Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jiuzhaigou, Here We Come – Jiuzhai Valley, Sichuan Province, China

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China

October 20, 2009, we were flying to Jiuzhaigou.  For that, we did not have a good night sleep.  Yes, we were having an early flight.  But we were also excited, with all the reasons to feel this way. 

Is it Really that Great?

Entrance to Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China We had started hearing about this place a few years earlier and remained skeptical.  You know how some places can be “beauty in the eyes of beholders”, meaning for others, they are just over-rated.

So as we were passively been on the receiving side, all we heard about Jiuzhaigou was how beautiful it was and how it was like a place from the fairy tales.  The overwhelmingly positive feedback helped us make this trip.

Jiuzhaigou and its Fairy Tale

Jiuzhaigou means Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (2)"Valley of Nine Villages" in Chinese.  The valley derived its name from the fact that there are 9 ancient Tibetan villages within it.  It is part of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous District and is located 100 km north of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province (or Szechuan, as put in the Western countries).  In English, Jiuzhaigou is officially known as Jiuzhai Valley. 

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (3) This remote region has been inhabited by various Tibetan and Qiang (two of the ethnic minorities in China) people for centuries.  And yet, it was not officially discovered by the government until 1972.

Tibetan and Qiang timber workers had the best job in the world (in my opinion; with such an incredible view) until extensive logging was banned by the government in 1979.  Till this day, fallen logs can still be seen well preserved underneath the surface of some lakes (as shown by some pictures below). 
Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (4) 
The area was made a national park in 1982 and officially opened to tourism in 1984.  Layout of facilities and regulations were completed in 1987.  In 1992, the site was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site; and in 1997, a World Biosphere Reserve.  It also belongs to the Protected Landscape (category V) in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) system of protected area categorization. 

What’s the Hype about Jiuzhagou?

Long Lake, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (2) Jiuzhaigou is best-known for its dozens of blue, green and turquoise-colored lakes and this is also what we have been told over and over.  The local Tibetan people call the lakes "Haizi" in Chinese, meaning "son of the sea".  Originating in glacial activity, the lakes were dammed by rock falls and other natural phenomena, then solidification of carbonate deposits (i.e., travertine). 
Beautiful Waters of Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China 
The waters of Jiuzhaigou have a high concentration of calcium carbonate.  The water is so clear that the bottom is often visible even at great depths. The lakes vary in color and aspect according to their depths, residues, and surroundings.

There’s a saying in Chinese that you don’t need to see other waters (i.e., rivers, lakes, etc.) once you’ve seen the waters of Jiuzhaigou.

From Logging to Tourism

Waterfalls of Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Since opening, the number of tourists has increased exponentially - from 5,000 in 1984 to 1.19 million in 2002.  In 2007, with an averages of 7,000 visits per day, the site received over 2.5 million visitors.

A cap of 12,000 is publicly reported; however this is never enforced. The desire to balance environmental protection and mass tourism is becoming an increasingly acute and a considerable challenge for park management.

Jiuzhaigou is Beautiful All Year Round

Beautiful Fall Colors of Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Jiuzhaigou is all about the beauty you meet with your eyes.  The colors of its lakes, trees and mountains are breathtaking to begin with.  And the altitude changes within the valley create continual variations of colors and plantation, which give each lake and waterfall a unique quality.

Frozen Berries, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Given its beautifully-colored lakes, Jiuzhaigou is a great place to visit at any time of the year.  Fall is, however, the best season to visit, in many opinions. In late September through early November, the color contrasts of red and gold leaves provide the perfect backdrop to the blue, Beautiful Fall Colors of Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (2) turquoise and green lakes. 

The time that we were in Jiuzhaigou (mid-October) proofed to be the perfect time to visit.

Lakes and Waterfalls 

Wooden-Plank Trail, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Walking is a great option in the park, as wooden-plank trails wind through the lakes and forests.  Between walking and the chartered bus run by the park*, we got to experience the natural beauty of such a great natural reserve.

(* You also have the option of purchasing a bus pass which gives you access to a hop-on hop-off bus transport system. The buses are frequent and sometimes crowded during the peak season.)

1. Long Lake:

Long Lake, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China
Remember the nice picture in my first post?    It was taken by Long Lake.

Long Lake is at the head of the Zechawa valley.  At an altitude of 3,060 meters, this is the largest and deepest lake in Jiuzhaigou. 

