Huanglong: China’s sacred wonderland

Considered China’s sacred wonderland, Huanglong is home of Huanglong valley, Muni valley, and Danyun gorge; which displays snowcapped mountains (some white -peaked all year), ancient temples, pretty canyons, lush forests, rushing water falls and peculiar limestone coloured ponds.

Huanglong is located in the north of Sichuan Province, at the south section of the Minshan Mountain Range in Songpan County. This wonderland annually attracts millions of travellers, both from China and abroad, and is famous for having the world’s largest open limestone coloured pond, the world’s largest tufa bank and the largest travertine caved in a wall.

Figuratively and literally, going to Huanglong can make you dizzy. Figuratively, because this UNESCO World Heritage Site looks like a painting of sheer perfection, carefully crafted with fascinating hues in every stroke, so it’s almost hard to believe it’s real; and literally because its high elevation (more than 3,000 m above sea level) may give mild altitude sickness.

Tibetans dominate this area of A’ba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous prefecture, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to see mountains and houses decked with prayer flags. In clear days like those of summer, blue skies paint the sky as you pass by mountain ranges, grasslands, rivers and valleys.

National Park

Huanglong National Park highlights elegant terrace-like limestone pools and landscapes with crystalline water running through the valley. These are due to thousands of years of glacier evolution and mineral deposits…

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A must-visit place in Huanglong is its national park tucked into Mount Canglong. The long, winding ride uphill to the park from the outskirts of Mount Canglong offers spectacular views of Xuebaoding summit – a sacred mountain to Tibetans – making the ride less unpleasant.

A classy park entrance welcomes visitors to the tourist plaza where free exhibits tell all about Huanglong’s history, ecology and culture. There are several snack counters in the park entrance; grab some for yourself, as snack counters are scanty inside the park!

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The entire park has 693 ponds, three waterfalls, three lakes, two temples and one cave.

Huanglong National Park highlights elegant terrace-like limestone pools and landscapes with crystalline water running through the valley. These are due to thousands of years of glacier evolution and mineral deposits, mostly limestone and calcium carbonate, and other factors such as sunlight and climate.

It takes three to four hours to do a round trip tour of the park, although travelers with altitude problems may require more time.

There are also cable cars available most of the way to the top for CNY80 for those who can’t be bothered by the long walk. If you do decide to walk, your choice, though painstaking, will reward you with ample time to gaze at dazzling scenery.

IMG_0864Right from the entrance, 350 small ponds in the Yingbin Pond (aptly translated as Guest-Greeting Pond) welcome you, a preview of what’s in store as you make your way towards the top. On the way, scenery from Billowing Lake, Feipu Waterfall, Bonzai Pond, Huanglong Cave, Revolving Flower Pond, to name a few, never fail to fascinate visitors.

The entire park has 693 ponds, three waterfalls, three lakes, two temples and one cave.

Ancient Huanglong Temple is the ultimate destination of the park, with this area overlooking the multi-coloured pond, the most breathtaking part of the whole park. Here, you’ll see lush trees, and right in the middle brilliant turquoise blue terrace-like ponds, shimmering. It’s here you understand why Huanglong is called a sacred wonderland where nature worshipers stand in awe, and non-nature admirers become instant believers.

Side valleys

Tibetans refer to Zhega waterfall as “gaqixia”, meaning “torrent on a white rock”.

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If time (or money) is not a question, visiting Huanglong National Park’s side valleys would be a great idea since both – Muni Valley and Danyun Gorge – have their natural attractions to offer.

Muni valley comprises Erdao lake and the rushing Zhega waterfall, 104 metres long and 35-40 metres wide. Tibetans refer to Zhega waterfall as “gaqixia”, meaning “torrent on a white rock”.

Muni valley also houses a couple of springs, and at the foot of the hill, surrounded by dense virgin forest sits Munihousi monastery where a large scale religious activity is celebrated every January 15 or July 15th each year with more than a thousand people participating.

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Danyun gorge, on the other side of the national park, not only has abundant tree species, meadows and high mountain vegetation, but also has its own share of waterfalls and lakes. Its well-preserved ancient township, Xiaohe Ancient Town, has four arched city gates uniquely made out of strips of blue stones, and has more than 600 years of history dating from the 11th year of the Ming dynasty.

So whether you have time to explore side valleys Muni valley and Danyun Gorge or not, prepare to be amazed at what you’ll find in Huanglong – nature uncovering its beauty, and never holding back.

Published: Tianjin Plus magazine, December 2010

Photography: Cathy Perez

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