Friday, December 23, 2011

Autumn in Jiuzhaogou, 九寨沟

The natural scenic beauty of Jiuzhaigou was not "discovered" until modern times. The Tibetans that reside in the nine villages of this "Y" shape valley knew about its breath taking scenery, of course, but this valley is located in such a remote northwest corner of Sichuan that it was unknown to the Chinese in ancient times. For this, today's visitors are blessed with the total absence of man-made edifices and calligraphy carved into rocks. All one sees is mountains, and strings of mirror smooth lakes connected by cascades, water falls and running stream.

To visit Jiuzhaigou during the autumn foliage colors is to take a out of the world journey. The serenity and beauty literally takes ones breath away. Most of the fall color comes from the oily pine tree, a pine tree that is not evergreen and the color change only lasts about two weeks. Thanks to the advice of Dragon Delight, our tour operator, we were in Jiuzhaigou in the last week of October and witnessed the peak of nature's display.

The Chinese authorities deserved all the kudos for taking the most ecologically friendly route in developing this valley into a tourist attraction. Some examples of their green policy: Only park operated buses are allowed inside the park. Visitors are allowed to walk only on designated walkways. Hundreds of miles of footpath were constructed out of wooden boardwalk. The wooden planks were grooved to improve slip resistance. Plenty of rest pavilions, toilets and trash receptacles dotted along the parthways. Unlike toilets in many other parts of China, these toilets were oder free and even featured water less urinals.

On our first day, our group of 12 rented our own park operated minibus and driver. It was a particularly crowded day and by renting our own vehicle, we could skip around various stops and alight where it was least crowded and avoided the jostling crowd. The next day, a few of us went into the park on our own. We got off the park bus about mid way and walked downhill, following the path along the strand of lakes. It was a magical walk to be savored especially for the time when we've become too old to tour again.
The town of Jiuzhaigou came into existence because of the park. There are now a large assorment of hotels to choose from. There are however only two 5-star hotels in the area. The Sheraton is within walking distance to the entrance of the park. The Intercontinental is more than half hour drive from the entrance. The feeling of staying in the latter is more like staying in a self-contained integrated resort because of its isolated location.

To get there: There are direct flights from many of China's major cities to JiuHuang airport. Or, fly to Chengdu and connect from there. You can also drive from Chengdu but that would be a long ride requiring a very long day.

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