Travelling to Jiuzhaigou gives Sambid a new perspective on the lesser known parts of China and helps him immerse himself in its beautiful culture.
It was a chilly night in the valley on the edge of Tibetan Plateau. My cousin and I sat around a small table in the lobby. Robbie, the owner of the hostel offered us some Tibetan wine made by his mother. He also brought out his guitar and a chord chart to sing his favourite song "Chengdu". The golden rays of the halogen heater fell on the faces of the Chinese travellers we had just met. The ambience of the hall was very lively with the soothing music, subtle lighting and the lively people. Our three day Jiuzhaigou trip was coming to an end and we had got tickets to leave next morning but neither of us wanted to retire into our rooms. We had walked in a valley that remained isolated to the world for years and gained an unforgettable experience. It was a long journey back but one of the more exhilarating drives we had taken with tyre-squealing and hairpin turns.
I came to China a month earlier. After 4 hours delayed flight and 2 hours and 40 minutes on the plane, I finally landed in Chengdu. "Chengdu-A city where life is slow, people are laid back and women are beautiful". At least that’s what one of the posters said, but I was yet to find out. I was in the airport bus after being escorted from the plane. Most of the people on the bus were Chinese and everyone was busy with their own thing except a Buddhist Monk. A monk who had travelled with me from Nepal. He was the first person that I had an interaction with after landing in Chengdu. It was my first trip to a foreign land and his gentle smile reminded me of home. "Nebo'er ren?" (Are you from Nepal?) he asked. "Yes" I said with a nod. He gave me thumbs up and we parted ways.
It was the tail end of winter season, and China was welcoming spring. Next morning, I went for a walk and all I could see were the high rise buildings and people queuing up at the metro station. It was after all Chengdu City, capital city of Sichuan Province and one of the fastest growing cities in China with a population of 14.43 million. After wandering around for a while, I got lost. In the absence of internet on my phone, I decided to take help of a student from the nearby campus. Instead of showing me the directions, he decided to walk along with me. After reaching one the of the city lanes, I told him I could find my way, but he looked at me with a smile and said "We don't leave people at the half way". I was very pleasantly surprised. Throughout my stay, I have had many such incidences where I felt the extreme hospitality of the locals in Chengdu.
China, with the world's second largest economy is in a fast track of development but it had lost none of its exotic charms. During my stay in China, I have seen and experienced a lot more than the urban beauty of Chengdu. From walking down the narrow alleys of two thousand years old towns, discovering forest monasteries hidden from the city, to visiting Buddhist temples with giant Buddha statues framed by the lush green hills, the beauty of Chendgu is truly mesmerizing. One of those memorable experiences happened 330 km away from Chengdu in the Jiuzhai Valley National Park, which is home to nine Tibetan villages and has over 300 wildlife species and thousands of plant species including many endangered ones.
Me and my cousin Suraj had been in China as part of the 'One belt, One road scholarship'. Understanding the Chinese culture is a big part of our course and what better way to understand culture in a foreign land than to travel the place with the locals. We had a three day National holiday as part of the "Tomb Sweeping Festival", where the people remember the loved ones they had lost. So we planned a trip to Jiuzhai Valley with our new Chinese friends. It was a 9 hour journey on the bus. The winding roads considered as "dangerous" by some of my Chinese friends was nothing in comparison to Nepal where one wrong turn by the driver could mean a ticket to heaven. We got to witness snow caped mountain, peaks fading into grey roads, wild dancing rivers and traditional farmers ploughing the field with their cows.
We had chosen to stay in a hostel instead of an expensive hotel. But as we would find out later, it was more than our money's worth. We stayed at the "Friendship Hostel" and as the name suggested, we did indeed make some friends in the hostel. Robbie, the guy who owned the hotel with his wife were the best hosts one could ever ask for. He was the one who picked us up when we got off the bus. As we drove along the river bank, he talked about his travel in Nepal. "It is a special place. I went there on a road trip from Lhasa" he said.
The surprising thing was that he decided to travel to Nepal during the time of the unofficial blockade by India, which halted the transportation lines in the country. But he considered it as a blessing in disguise since he could avoid the busy traffic and enjoy his own trails on the road. We entered the hostel and were welcomed by photographs of Nepal that he took during his stay. We also took a group picture for his ‘Wall of memories’.
The name "Jiuzhaigou Valley" comes from mandarin which means "Valley of Nine Villages". Its creation is nothing less than magical. The glacial, tectonic and hydrological activities under the earth for thousands of years, created countless colourful lakes, stunning waterfalls and hills. It has been blessed with some of the most captivating landscapes on earth with different lakes and waterfalls having close proximity with one another. With 200 buses operating in the park, it's quite possible to visit many of the sites in a single day. You can also do a two day hike around the vast park. However we used the combination of brief hikes and an occasional bus ride so that we could get the best out of both worlds.
There were various interesting stories related to the valley. According to legend, War god, Dage had gifted a mirror to the Goddess Wunosemo and out of jealousy; a devil caused her to drop the magic mirror on the ground. The mirror shattered into hundreds of shimmering lakes. You might think the legend is true when you see the reflection of beautiful mountains in the lake, particularly the Mirror Lake during early hours of the morning. We took the suggestion of Robbie and travelled to the Arrow Bamboo Lake first on the shuttle bus. The shuttle bus stops are conveniently located at every major scenic spots. Adding to the already colourful scene of the lake was the small but beautiful Arrow Bamboo waterfall. We wandered through the forested area till we reached the blue-green waters of Panda Lake (Xiong Mao Hai) once full of giant pandas.
Sadly there weren't "play" areas around the lakes or falls, as most of the sites were well barred. We pretty much continued amongst the well-shaded forested trail as it proceeded through a series of lakes and waterfalls. Some of the water falls were somewhat significant like the Pearl Shoal water fall which has been part of many movies including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon while others were more like mini-cascades that helped us take our time as we would frequently stop to take photos.
Five-Flower Lake is one of the more photogenic spots of the valley since it exhibits different shades of blue and green. The valley was commercialised and attracted around 2 million visitors every year, the place still retained a rural countryside charm as you can see Buddhist monasteries and small Tibetan shops along the way. After returning back to the major shuttle stop, our next destination was the Long Lake, the highest, largest and the deepest lake in the Zechawa valley. It remains frozen for most part of the year. The mythical tales of a monster sleeping under its depth has often captured the imagination of the locals.
After a quick walk along the snow covered road to the colourful pond, we took the shuttle to the mirror lake then we decided to walk our way back home. We saw signs throughout the walk closing off old trails that would've probably shortened the walk. We passed by the Tiger Lake, Rhinoceros Lake and several wonderful water bodies with no name. Seeing the yak grazing reminded me of Mustang, back in Nepal which was similar in some ways. Back in the hostel, many suggested us to go to Huanlong but unfortunately, that'll have to wait until the next time we're here.
The day was coming to an end and I was trying to give my own meaning to the songs Robbie was singing with so much passion. Travelling to Jiuzhaigou had given me a new perspective on China. In the days to follow, I decided to travel to the lesser known parts of China and immerse myself in its beautiful cultures.
Jiuzhaigou is 330 km from Chengdu. You can take a direct bus from Chengdu Terminal that departs at 7 :30.
The ticket fare is 120 RMB.
It is a good place to visit all year around with every season having its own charm.
Admission fee - RMB 220 (110 for students)
Shuttle fee - RMB 90
Sambid Bilas Pant, is a freelance writer and photographer who likes telling stories about the people he meets and places he travels.
Photos: Sambid Bilas Pant