The day that we were there, it was overcast with small snow flakes drizzling in the air.  Not realizing how close the sun was, we were surprised to see the transition glasses of one of our tour mates’ completely darkened.
He's Got the Long Lake in his View-finder, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China 
The 5,000 meter snow-capped Min Shan mountains provide a nice backdrop to the tranquil water below. This lake receives its water from underground sources and serves as the supplier to the other lakes down-stream. The local Tibetans have their own name for this lake, which translates, to “the lake that never dries out.”

2. Five Color Pool:

Five Color Pool, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Also known as the Jade pool, Five Color Pool is a small lake at an altitude of 2,995 meters with an average depth of 6.6 meters.  It is fed by underground streams from Long Lake.

Although small in size, this lake is rated as having Walking Trail, Five Color Pool, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, Chinaone of the most varied and intense colors of Jiuzhaigou and should not be missed.  Calcium and magnesium levels are extremely high here.  These mineral deposits, combined with the green-yellow algae growing on the off-white travertine of the bedrock, give the pool a great aqua marine pastels.

3. Panda Lake:

Panda Lake, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China
Panda Lake is surrounded by bamboo forests.  Our tour guide said that giant pandas used to be spotted in this area.

4. Panda Falls:

Panda Falls, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Water exits Panda Lake via the spectacular Panda Falls. These narrow falls cascade down to the “Five Flower Lake” over a series of travertine terraces.

A wooden step-way allows visitors to descend beside the falls providing a unique way of appreciating the scene.
5. Five Flower Lake:

Five Flower Lake, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Five Flower Lake is referred to as the soul of Jiuzhaigou.

When we arrived in the area, the sun sprayed its ray over the shallow turquoise-colored water, providing an outstanding display of bottom sediments containing trees, bushes, and leaves in great array.  The new couples couldn’t resist the natural beauty taking bridal portraits by the water-side.
Peacock Riverbed, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China 
Five Flower Lake’s water drains via the peacock riverbed, the locally claimed shortest and most beautiful river in the world, to one of Jiuzhaigou’s most appealing waterfalls - the Pearl Shoal Falls.
6. Pearl Shoal Falls:

Pearl Shoal, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China The shallow water rushes over the 160-meter wide travertine terrace called Pearl Shoal, creating a bubbling cascade which from a distance looks like a shawl of pearls draped across the hillside.  The falls, with a drop height of 21 meters and at width of 162 meters, provide a spectacular display.
Pearl Shoal Falls, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China 
Pearl Shoal and Pearl Shoal Falls are best viewed by taking the walkway. This takes visitors across the “Golden Bell Lake” and “Pearl Shoal” down the left side of the falls then across the base of the Falls to “Mirror Lake”.
7. Mirror Lake:

Mirror Lake, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Mirror Lake is so named due to its ability to reflect the images of the surrounding mountains and forests.  The Lake was featured in the world-renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s movie Hero.  For those that know Zhang’s movies, they are typically known to be picturesque. 

Natural Bonsai, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China The water of Mirror Lake flows through a travertine ramp of small ponds and natural bonsai trees and bushes to one of the great sights of Jiuzhaigou - the Nuorilang waterfalls.

8. Nuorilang Falls:

Nuorilang Falls, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China The Nuorilang Falls are situated, at an altitude of 2,365 meters, at the junction of the Zechawa, Rize and Shuzheng valleys.  The 250-meter wide veil of water flows out of the thick shrubs and bushes of Rize Gully to drop 24 meters into a small stream below the road.
9. Shuzheng Village:

Prayer Flags, Shuzheng Village, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Shuzheng Village, adorned with prayer flags, is one of the nine Tibetan villages that give Jiuzhaigou its name. Situated above the Shuzheng Lakes, it is easily accessed from the roadway. 

In the Village, you can visit a traditional Tibetan home and drink “Yak Butter tea”.  The steep main street is lined with shops selling ornaments, Tibetan artifacts and souvenirs.

10. Shuzheng Lakes:

Shuzheng Lakes, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China Shuzheng Lakes and waterfalls are the lowest series of lakes in Jiuzhaigou; Spread across the valley this series of small lakes and waterfalls cascade down the lower valley and drain directly into Baishui Jiang.

