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Sanjiang's World Class Geology and Gene Bank
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In the high mountains of southwest China's Yunnan Province three rivers, the Nujiang, Jinshajiang and Lancangjiang flow clear and unpolluted through an area of unspoilt natural beauty.

The Sanjiang (three rivers) Region is a place of world-class geological wonders and home to a gene bank of striking bio-diversity. On July 2 this year, it was included in the World Heritage List during the 27th session of the UNESCO's World Heritage Committee. Having 1.7 million hectares, it became the second largest area on the list.

With it come nine nature reserves and ten scenic spots variously belonging to Lijiang City, the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture.

Sanjiang is a veritable museum of some of the world's most important geology and geomorphology. Some 40-50 million years ago the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates met head-on. Great mountains would be pushed up as the Eurasian plate began to override the Indian sub-continent and so the folds of the Hengduan Mountains came to be raised up creating a truly remarkable landscape. Its three major rivers run parallel along a length of some 170 km. There is nowhere else like it anywhere in this world.

In this 150 km wide region, the Nujiang is just 18.6 km from the Lancangjiang at their closest and at one point the Nujiang and the Jinshajiang actually come within an amazing 66.3 meters of each other.

Every kind of landscape to be found in the Northern Hemisphere other than desert and ocean, can be found here including magnificent snow-capped mountains and glaciers, precipitous Danxia cliffs and wonderful karst formations.

The region has 118 snow-capped mountains over 5,000 meters above sea level and varying widely in form. With them come many hectares of untouched forest and several hundred glacial lakes.

Highest among them at 6,740 meters is the snow-capped Meili Mountain with its 10,000-year-old glaciers. Crystal-clear and sparkling, the ice makes its way ever so slowly from high on the peak down to the Mingyongcun Forest at 2,700 meters. It is considered to be the world's finest monsoon glacier and remarkable for its descent to such a low altitude. For thousands of years, Tibetan people have regarded the Meili as a holy mountain. To this day they respect the need to obtain permission before going on the mountain.

The Danxia landforms in the Laojun Mountains in the Lijiang Area, picturesque in their forest setting, are both the biggest and the best-formed examples of this geomorphology in China. In places the red cliffs have weathered away to leave formations said to look like tortoises. On the aptly named thousand tortoise mountain, one can imagine at first a single large tortoise and then on closer inspection see it to be made up of the regular ranks of thousands of small tortoises.

Ranking first among China's 17 key bio-diversity areas, the Sanjiang Region with its precious gene bank has been acclaimed as being of world class importance. With its topography carved and polished by the continental glaciers of the Quaternary Glacial Period, its mountainous ridges and passes run north to south. The region has not only been an ancient migratory route for the flora and fauna of Eurasia but has also become a safe haven for so many of the plants and animals which passed this way.

Though accounting for less than 0.4 percent of the area of the country, the region plays host to more than 20 percent of the country's most important plants and 25 percent of its animal species. Today the region is home to 77 animals under state-level protection including the Yunnan golden monkey, antelope, snow leopard, Bengali tiger and black-necked crane. It has 34 kinds of plants under state-level protection including the China fir, (Cunninghamia lanceolata), the spinulose tree fern (Cyathea spinulosa) and the Chinese yew (Taxus chinensis).

Every year when spring comes again, the Sanjiang Region becomes a sea of flowers. There are 200 kinds of azaleas, nearly 100 kinds of gentian (Gentiana scabra), and primroses, Scrophylariaceae, Cypripedium and lilies for everyone to enjoy. It is little wonder that botanists look on it as a natural mountain garden.

Over the past 20 years, the State Council and the provincial government of Yunnan have invested tens of billions of yuan in major environmental protection projects. These have included forest protection, water and soil conservation, and schemes for the protection of rare plants and animals. Local people also take an active part in the drive to protect the ecology and the environment.

In the Laojun Mountains, tourists who bring their garbage back to the hotel instead of throwing it away are rewarded with a free breakfast to the value of 15 yuan provided by local tourist companies. Though there are plenty of tourists, garbage is not a problem in this scenic spot.

(China.org.cn translated by Li Jingrong July 16, 2003)

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