Jiuzhaiguo, earth’s fairyland

Jiuzhaiguo houses one of the most stunning natural attractions of China. Located as part of the Minshan Mountain Range of the Eastern Himalayas in Northern Sichuan Province, Jiuzhaiguo translates as “Valley of Nine Villages,” referring to the huge Tibetan community occupying this area of 620 square kilometers of mountain valleys.

Boardwalks for visitors to find an array of flora and fauna at Jiuzhaiguo's forestThere are reasons why one would rather skip Jiuzhaiguo, and instead visit other places in China. For one, it takes more than a 10-hour bus ride from Sichuan’s capital Chengdu to reach Jiuzhaiguo, and with the area’s peak of 4,764 meters above sea level, altitude sickness is possible.
Aside from that, Jiuzhaiguo National Park tickets are not as affordable in Chinese standard but, nevertheless, once inside, you’d be touring with many other eager travelers – blocking your way, making uninvited appearances at your photographs, or grabbing your eyed spot for good camera angle. With all these, one would ask, “Is it really worth the trouble, time, money, to visit this far off place?”

Let me help you figure the answer out – Jiuzhaiguo wouldn’t be called “fairyland of Earth” for nothing.

Jiuzhaiguo National Park

Jiuzhaiguo National Park is a nature park of staggering beauty

Nuo Ri Lang Falls of Shu Zheng Valley

A minute after all of us in the shuttle bus are seated, we passed by Mirror Lake and I gasped at what I saw. Wow. Serene and pristine in the morning hour, reflections of the surrounding mountains in the lake painted a picture of perfection that only nature could offer.

In an instant, our shuttle bus guide pointed out that Mirror Lake is one of the places where famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou shot scenes of his internationally-released wuxia film, Hero.

IMG_0353

A flash of nature at its finest, Jiuzhaiguo National Park is a nature park of staggering beauty, famous for its multi-level waterfalls, colorful lakes and stunning mountains.

Mirror Lake may be the first to take my breath away, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Jiuzhaiguo’s beauty makes you glance a second look, and a third, until you find yourself clicking your camera – 1, 2 , 3 to hundreds or more.

The main road of the park has available shuttle buses to collect and drop visitors from one scenic route to another. A network of boardwalks is there for one who would like to take their time in the park and walking trails beginning at the north of Sparkling Lake would allow one to wander through the forest, tour the lakes and take a close look at the waterfalls.

The park consists of four valleys – Ri Ze, Ze Cha Wa, Zha ru and Shu Zheng – all of which boast of lush trees, bedazzling blue and green lakes and enchanting waterfalls; a treat for nature lovers and photographers alike.

Highlights

this gorgeous and colorful lake is a result of different hues of algae and lake-bottom travertine formed from unevenly distributed submerged plants

The Five Color Pond

The Mirror Lake of Ri Ze Valley is actually just a tip of the iceberg when visiting Jiuzhaiguo. In Ri Ze Valley, one can also meander through the Virgin Forest where an array of flora and fauna is visible, enjoy the serenity of grass groves in semi-swamp Grass Lake, or get a perfect photo angle of Pearl Shoals Fall.

IMG_0298Five Flower Lake is a crowd favorite at Ri Ze Valley, delightfully considered “a photographer’s haven and a painter’s nightmare”, this gorgeous and colorful lake is a result of different hues of algae and lake-bottom travertine formed from unevenly distributed submerged plants. The intense color of the waters, criss-crossed formation of fallen tree trunks, plus the serenity of surrounding trees make Five Flower Lake a scenic spot all on its own.

Shu Zheng Valley displays azure blue colors of Sparkling Lake, the weeds and shrubs of Bonsai Shoal, the bountiful waters of Nou Ri Lang Falls and the colorful prayer flags of Shu Zheng Village, among others.

Situated next to the fork in the road (towards Virgin Forest on the right and Long Lake on the left), Ze Cha Wa Village has nicely decorated Tibetan homes and many travelers love to stop there for a cup of Yak Butter Tea. Also located in Ze Cha Wa Valley is the Five Color Pond flaunting another color spectacle like Five Flower Lake. The pond is a result of various algae and travertine sedimentation on its uneven lake bed.

Dancing Tibetans of Zhuru ValleyPrayer wheels and stupas decorate Zhuru Valley where a Tibetan monastery and Zha Yi Zha Ga sacred mountain are found. After a nature-trip filled day, my amazement of this “Fairyland of Earth” continues as I found myself dining and dancing with the Tibetans of Zhuru Valley, and can you believe it, they even made me wear a Tibetan traditional dress. I was stoked!

So who cares about the more than 10-hour bus ride, or the pricey park ticket when one would later be rewarded with both the beauty of nature and a cultural wonder. This mix of Tibetan customs in Himalayan backdrop included Jiuzhaiguo in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

Published: Tianjin Plus Magazine, November 2010

Photography: Cathy Perez

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