A trip that brings me to visit a world-class nature wonder listed under UNESCO’s ‘World Natural Heritage’; Jiuzhaigou and UNESCO’s ‘World Heritage Site’; Mt Emei and Leshan Giant Buddha. Sichuan County of China surprisingly offers more than what I can imagine. My heart was captivated!
I have always thought of visiting China someday, something about the country intrigues me and beckons me there. However my command of Mandarin, or rather lack of it have kept my intention at bay. In autumn 2005, I had decided to face up to the challenges and signed up for a tour in China with my better half. China is a huge country, where should we go? Thanks to the internet, we did some search and Jiuzhaigou seems the ideal place for us to start. Being a nature lover, this serene place captures our hearts with its breathtaking vistas. The season is autumn, perfect time to visit Jiuzhaiguo.
Described by many visitors around the world as Chinese’s scenic waterland, second only to none, Jiuzhaigou is located in the province of Sichuan in central China. By road it is about 400 km north of Chengdu – the capital of Sichuan province.
We travelled by road, the best way to see China, however the conditions of the roads the does pose a certain challenge. “Nothing to worry about, it is perfectly safe” quips the sales lady at the tour agent. Though I believed this to be nothing more than a sales pitch, I take some comfort in it.
We arrived at the Chengdu Internation airport at about 2pm. Our group of 10 is greeted by our local tour guide, Xiao Yang and a coach driver whom we called Sze Fu (master). Chengdu is a very advanced city both technologically and infrastructure wise. One thing that is hard to miss about this city is people, there are so many. Riding mostly on bicycles, scooters and walking there are simple people everywhere. This is a real breathing, living city. I have not seen so many people on the roads in any cities that I have visited before.
Our first stop for the day is Wenshu Monastery, a sacred place for the Buddhists to pay pilgrimage and prayers. This is a Buddhist temple of the Zen tradition; build in the Sui Dynasty (607-617 AD). One of the earliest Buddhists monastery in Chengdu, it still maintains the ancient architectural style of West Sichuan.
Our next stop is the Chengdu Research base for the Giant Panda. Occupying 105 hectares of the northern suburb of Chengdu, it is both conservation and breeding area for the Chinese Panda, a species which is on the verge of extinction. With their broad structure and short legs, they walk with a clumsy gait which adds to their endearing nature. I could stand all day looking at these lovely creatures but alas nightfall is upon us and the sky is getting darker. It is time to go.
We spend a night in Mianyang which is a city 132 north east of Chengdu city. Incidentally Mianyang is also the home for the atomic and hydrogen bomb for the Chinese.
The journey continues on the next day to Jiangyou where we visited the Li Bai memorial hall. Li Bai, a well-known poet in the Tang Dynasty, was born in the 701AD. He constant drunk, he has been associated with jars of wine and a hundred poems. He has made tremendous contribution to enrich the Chinese literature and is vastly studied even today.
After a quick lunch, we continue of journey to Pingwu, a town about 130km away. Bao Ern Temple is the attraction here. This is a 600 years old temple. It remains standing today is made even more amazing by the fact that this temple is made purely of wood. The builders and architect have chosen a type of wood which is naturally anti-termite. It has also averted destruction by the Chinese rulers owing to the significant phase ‘Long Life the Current Majesty’(in Chinese characters) which is carved into its walls, showing perpetual support for the emperors.
The day is getting dark and we settled for our journey to Jiuzhaigou Valley after ‘stomach filler’ type of dinner. Food is definitely not one of the highlights in these parts. We have about 162km to go and most of us settled in for a nap as our coach driver navigates the snaking roads up the mountains. We could feel the temperature dropping with each ascent.
We gathered at the entrance of the New Jiuzhai Hotel early in the morning. We are all ready and raring to go, despite the cold temperature and winds. This is after-all the highlight of our trip and the reason that we are here.
