After a couple of days in Jiuzhaigou I still had a full day left in Sichuan. I only needed to be at the airport late that day, so I had 1 more excursion on the agenda : the incredible travertin terrasses of Huanglong Scenic Area. Another gem of mother nature. And not so far away from where I was staying in Zhangzha.
Again we leave early in the morning with a driver I had arranged through the hotel reception. It’s a good 2 hours driving through the breathtaking landscapes of Northern Sichuan. There is plenty of time to stop in town for some local snacks for the road ahead. I get me some spicy dried yak jerky. And after I get to taste some, I buy me a bunch more to take home. Only few actually made it there…
We quickly stop at an old abandoned village. The architecture is characteristic for such traditional villages, but it is deserted. The driver tells me there are plans to save the buildings by turning it into a hotel. I think it doesnt matter what destination or purpose these buildings get, if it means they will get saved from total ruin…
We climb higher into the mountains while passing temples and yaks grazing on the plains. Some horsemen are riding into the mountains to collect mushrooms and local herbs. On a farm kids can ride a yak.
To reach the Huanglong valley you need to cross a 4000 m mountain pass. There is a stop that sells souvenirs and cannister of oxiden. I will see quite a few in the park, but guess I will be OK. I had been at higher altitudes in Swiss without any problems and i was not staying for weeks so i take my chances.
The weather clears up once we decent back down in to the valley allowing some great views of the mountains we just crossed. Soon after we arrive at the entrance of the park and the ground station of the cable cars that will take you up the mountain. The sun is out and there is no queue at the entrance. I am happy i took a small backpack because I realize right away it is going to be a warm day today even at this altitude, and I overdressed.
The cable car takes you to the starting point of the trail leading to and around the travertin basins and terrasses of the valley. I am at 3500 meters and from there the trail always goes down, except for a short part at the top of the terraces.
First you walk through a spectacular forest. The autumn colors are vibrant and it seems more colorfull than Jiuzhaigou valley. Probably because it is higher up in the mountains and colder. The colors of the trees growing up the mountains slopes change from shades of yellow and orange to red and brown to lighter and darker green. Its beautiful.
After a short walk I arrive at a first viewing platform offering spectacular panoramas of the surrounding area : colorful mountains and valleys… Fantastic !
Soon I catch my first glimpse of the blue water ponds in the white and yellow travertin basins caught between the lush green forested mountains. I can imagine what the people must have felt when they first discovered the site…
It is still a bit of a walk down to reach the site. The yellow color of the travertin basins cascading down the mountain resembles a yellow dragon, seen from above. That is why the park is also known as the Yellow Dragon Scenic Area.
But it is a more than pleasant walk in a wonderful setting. From time to time a small temple building peeks through the autumn leaves as you walk to the first terrasses. Here a bit of climbing is involved but the path is wide and easy. I do decide it is time to remove a few layers of clothing though..
The first amazing view of the site I get at the top of this phenomenal geological formation. The formation can best be compared to the formation of stalagmites and stalagtites in underground caves. Basically a deposit of calcerous material dissolved in the crystal clear waters over a period of millions of years. But here it formed irregular ponds of water above ground. It is amazing.
When you look down over the colorfull ponds cascading down far into the valley, you see the gorgeous Huanglong Temple building in the distance between the autumn colored mountains. It’s an unbelievable sight ! This hotspot is rightfully named ‘Colorful Pond’!
The path leads around the ponds and up a little bit to give you a general view of the pond. But this was only the beginning of the discovery of this unique formation.
From here on the trail leads down past the Huanglong Temple and further down the valley in between the gorgeous mountains in their autumn colors to what seems like an infinite amount of beautiful ponds and bassins and waterfalls. One even more spectacular than the other.
You can choose whether you walk down left or right from the terrasses. It doesn’t really matter. Either way is fabulous and there are viewing platforms at every point of interest. Although i took some of my best pictures in between…
I walk further down past beatiful Jade Pool and the Glamorous Pool. I must confess that looking back at all the pictures i took, it is hard to tell which one is which. They are all magnificent.
Soon i reach the Mirror Pond. Another beatiful concentration of basins with crystal clear waters. At the edges the irregular shape and slight depressions allow the excess water to stream away into the next one.
As I pass more and more ponds there is one that looks like an incredible natural infinity pool overlooking the valley below and the colorful mountains as a background.
I fantasize taking a dip in the fresh, blue mountain water. I am sweating now and the pond looks really tempting. But it is forbidden to swim anywhere in the park and i guess that is a good thing. Imagine what thousands and thousands of selfie taking tourists would do to this precious and delicate paradise..
I spot another ‘infinity pool’. Its even more gorgeous than the previous one. I can’t believe the beauty of this park. What an exeptional landscapes Sichuan has to offer is really incredible.
It’s time for a lunch break. Plenty of choice between the different small stops along the way. I enjoy my snacks I got earlier sitting on a rock overlooking a wonderful series of ponds and basins. I must say that the visitors here were quite conscious about their trash and i didn’t see any litter. That’s unfortunately not always the case in some parts of China. I do notice a lot more people now breathing oxigen from a cannister after that serious hike…
More ponds lay in front of me to discover and more exquisite scenery on the way as I make my way towards the end of the journey. There are a couple of beautiful waterfalls I encounter : the Glowing Waterfall and the bizar Calcerous Waterfall. A nice bonus on this wonderful day. You can also visit a few caves, but those I didn’t visit.
The Welcoming Ponds are the last terraces and basins of my visit. It should be called the Goodbye Ponds following the itinerary of the day, but I assume it’s because they are the first ones from the valley, and I am glad I didn’t have to up the other way to see this natural marvel.
The driver picks me up at the exit. Back we must go over the pass to Huanglong city. The sun is shining bright now and i take a quick stop at the view point at 4000 m. The views are incredible. Green mountains as far as you can see with a distant hurd of yak grazing below you and falcons circling high above. About the same level where you are standing. On the other side, the white snowy peak of a 6000 meter giant seems to hang on to the only cloud left in the sky…
But we have to go to the airport now. I glance for the last time at the beautiful landscapes of Sichuan and the occasional road-crossing Tibetan cows. I will miss this part of China, but I know in my heart I will definately return here one day.
But goodbye it is for me. With no regrets. And looking forward to the next stage of the trip : Xi’an and the terracotta warriors!
Till next post !