JIUZHAIGOU

The Jiuzhaigou nature reserve, in Northern Sichuan, was not originally in my travel plan but, along the way, I met several people who suggested me to change my mind. So, despite the detour took 4 days (one to go, two for the visit, one to return), I went there. And I can say I did not regret it. I'd like to thank, in particular, Daisy and Marcella to have encouraged me in this choice.

It takes 11 hours by bus, on a bumpy and winding road, from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou. The road goes through inaccessible areas with mountains, lakes and rivers, which REALLY brings you to a different world. Along the road there are any kind of vehicles, some painfully slow and overloaded. Those carrying cattle stop in the middle of the road, at intervals, to "rearrange" the animals, others just break down along the way. As if this were not enough, locals take possession of the lanes with tractors, carts and other transports stopped in the middle of the road, thus further slowing down the traffic. In summary, the journey turns into an odyssey. Since many drive recklessly, accidents are yet another common source of slow-down: I have seen a truck upside-down:

a minivan against a rock:

and a coach stopped across the road. Overtakings between trucks and buses in a bend are not uncommon, as well as "overtakings of overtakers": a motorbike overtaking a land rover, overtaking a truck, overtaking a bicycle overtaking a pedestrian. I ask to my neighbour on the bus why they drive that way and she answers: "for our culture, we are lucky and so nothing bad can ever happen". Let's call it a culture!! What if nothing happens to you (because you are lucky) and another person dies? No answer.

»Generally speaking, the consumer price index in China is much lower than in Europe. However, the entrance fees for "National Scenic Areas" are an exception. Like in previous occasions (Huang Shan: 150 Yuan, Taishan 100 Yuan, Hua Shan 100 Yuan), the entrance fee is steep even by European standards: at Jiuzhaigou it is 310 Yuan for each day![1]. Two things come to my mind:

  • despite the expensive entrance fee, which is the same for Chinese and foreigners, there are a lot of tourists everywhere I go, and approximately 95% of them are Chinese. This means that there are many wealthy Chinese.
  • such a high price prevents many Chinese from visiting the most beautiful places of THEIR country. How can this policy be compatible with a system which claims to be communist?
When I happened to express those considerations to Chinese people they more or less confirmed them, without this clarifying why this happens.

The Juzhaigou nature reserve is, in my opinion, a wonder. I can compare it, for its beauty, only to the Yosemite National Park in California, among those that I have seen, even though they are very different. It is located in a valley approximately 30 km long, closed to the traffic, run through by a stream[2]

which, along its way, creates countless lakes:

waterfalls and cataracts:

The water has a high concentration of minerals which give it a unique colour. A trail, down in the valley, goes along the lakes, the waterfalls and the stream, leading from time to time to tibetan villages (stockades) scattered around the park:

The first day I walk along the lower part of the valley on this endless trail, the map in my hand, going from one lake to the other. Each lake has its own, evocative, name, such as Rhinoceros Lake, Tiger Lake, etc. The descriptions say "It is named Tiger Lake because its shape is as aggressive as a tiger"[3]. I look at it and, despite my efforts, I can only see a lake. "It is called Rhinoceros Lake because, like the Rhinoceros...". I try hard to find a gleam of a Rhinoceros in it, but unfortunately it just seems to me a stretch of water shaped like...a lake. I am taken by inferiority complexes: obviously, I mumble, my imagination is really poor; I can only see the plain reality; in short, I am a shit. Lucky the Chinese, who can perceive, from a lake, a Tiger, a Rhinoceros, a Panda, a Bamboo Arrow, and so on. Meanwhile I wonder: what are those Chinese smoking??
Thankfully the beauty of the landscape helps to keep my raising depression under control. The sights are remarkable:

This is the best season to visit the park because the fall colours (red, yellow and green) mix nicely with the different shades of blue of the water.

