Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, Sichuan Province
Visit the deservedly famous Jiuzhaigou National Park and then head on to nearby Huanglong, an equally scenic but less well-known area of still ponds and coloured rocks.
|Day One main activities||Meet up in Chengdu or Huanglong, explore Songpan Ancient Town.|
|Day Two main activities||Hiking and driving around the key sites of Jiuzhaigou.|
|Day Three main activities||Hiking around Huanglong National Park.|
|Day Four main activities||Visit Munigou Park, private bus back to Chengdu.|
|Day Five main activities||Visit temples and food street in Chengdu, Huanglongxi Ancient Town.|
Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture
Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong National Parks are hidden in the mountains of the Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, in the north of Sichuan Province. The main ethnic group in this prefecture is Tibetan, with the Han and Qiang ethnic groups making up the majority of the remainder.
The area was largely unknown to outsiders until 1975, and, after a bit of exploitation by loggers, was declared a protected national park in 1982. Since 1992 both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong have been UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Before the Huanglong Airport was built, reaching the parks involved a long drive along twisting mountain roads. Flying in to Huanglong Airport allows us to cut down on the travel time to the parks.
Jiuzhaigou National Park
The name Jiuzhaigou translates as The Valley of Nine Villages. Seven of the villages are still populated, and as at 2003 there was a permanent population of around 1,000. Previously residents worked farms and fields, but now the focus is on tourism.
Many of the residents are of the mountain-dwelling Qiang ethnic group, who carry on the old traditions for styles of clothing and hair. An interesting fact: some of the Qiang trace their line of descent through the female side, instead of the male side.
Nearly half of the 720 square kilometers of Jiuzhaigou is covered by virgin mixed forest, an amazing sight when covered by autumn colours. Even more amazing would be to spot one of the Giant Pandas or Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys, two endangered species that are said to inhabit the forests in tiny numbers.
However, the most well-known features, and the focus of our visit, are the greens and blues of the many lakes in the valleys. The colours of the lakes depend on the depth of the water and the concentration of different minerals in the water.
We‘ll use the park bus system to cut out some of the longer walks between scenic spots, but still hope to get some good walking in. Our main stops are going to be Five Flowers Lake, Panda Lake and waterfalls, and Pearl Waterfall.
Huanglong National Park
Huanglong translates as ’Yellow Dragon‘, a name given to the 3.6km long gully filled with pools and ponds of clear water covering colourful mineral deposits and concentrations of algae.
Yellow Dragon Gully itself is surrounded by scenery worth a mention: forests of spruce trees at the lower altitudes, and alpine meadows and permanently snow-capped peaks further up.
We’ll take the cable car up to the top levels to visit Huanglong Temple and the surrounding travertine terraces, and we‘ll then make a 3-4 hour hike down the boardwalks of the park. On the way down, we‘ll pass all the key sights: the Colourful Calcification Pond, the Yucui Colourful Pond, the Golden Sand Beach, and the travertine pools known as the Dragon‘s Scales.
Travertine is a type of limestone formed by the buildup of minerals from spring water. It‘s usually porous, which makes it easy for colourful plants and algae to grow in and on top of it. Buildups of travertine often take the shape of terraces, which Huanglong is famous for. Other places that are well-known for travertine terraces are Yellowstone National Park and Mammoth Springs in the USA, and Pammukale in Turkey.
Also in the area, and also very scenic, is the Munigou Park. A little further off the tourist trail, Munigou is quieter than both Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. We‘ll walk up into the park to get a good look at the tall waterfall and take another path back down to the bottom, passing through forests and walking by small ponds, pools, streams, and more waterfalls.
Ancient Cities and Towns
While in the area, we‘ll explore two ancient towns: Songpan, and Huanglong Xi.
Songpan is an ancient walled city, first built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and fortified with thick walls during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It‘s currently inhabited by around 70,000 people - an interesting mixture of Tibetan, Qiang, Hui, and Han ethnic groups.
Huanglong Xi contains temples, archways, ancient houses and trees, split by a waterway that made it a regional center of trade in times gone by. We‘ll explore the alleys and lanes, and see if we can pick up a few trinkets from the streetside souvenir sellers.
The last night of the trip we‘ll stay in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. While in town, we‘ll investigate the Temple of Great Compassion, and the Wuhou Temple before taking a stroll down the Jinli Snacks Street—a good way to get a look at the different culture and tastes of Sichuan Province.