person. This voucher covered accommodation for 5 nights in a 4-star hotel, three meals a day (lunch and dinner banquet style with a minimum of 9 different Chinese dishes during every meal), entrance tickets to all attractions, national parks and cultural performances, land transportation and airport transfer! How could I not resist? The only condition was that I had to travel to Jiuzhaigou by bus!

So, I swallowed some travel sickness tablets after arriving at Chengdu Airport, and stepped into the waiting bus that would take me to Jiuzhaigou via Dujiangyan, Wenchuan, Maoxian and Songpan. The bus had wide windows, and was spacious, comfortable and clean. On the plus side, going by land gave me a chance to see the Sichuan countryside and rural towns.

The road took me past rivers, long tunnels, valleys, lush mountains and abandoned homes. The Sichuan province is very susceptible to earthquakes. Even up to today, the devastation resulting from the Sichuan 2008 earthquake is evident in the landscape. Buildings and houses have been reduced to a rubble. Huge rocks and boulders have filled the river, causing the muddy flow of water to run its course in a series of rapids. The rural landscape is stark, bland and badly wounded.

Diexi Lake

Diexi Lake is a landslide dam-created lake formed during the Diexi earthquake in August 1933.  It is 190 kilometers south of Jiuzhaigou and is a must-pass through route if you visit Jiuzhaigou by land. It’s kind of sad to think that this  peaceful, calm lake bears the legacy of tragedy, destruction and death.

Diexi Lake

Yak

Yaks are heavily built, with a bulky frame, sturdy legs and rounded cloven hooves. Don’t let looks fool you. They are actually friendly in nature and are easily domesticated. Yaks like high altitudes and have the capacity for transporting oxygen through their blood. Conversely, yaks do not do so well at lower altitudes. They start to suffer from heat exhaustion at temperatures above 15 °C (59 °F).

Yak

I saw a yak for the first time in my life when we stopped at Diexi Lake for a 20-minute break. This mountain yak is led by a rope tied to a ring attached to its nostrils. Do you think they feel any pain when the rope is pulled?

Songpan Ancient Town

The ancient city of Songpan serves as a stopover point on the road to the Jiuzhaigou.

It was built during Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) and was later rebuilt during Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). The historic town consists of both an inner city and an outer city. Due to its location, four ethnic groups are resident in the ancient town of Songpan – Tibetan, Qiang, Hui (Muslim) and Han (Mandarin). The blending of these four cultural elements has given birth to the Kangba culture, unique to Songpan.

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Downtown, old wooden buildings still line some of the side streets and residential areas. These shops sell Tibetan ornaments like bracelets, rings, ethnic costumes and horn combs. Regional food offerings like stewed whole duck, steamed chicken, crispy yam, local mushrooms, rare Chinese caterpillar fungus and yak jerky are also sold.

Songpan’s countryside comprises  rolling grasses and endless valleys. It’s a great place to visit if you enjoy horse-riding.

It would have been nice to have had the time to visit Huanglong National Park, which is only 88 kilometers away from Songpan. It is famous for its ponds, forests and coloured rock terraces. Unfortunately, Huanglong was not part of my tour itinerary and I had to give it a miss. What a pity!

Diexi Lake: What Lies Beneath (#38)

En route to Jiuzhaigou from Chengdu, China, the bus stopped by at Diexi Lake for a 20-minute break. Diexi Lake is a landslide dam-created lake and lies at the foot of Minshan Mountain and upper reaches of the Minjiang River. It is a famous for its serene and calm green waters, surrounded by mountains and green forests. With a vast area of 350 million square metres, Diexi Lake is the pearl of the Sichuan-Tibet Plateau.

However, there is a tragic story behind this picturesque landscape. Diexi Lake was formed as a result of a huge earthquake in 1933. Measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, the Diexi Earthquake completely destroyed the town including 21 other neighbouring villages, killing some 6,000 people! The landslides that resulted created dams across the river, and the ancient town was completely swallowed up by Diexi Lake!

Maybe if you dive down deep enough, you can find the lost city of Diexilantis!