The name Jiuzhaigou stands for the nine (jiu) Tibetian villages scattered throughout the valley. This is a deep valley, stretching 80 km in length and covers a land area of approximately 620 squares km. Accidentally discovered by lumbermen in the ‘70s, the Chinese government decided to preserve it as a National Park. This park is added to UNESCO’s “World Natural Heritage’ list in the 1992.
We waited impatiently for the eco-friendly bus which will take us into the park. This is the high season of the year and there are a lot of people waiting with us. Finally the bus arrives and our journey begins.
The bus twists and turns through the paved road cutting into the Jiuzhaigou Fairyland. One word describes it all – breathtaking! At each corner that the bus takes, we are rewarded with stunning vistas of colourful lakes, cascading waterfalls, snowy mountains and lush autumn forests bursting with the colors of autumn leaves. We had our eyes simply glued to the window, breathless as we take in the beauty of nature at its best. There is a serene feeling as peace and beauty in these lands.
The bus took us to the highest point in the fairyland. We alighted from the bus at Arrow Bamboo Lake, one of the many multi-colored ponds in this park. Next to it is the Panda Lake. These lakes are colored in various hues of blue, green and yellow. We walked down from these lakes to the magnificent Pearl Beach Waterfalls. Stretching about 200 m, this is one of most beautiful waterfalls that I have laid my eyes upon. The multiple streams rushes down like a broad curtains along a 20 degree slope into the shoal, splashing water like millions of silver pearls, and then descends to form fantastic waterfalls with a thunderous roaring echoing throughout the deep valley and misting atmosphere as we passed by.
We had a quick lunch at the Park’s canteen (again food is not the highlight here so take note) before walking down to the Nuorilang Waterfalls. Stretching 140 metres in width, this is the largest waterfall in Jiuzhaigou The massive water current washing over the cliff top, drops about 30 m down and forms numerous spectacular waterfalls. Some water drops straight to the ground, in other places it dashes against protruding rocks midway and explodes into millions of transparent tiny beads. The name ‘Nuorilang’ means ‘magnificent and splendid’ in Tibetan language; this fall is famous for its broadness and grandeur. Strolling in the national park surrounding by trees made up of leaves turned crimson coupled with the intoxicating breeze, chill air and tranquil breathtaking sceneries did not seem enough for a full day trip. Autumn is the most magnificent season of all in the valley. The colorful red autumn leaves and woods are reflected in the sparkling translucent lakes. The next stop was Multi-colour Lake, the essence of the whole Jiuzhaigou, is full of aquatic biological species, such as sponges, algae, and ferns. Because different plants in the pond contain different levels of chlorophyll, they exhibit different colours in the pond. The view resembles an exquisite patchwork of different colours; light green, milky white, bright yellow and pale blue.
Eventually, we made our last stop at Shuzhen Lake which expands over several kilometers with over 40 lakes linked with each other and innumerable waterfalls embellished within. The nearby Shuzhen tribe village has preserved two primitive stone mills and one wooden bridge; they are simple and rough yet enhance the rustic charm of the natives.
The second morning in Jiuzhaigou Valley, we started our journey at 7.30 am to Goddess Lake which lies within the territory of Dalu village in Jiuzhaigou county. According to the Tibetan folklore, Goddess Lake used to be a bathing pool of the fairy. With an altitude more than 2,000 m above sea level, this place is about 49 km from the entrance of Jiuzhaiguo National Park. The landscape is so precipitous and densely vegetated by virgin forest. This scenic drive has passed through 18 sharp corners and zig-zagged gully. The sceneries are amazing, as we moved closer to the snow capped mountain and there was tremendously drop in temperature. On the lower altitude, it is the paradise of wild flora and fauna including the precious medicinal herbs and the home of the mountain horses, goats and cows. After about 2 1/2 hour drive at 40 km/h passing through the scenic grasslands followed by alpine vegetation and edges of snowy narrow winding roads, we finally descended into the valley and got off at the Aquamarine Restaurant – the entrance of Goddess Lake. After 15 minutes of climb on the wooden trail that was rather slippery because of the thousands of frozen snow droplets, we were greeted by the Emerald Lake, sparkling under the bright sun light. We made a closed-loop walk taking shots of the beautiful Jasper Lake. Then, proceed to the charming Multi-Lotus Pools that do have some resemblance of Mammoth in Yellowstone National Park (in Wyoming, USA). This magical landscape consists of several uniquely-shaped terrace-ponds of lime formation and colourful water under the blue sky. We also made a relatively long stop to enjoy the tranquil of Magic Frog Lake. The splendid still water in the lake gave simply a stunning and an authentic reflection. After a 2 hours walk, we finally took a rest and had lunch at Aquamarine restaurant. Returning on the same challenging route across the grassland, alpine forest, snow-capped mountains, we arrived at Dalu village and on the trunk roads again heading to Maoxian, an Abba Tibetan town of 232 km away. We stayed overnight at Maoxian.