The sides of the mountains are also beautiful:

The evening in the hostel I meet a guy who speaks correct English, but with a somewhat strange accent. By speaking to him I learn that he's from Australia[4] and that he teaches English in Shanghai in a Chinese school. Thinking back to how Chinese speak English, I can't help mumbling "Ah, now I understand...".

»At dinner I try the well-known Sichuan cuisine. Sichuan food is very spicy but usually the spices are in a broth which flavours the real food inside of it (meat, vegetables, noodles). If, also thanks to the lack of experience with chopsticks, you happen to "fish" and swallow one piece of spice, then you are in deep trouble. My face takes a different colour and I stop breathing. At the same time I feel strong spasms in the upper part of my stomach. The waiter (and at the same time owner) of the restaurant, without saying a word, runs and takes a basin and thrusts it under my chin - her quick acting lets me guess that such a sight is not new to her: she's no doubt thinking "Here's another moron foreigner who, no matter what, wanted to try our food. So much the worse for you!". After around 30 breathless seconds it starts to get better, they bring me water and, little by little, I get back to life. The basin is not used, thankfully; I can even go on eating the excellent Sichuan food. As you will have guessed by now, paying a lot of care to what I lift with my chopsticks.

The second day I visit the upper part of the valley with Helen and Joanna, two Chinese travellers from Taiyuan who I ran into the day before and who kindly offered to visit the park together. They speak English well, which is a great help for me. Also, I have the chance to know Chinese people.

The weather is not as beautiful as the first day; it is cold too, which at 3000 metres can be chilly. The lakes and the waterfalls, though, maintain their colours and beauty unchanged. From the unreal colors of the Panda Lake:

to the mutli-coloured Colorful Lake:

The "Pearl Shoal Waterfalls" are the most beautiful waterfalls in the park:

At the top of the valley lie the Long Lake and the Five-Colored Pool:

Should you be working out the feeling that the colours come from Photoshop , I have to inform you that you are wrong: none of the pictures has been modified.

»The park employs several local people. Like previously in Huang Shan, Shanghai and Beijing, I have the feeling that there are more employees than needed. It's autumn and leaves drop to the ground. It happens everywhere, even more so in a forest of broadleaf trees...Yet on the trail the leaves do not even come to touch the ground, because in the meantime someone in a green sweatshirt will have swept them away. You can see these people going forth and back while restlessly sweeping perfectly clean trails.

In the park there are several villages of minorities. They offer services to the visitors for a living, for instance they lease their clothes (Helen is in the second picture):

or they act as travel guides inside the park, dressed in their colourful clothes:

The park is splendid and well maintained. It's conveniently closed to the traffic of private cars, unfortunately the traffic of public buses is not negligible. I'd like to raise a couple of points:

  • there are no trails going up the mountains in the park. In practise, the visitor is constrained to the one trail down in the valley. Trails along the mountains would greatly widen the areas visitors can explore, offering wonderful views on the valley and its lakes below.
  • bicycles are not allowed on the roads inside the park. The valley is approximately 30 km long and the road is never too steep, so it would be a great fit for bicycles. Allowing bicycles would reduce the traffic and, more important, encourage a virtuous and healthy behavior in the visitors. I'd like to find an explanation to the logic (if there is any) behind this prohibition.
A curiosity: the "twin park" of Jiuzhaigou, approximately 3 hours away by bus, is named Huanglong, which means Yellow Dragon .
You may think that, if I have to mention another park to speak about Dragons, probably it's because there is no sign of Dragons here, isn't it?
Well, No. There is. These pictures refer, respectively, to the "Double Dragon Lake" and to the "Sleeping Dragon Lake":

  1. ^The entrance ticket costs 220 Yuan, the bus fee is 90 Yuan. Outside the Golden Weeks, the entrance ticket can be renewed free of charge for the second day
  2. ^Actually, the upper part of the valley is run through by two streams which join halfway in the valley.
  3. ^I do not remember the exact words, unfortunately, but it is something very similar.
  4. ^No wonder: Australian English phonology is notoriously hard to understand