Travel Report Seven

Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, Sichuan Province

Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou has waterfalls of amazing variety – high rocky cascades, whitewater stairways, and myriads of fast-flowing streamlets linking lakes of greens and blues, coloured by local minerals.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Following an earthquake in August 2017 the park was closed. It is now fully open, but some of the information here about the wooden walkways may no longer be accurate. If you have visited recently please submit an update by tapping below.

How many different colours can water have? Jiuzhaigou has some surprising answers.
Glacial deposits and more recent carbonate layers have created the steps in the river flows that we can now enjoy. The water is amazingly clear, yet coloured in different greens and blues.
The villages (apart from the modern and all-too-concrete complex near the fork of the valleys) retain their Tibetan identity.

Accommodation: The nearest town to the airport, Chuanzhusizhen offers very little, but close to Jiuzhaigou, in the neighbourhood of Zhangzha town, there are many hotels of all categories. Zhangzha is about 6km from Jiuzhaigou park entrance.

Recommendation: There are hotels of every kind in the area, but it’s better to stay near the park entrance. There is some less formal accommodation within the park, but it’s not advertised on the major booking websites, so you will need to enquire locally.

The area his an upside-down Y-shape , and although the name Jiuzhaigou means nine-villages-valley, the three sections have separate names. The stem of the Y, which is the northern section, is the Shuzheng Valley. the south-western fork, with misty coniferous forest at its head, is the Rize valley. The Zechawa valley is in the southeast, and rises to the Long Lake and the highest point in the accessible park (3150m).

This image is ‘from the camera’, with no computer colour enhancement. The colour and the water – these are what bring in the crowds.

The park is intensively managed as a tourist centre, and, as at other attractions in China, entry is by ticket. The bus service costs extra, but nearly everybody uses this because it is the only realistic way of exploring the two forks of the valley – the road system takes visitors about 33km from the gate, in either of the valleys.

In autumn the colour of the lakes is complemented by that of the foliage, adding to the sense of unreality – or magic, if you prefer.

At that time of year, at the altitude of the valleys, the air is cool, especially at night.

Escape from bus-borne crowds is possible, especially in the lower Shuzhen Valley. This is about 15km long, and presents opportunity to travel on foot past several lower lakes and the lowest of the superb waterfalls. The boardwalk follows whitewater for several kilometres, and there is a magnificent and serene Buddhist monastery a short distance from the main valley route.

The buses don’t go to the monastery except to park nearby overnight. It’s off the main route, near the bottom of the valley, but certainly worth a visit. Like the park itself, it is an adventure in colour, with golden roofs, reflecting the prayer flags, rich interior fabrics, and white doves of peace.
Like many regions of mountainous southwestern China, this part of Sichuan province is predominately ethnically and linguistically Tibetan, and predominately Buddhist.
Towards the upper Huanglong valley there is a refreshment shop, and a temple. The latter wins on grounds of charm and beauty.

If you are staying nearer to Jiuzhaigou ask at hotels or restaurants in Zhangzha, the town closest to Jiuzhaigou, and you’ll find out about cars going to Huanglong.

There are plenty of people in Huanglong on most days, but it’s also possible to find quiet spots. Oxygen is available at special huts, and those concerned about altitude can buy their own cannisters (at a price).

At Huanglong there is a ticket office, of course. There are two ways to access the valley. One is through a gate that’s a little away from the ticket office – it’s worth getting back in the car. This takes you to the bottom of the valley-park, so that you can walk it’s entire accessible length.

Escape from bus-borne crowds is possible, especially in the lower Shuzhen Valley. This is about 15km long, and presents opportunity to travel on foot past several lower lakes and the lowest of the superb waterfalls. The boardwalk follows whitewater for several kilometres, and there is a magnificent and serene Buddhist monastery a short distance from the main valley route.

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