Sichuan Province (1) : Jiuzhaigou

Dear readers,

It is the end of September 2015 and I am flying to Beijing for an incredible journey through China.  I usually travel to China for professional reasons, with only limited time for sightseeing and travelling, but this time I have a couple of weeks of free time.  The trip I am about to embark on will take me to several regions and provinces in China.  First up is my favorite province Sichuan.  It’s not the first time I visit Sichuan.  I had been to Chengdu and Leshan earlier that year and I immediately fell in love with it.  I will post you on that fantastic trip on a later date.  It is then that I learned about the magnificent scenery of its Natural Parks and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

I really am thrilled to go and discover the wondrous natural treasures of Sichuan.  My destination : the fairytale forests, waterfalls and turquoise blue lakes of Jiuzhaigou !  Autumn has begun and I hope the leaves have started to change color to add even more beauty to this already breathtaking part of China.

I take an internal flight from Beijing to Huanglong, where I arrive in the evening.  It’s chilly outside.  No wonder as the airport is at 3500 m altitude…  It is clear that this part of Northern Sichuan is a mountainous region.  Visitors should take this into consideration as the park too is at high altitude and well above 2000 m above sea-level.20150926_204434

A driver picks me up from the airport and we drive off to the hotel near the park entrance.  By the time we reach the small town of Zhangzha it is already dark and late.  A little bit off the main road, up a steep alleyway, there is  my charming, small Tibetan style hotel, where I am warmly greeted.  Sichuan, and certainly this part, used to be called East-Tibet at one time, and it is clearly visible in the architecture of the older houses.  While I take a little walk to find a place for a late dinner.  I spot  quite a few traditional wooden houses with protruding rooftops.  I walk back to the main road.  20150926_204803.jpg

I had noticed some restaurants open on the way to the hotel.  You can dine in the hotel too, but I decided to scout the area a little bit.  Several restaurants had outdoor facilities.  I take a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and come to the conclusion that indoor dining was the preferred option.  Of course I chose the local dishes with local produce as the Sichuan kitchen is famous in China and the rest of the world for being delicious.  Not that I had much choice i must add.  I simply love Sichuan food, and I don’t mind that many dishes are hot and spicy.  Although the restaurant was simple in its decorations, the colorful presented plates of local mushrooms and bamboo shoots, dried ham and a heart-warming soup were absolutely great.

I noticed a tea-house next to the hotel, and decided that would be a perfect way to end the day.  I was pretty tired from the flight to Beijing.  The host was at first reasonably surprised to see a foreigner walking in, but seemed quite eager to practice her English, so I ended up spending a lovely time in a cozy, traditionally furnished tea-house.20150926_214910

The next morning I take my breakfast early as I am going to the National Park today and I want to beat the crowd.  Breakfast is great and divers and the restaurant is small but beautiful decorated in traditional Tibetan style with wooden furniture and colorful panels and an old stove in the center of the room.  Fantastic.

The hotel provides transfer to the park entrance which is about 15 minutes away.  it seems already quite busy, but there is no queuing and the park is so vast that I mostly walked alone, with some concentration of visitors at the scenic hot spots.  Buses provide free transportation to either of the two starting points in the two valleys way up in the park.  That’s pretty convenient as you basically walk down all the time.

There are bus stops at regular points near the track and the major sights, so you can easily jump on a bus to whatever point of interest you desire to go.  You should allow yourself  2 full days to explore the two valleys.  Both end up in a central point about halfway the park.mmexport1471181905698

It’s quite cold at the starting point in the ancient forest high up in the valley, at about 3000 m.  The sky is gray and rainy and clouds hang low caught between the colorful mountains.  An old lady is selling colorful scarfs, and I decide to take one, even though the weather is bound to clear up later in the day.  20150927_081932

I take a deep breath again, something I will often do the following days, as I start my descent.  The reports I had read were not exaggerated. The forest is mysterious and beautiful in the morning mist.  Truly a wondrous fairyland.

As you make your way through the woods, you notice more and more little streams of water running past the trees, until they all merge into the first of the many fantastic lakes I will encounter : Grass Lake.  The small, elongated lake is squeezed between 2 mountains and covered with brown grass-like vegetation.  The views are awesome.

The path leads past the long lake, further through the colorful forsest and past mountain rivers to the second lake : Swan Lake.

And further into the forest, along a winding river and white water rapids. The path is in immaculate condition, and there are clear signs pointing you in the right direction.

At certain points the river shows the amazing blue color for which the park is famous.  The beauty of the intense turquoise blue water painted against the autumn colors of the forest is indescribable.  And there was still more to come.

The next lake is also magnificent.  From Swan Lake you proceed to Arrow Bamboo Lake, a slightly larger lake with amazing crystal clear blue water and hidden behind yellow, red and green leafs.

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Just behind the lake you find the first beautiful waterfall of the day.  It is gorgeous and worthy of this fantastic wonderland : Arrow Bamboo Falls.

The path continues to Panda Lake where tourists can take a rest and a refreshment.  I am a tourist also and it is nearly lunch time by now, so this is the perfect spot for a pause.20160814_005501.png

Some tourists dress up in local costumes and eagerly take selfies.20150927_112808

Just behind the resting spot, the lake leaks away through an impressive waterfall. Not as wide as the previous, but much higher and powerful.

It’s been an exciting day so far into the park and more wonders and unique natural beauty await me. But the page is already nearly saturated so I guess you can read about it and check out the pictures in my next post.

Till than !

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