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Journeying to Grand Jiuzhai

Lying in southwestern China, the northwestern Sichuan Plateau is noted for its picturesque and idyllic natural beauty. One of the best scenic areas is the Grand Jiuzhai Tourist Region, located in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in northwest Sichuan Province. Covering an area of 84,000 square kilometers, the tourist region is especially famous for its plateau landscapes and ethnic customs. The tourist region encompasses two world natural heritage sites, three state-level scenic spots and eight provincial-level nature reserves and scenic areas. The most famous are the Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area, Huanglong Scenic Area, Mt. Siguniangshan (Four Maidens' Mountain) and Wolong Panda Nature Reserve.

A Wild Wilderness Beauty

Jiuzhaigou's attraction lies in its primitive and mysterious beauty. According to a beautiful legend, long, long ago, the brave mountain deity Da Ge fell in love with the charming goddess Se Mo and gave her a mirror burnished by wind and cloud. Carelessly, Se Mo accidentally smashed the gift. The segments sprinkled down into the world, changing as they fell into the 114 magnificent alpine lakes of the region.

The average altitude of Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area is between 2,000 and 4,760 meters, and the area enjoys cool summers and warm winters. With an average temperature between 13 and 21 degrees centigrade, summer here sees the abundant greenery in its prime, with gentle gurgling streams and crystal clear waterfalls cascading down from tall mountain peaks. Primitive, unspoiled, and uninhabited, it is an idyllic nature getaway.

Visit Mountains or Lakes, Trek Through Forest or Wetland

The major scenic sites are concentrated in the seven-kilometer-long and 300-meter-wide Huanglong Valley. At the foot of Mt. Xubaoding, the main peak of the Minshan Mountains, the valley is named after the Huanglong Temple. Due to the fascinating patterns formed by natural layered calcium carbonate deposits, the valley resembles a golden dragon winding its way through the stone mountains, thus giving rise to its other name of the "Hidden Dragon Mountain." As the legend goes, a yellow dragon came to help Yu the Great (a legendary character in Chinese mythology famous for controlling floods) to control floods in ancient times. The dragon helped him by carrying boats up stream through Maozhou (today's Maowen County), and the Minjiang River was thus created. Therefore, later generations built a temple here in commemoration of these legendary characters. Well known for its colorful lakes, snow clad mountains, valleys and virgin forest, the area also has the only well preserved plateau wetland in China. This is home to many endangered animal species-some on the brink of extinction-such as the giant panda and Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey.

The area's unique and charming natural scenery is known throughout the world, and the Huanglong Scenic Area, and the Jiuzhaigou Scenic Area are the two shining pearls of China's Northwestern Sichuan Plateau.

Mt. Siguniangshan and the Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Customs

Situated on the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Mt. Siguniangshan (Four Maidens' Mountain) is noted for its unusually shaped landforms and abundant eco-environment plateau vegetation. The natural environment is extremely well preserved in the area and it offer ideal habitats for approximately 100 rare animals. Because of the vast quantities of raw natural resources, the area is praised by experts as being a "Gene Bank" of southwestern China.

As with all typical plateau climates, the best time of the year to visit is between May and October, when the average temperature is a comfortable 13 degrees centigrade. Mt. Siguniangshan consists of four snow covered mountains of more than 5,000 meters high and the Four Maiden's Mountain, standing at a height of 6,250 meters, is the tallest of the four. The four mountains stand shoulder by shoulder on the Northwestern Sichuan Plateau, attracting both Chinese and foreign mountain climbers. Because of the thick forests at the foot of the mountains, the verdant grasslands, and the murmuring streams, Mt. Siguniangshan has been called the "Alps of the Orient. "Indeed, traveling in the area certainly does bring to mind certain Alpine destinations of southern Europe.

The main tourist attractions are distributed along the several branches to the north of the Worihe River, to the south of the mountains. These include Shuangqiao Valley, Changping Valley and Haizi Valley, and each has its own charming characteristics. The whole of Shuangqiao Valley is accessible by tour bus, and tourists often visit this valley for a convenient nature sightseeing trip. In Changping Valley, visitors can enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking and camping, whereas visiting Haizi Valley is for those with experience in adventure sports and mountaineering. The main Tibetan inhabitants cohabit with people of some several other ethnic groups, including Qiang, Hui and Yi, as well as Han people. Visitors here always appreciate taking in simple local ethnic customs.

In recent years, the government and related departments have reinforced the protection of the natural environment of the Grand Jiuzhai Tourist Region, and returned 400 hectares of farming land for converting back to the original forestry. The local inhabitants "energy resources have changed from coal to electricity and natural gas. With environmentally-friendly sightseeing cars being the only vehicles admitted for use in the region, the air quality is first-class. Among the places first in China to carry out "Restricted Tourism," the region receives no more than 28,000 tourists a day, thus helping to resolve the conflict between the fragile ecological environment and human activity. When discussing the region, Dr. Zhuge Ren, the head of the Green Global 21 representative office in China said, "The Grand Jiuzhai Tourist Region is definitely a source of pride for the Chinese people, and we always present it globally as an exemplary model of China's commitment to environmental protection."

Transport Tips:

Currently, the most convenient way is to fly to Chengdu in Sichuan Province, and then take a bus or train. Otherwise, visitors can fly direct from Chengdu or Chongqing in Sichuan Province to Jiuzhaigou-Huanglong Airport in Chuanzhusi Township of Songpan County. The airport is 83 kilometers and 52 kilometers, respectively, from Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. Also, visitors can arrive in Chengdu, Guangyuan or Jiangyou in Sichuan Province by train, and then take long distance coach buses heading for the scenic region. Additionally, to enter the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture there are two coach bus routes departing separately from Mianyang in Sichuan Province and Wenxian County in Gansu Province. Mianyan is 320 kilometers away from the Jiuzhaigou county seat, and tickets cost around 70 yuan. Wenxian County is 77 kilometers from Jiuzhaigou County, and passengers should expect to pay about 15 yuan per ticket.

(China Pictorial August 18, 2006)

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