Overall, I’d say that this trip was well worth it.  In spite of the significantly lower temperature (at 7 Celsius) than that of Chengdu and I’m usually a warm-weather traveler, the enthralling beauty that we got to experience more than offsets the inconvenience (i.e., heavy outfit) caused by the cold weather.

What Else is There in Jiuzhaigou

Beautiful Nature, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (2) The park is the natural habitat for two of China’s most treasured endangered species – the Giant Panda and the Sichuan Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey, which are rarely spotted due to the park's size, and the many tourists.

In the main valleys, you're likely to see birds, insects and fish.  In the Zaru Valley which is the valley dedicated to eco-tourism as of July 2009, there is more chance of seeing wildlife.  And great news for tourists like me - despite all the lakes in the park, Jiuzhaigou is amazingly free of mosquitoes.

Feeling Inspired to Visit?  Some Logistics Info 

Getting There:

Beautiful Nature, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (3) Flights between Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou Huanglong  (“Jiuhuang”) airport (code: JZH) are available.  As of October 2009, direct flights are also available from Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou.  Jiuhuang airport is about a 1.5 hour drive from the park entrance. This can be done by taxi or mini-bus.

Please be aware that the weather condition and the high altitude of Jiuhuang airport can interfere with airplane landing/take-offs; so be prepared to experience flight delay.
Beautiful Nature, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (5) 
Remember we arrived early in the Chengdu airport?  The flight to Jiuhuang was delayed for 5 hours.  Nonetheless, the time was very well utilized to socialize with the tour-mates from around the US.

There’s also ways to get there by bus, which will take longer time and is subject to explore.

Tickets:

The Ticket Office is where the Jiuzhaigou Administration centre is located. 

Peak Season

Time Has Stopped, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, ChinaThe price during peak season is 220 RMB (Chinese currency, at roughly US$1 = 7 RMB) per person which includes an insurance fee of 3 RMB.  Discounted price of 170 RMB is offered to disabled visitors, seniors (between 60 and 70 years of age), students and soldiers.  Children not taller than 1.3-meter in height, government servants, and Seniors over 70 can enter the park for free.

A one day bus ticket costs 90 RMB, and this is pretty much mandatory since it is over 30km from the entrance to the top of the park.
Beautiful Nature, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China (6)
Tickets are only valid for one day.  Previously there were two day tickets that are no longer on sale during the peak season.

Off-peak Season 

Off peak ticket prices:
General Entry – 80 RMB
Student Entry – 70 RMB
One Day Bus ticket: 80 RMB
Resort Jiuzhai Paradise, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, ChinaWinter 2nd day entry ticket: 20 RMB (must be purchased at the same time as the first day's ticket)

Where to Stay:

We stayed in a so-called super 5-star hotel right next to the park, Intercontinental’s Resort Jiuzhai Paradise, arranged by the travel company.  We were also told that the other 5-star hotel within close vicinity of the park is Sheraton Jiuzhaigou Resort.

Make sure to check hotel availability before your trip as the hotels tend to be sold out during peak season.  I’ve heard the case of over-booking by hotel(s) as well.
Grinding Mill, Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, ChinaCredits: Thanks to Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve (http://wikitravel.org/en/Jiuzhaigou_National_Park) for data in this article.
Copyright: All pictures and article of this post is copyright reserved.  If you are interested in using the content here, please contact me.   

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jean, you blog provide a very thorough info regarding this incredible park. Thank you! By the way, all the pictures here are so beautiful. Excellent job. I like you!

Randomthoughts said...

Jean,
The photos are stunning, and the writeup is incredible. I wish I had read this before we visited in October. The insightful details surely would have provided deeper understanding as we toured this land of wonders. But if that was the case we would not have had the pleasure of meeting you. Jiuzhaigou is pristine and breathtaking. I am still in awe each time I look at the pictures. I would say this comes quite close to fairytale land. Keep on posting. I love reading your blog!!

TheFreeMinder said...

Thank you, all, so much for visiting and taking the time to comment on the posts. Your comments will keep me working on bringing out more and (hopefully) better-written pieces frequently!

As some of you may have noticed, I have two other blogs (to be found in the page of my profile), each on a very different subject - home improvement and dealing with the current economy. Feel free to browse as you please. I'd love to meet you there and hear your feedback!