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Journey to A Water Wonderland
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in Sichuan Province is one of the natural wonders of China with its lakes, waterfalls, ponds, streams, springs, rivers and rapids combining to create a watery dreamland.


As a Shanghainese who has made lots of visits during holidays to the Chinese classical gardens in nearby cities like Suzhou and Hangzhou, I finally made up my mind to venture somewhere different, to a place distinct from the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan life.


Fortunately, the vast motherland has many, many locations where one can view the beauty of Nature. And so, at the end of June, there I was in Sichuan Province in Southwest China.


Sichuan has always taken pride in its reputation of a land of abundance and has a whole host of natural wonders completely different from Shanghai. The journey seemed to enhance my expectations from the very beginning.


Following a quick look around Chengdu, the provincial capital, I couldn't wait to make a bee-line for my long-desired dreamland destination - Jiuzhaigou, also known as the Valley of Nine Villages.


But first there was a real test of my endurance and patience - a nine-hour bus ride from Chengdu.


Apparently, viewing the spectacular scenery was doomed to be hard-earned.


The narrow and rugged mountain paths have endowed Sichuan with poetic lines from ancient times.


That's because traveling around the province is harder than scaling the sky.


No wonder it is said that Sichuan driving license holders are famous for their motoring skills, especially for getting around precipitous paths on mountainsides on rainy nights which happen a lot.


I felt much at ease on a bus with a driver who boasted nearly 30 years driving experience in such circumstances.


Still, the long odyssey before I reached Jiuzhaigou proved to be to my benefit because it made my first sight of the valley absolutely worthwhile.


Jiuzhaigou is about 430 kilometers from Chengdu and lies within the boundary of Jiuzhuigou County of the Aba Autonomous Prefecture.


Tibetan and Qiang ethnic minority groups constitute the majority of the population. There are nine Tibetan villages scattered throughout the valley, hence its name, although in fact we could only gain access to three of them.


What makes Jiuzhaigou special are its water - rivers, lakes, springs, streams, ponds, waterfalls and rapids. As the popular saying goes: "You won't enjoy seeing any other mountain once you've seen Yellow Mountain and neither will you favor any other waterscape when you're back from Jiuzhaigou."


Reputedly, the locals yearned to see the sea so they named their home region's waterscape haizi which means "son of the sea." I indulged myself in my thoughts so that they would find nourishment in this tranquil and remote place far from urban uproar.


Visitors can go to Jiuzhaigou National Park to explore the picturesque valley that is proud to be listed as a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site and which is also a shooting location favored by movie directors. The well-developed hardware facilities inside the park live up to its world-class fame. The three valleys winding around form a "Y" shape and contain many scenic spots.


The environmentally-friendly sightseeing bus takes you to the highest point of Jiuzhaigou and the Long Lake at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters where you can sense brisk and cool breezes all around you. The Long Lake is an unparalleled fantasy of sapphire blue with snow-capped mountains in the distance.


Standing by the lake and gazing at the prospect of the mountains, I felt as if I could penetrate through the view in front of my eyes and see afar.


Next, I walked to the Jade Lake, going from the largest lake to the smallest. The corals, reefs and all the the creatures in the lake integrate with the light from different angles and change color from sandy beige to dark puce, from light green to navy blue, every change triggered as if by magic.


Jiuzhaigou not only lulls you with its serene embrace but also awakens you with its fierce tension.


You realize the truth of this when you are under the Pearl Lake Waterfalls, stunned and soaked through. The torrential current of the fall drops majestically and thunderously, just like thousands upon thousands of pearls rolling down from heaven.


The well-known TV serial "Journey to the West," adapted from the classic novel of the same name, had several episodes set there. A few kilometers away is the Nuorilang Waterfall, the fall with widest span in Jiuzhaigou, and one which offers an inspiring spectacle. You can marvel at the splendor of the fall during the rainy season from June on, and lasting about three months.


I had expected to be shocked by the Mirror Lake but as luck would have it, it began drizzling when I reached the lake and the calm mirror face was disturbed. It reminded of the fickle weather of Jiuzhaigou, which may change in a second. You are likely to experience a shower under sunshine or step across two seasons within a single day because of the over 1,000-meter drop in altitude.


The unique color of the Jiuzhaigou water impressed me, almost transparent pure blue or somewhat greenish black. Its clarity can even give visibility of more than 20 meters deep in some places. The crystal-limpid waters enchant every visitor with the peerless fidelity of their reflections which left me speechless.


You can choose either to roam in the valley between spots or take a ride on a sightseeing bus that calls at every spot and saves you walking. However, convenience brought regret when I saw the heavy smoke from the engine exhaust staining the previously pollution-free mountain air.


When you come to visit Jiuzhaigou, you must not miss Huanglong Valley, or Yellow Dragon Valley, about 140 kilometers from Jiuzhaigou, also famous for its cluster of ponds. Huanglong Valley sits on an altitude much higher than Jiuzhaigou, which means different scenic wonders as well as a more tiring and arduous journey.


Huanglong Valley is said to be the bathing place of the Fairy Mother Goddess in Chinese myth, adding some mystery to its atmosphere.


Huanglong's best scenic spot is located at the top of the valley and this was my ultimate goal-the famed, Multi-Colored Lake at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters.


Undoubtedly, for an urbanite lacking physical exercise, the ordeal on both my constitution and mental power stretched me to the limit. But you will never know the heartfelt joy awaiting you until you climb up to the top. At that point, I was closer to the beautiful lake, closer to the snow-capped mountains, closer to the fabulous blue sky.


The multi-colored lake refracts light into many colors. And a bright tinge of blue pervades the place. But for the crowds of visitors, I would have thought I truly was in a fairyland.


I started to miss the fairy-like waterscape of Jiuzhaigou even before I left Sichuan. I will surely pay a second visit, probably in autumn when the colors are stronger and changing.


(Shanghai Star July 16, 2007)


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