We left Maoxian in the morning and as we passed this town, we left behind the culture of the minority ethnics, their vegetation and their people. The journey to Dujiangyan was about 136 km and civilization was more prominent as we were heading towards the capital of Sichuan. We arrived at Dujiangyan after lunch and we took cable car to Er Wang temple. On the cable car, in between the pole number 3 and 4, we managed to steal the bird eyes view of an ingenuous water conservation project built more than 2250 years ago. Initiated by Li Bing, who was the governor during the Qing Dynasty, this structure has guarded against floods, distributing a balanced amount of water for surrounding vegetations and benefited the nations in Chengdu until today. We spent the night at Dujiangyan.
We took a morning journey to Mount EMei. This is located in LeShan county about 177 km on south-west of Chengdu. The highways and flatness of the land due to the fact that this is a basin geographically, allows us to arrive at Mount EMei in less than 2 hours. Mount Emei is one of the four celebrated Buddhist Mountains in China. It is said that Buddhism was brought to Mount Emei in the first century BC. After nearly 2,000 years of development, Mt. Emei has become a place rich in Buddhist heritage, which has made it an influential sacred place in China and the world. There are vivid and exquisite statues of Buddha made of clay, wood, jade, bronze and porcelain. In 1996 Mount Emei was enlisted in the world natural and cultural heritage by the UNESCO. Visits to Baoguo Temple (a monastery) and Fuhu Temple (a nunnery) were the highlights at Mount EMei before we stayed overnight at LeShan city.
We had started to miss home but spirits are still high. We looked forward for the river cruise to view the Giant Buddha located at Mount Lingyun. This Maitreya Buddha of 71 m in height and 28 m wide (at he shoulder) of sitting posture closed to river bank, is the tallest and largest stone sculpture carving Buddha in the world. It was included in the World Natural and Cultural Heritage List in 1996. According to records, the carving of this giant Buddha begun in the in the first year of the reign during the Tang Emperor Tang Xuanzong (713 AD), and completed in the 19th year of Emperor Dezong (803 AD), a total of 90 years. It has endured the test of time and weather, and stood until today owing to the secret of internal drainage system which was incorporated into the sculpture. Drainage pipes were carved in various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains, preventing erosion and degradation of the statue’s internal structure and foundation.
We left Leshan and transferred back to Chengdu. In the afternoon, we visited Wang Jiang Pavillion, a bamboo garden in the heart of Chengdu. Before the Sichuan steamboat dinner, we managed to make last minutes shopping at the famous and busy shopping streets in the capital.
Our last night in Chengdu was entertained by Sichuan cultural show comprised of opera show, changing mask show, stick puppet show, shadow show and local comedy.
On the final day we visited a couple of factories featuring the local industries, including the Chinese pearl and silk industries which are famed internationally.
At about 4.30 pm, we were transferred to Chengdu airport for departure flight back to Penang.
We left Sichuan that evening with unforgettable memories of inspiring Jiuzhaigou, fascinating Goddess Lake, the profound culture, the Chinese and their dialects, the food of Sichuan and the charming city. Under the nutshell, it is truly a journey of discovery for me to feel and touch my ancestral land. In spite of everything, home sweets home and I had been craving for Penang laksa after an eight solid days away!