With my limited Mandarin, my first trip to China brought me from Lanzhou southwards to Jiuzhaigou. It has always been a burning desire to visit Jiuzhaigou after having set eyes on the amazing pictures of the national park many years back.
I joined 21 other wonderful travel companions as part of Yongo Travel’s 10 days experience during middle of Oct 2010. First stop was the industrial town of Lanzhou where we met our local Chinese guide named Kelvin.
Our overland journey southbound was a better choice compared to the more popular route from Chengdu. Besides going through better road conditions, the coach took us through plenty of scenic landscapes and rustic villages.
Along the way, we visited several important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples. The first being Labrang monastery which is one of six lamaseries of the Gelugpa Sect of Lamaism. It houses several colleges such as Medicine and Astrology where many important Tibetan monks have studied before. Besides being an important learning institution, Labrang monastery contains plenty of artefacts. Thus one can see many devotees performing their prayers around the monastery grounds as part of their pilgrimage.
Another key Tibetan Buddhist site is the village of Langmusi at the border of Gansu and Sichuan provinces. There is two separate sets of monasteries, which is locally known as either Gansu or Sichuan monastery respectively.
I had the opportunity to experience a magical sunrise atop the Sichuan monastery. We woke up early, with the hope of seeing the monks in their morning prayers. However we didn’t manage to experience it as they were busy preparing for an important festival in 2 days time. But the reward was the amazing sun rays breaking through the misty mornings.
We spent the rest of the morning walking up the valley of Langmu where we passed through the birth place of the White Dragon River which flows through the village. Came to an grassy opening in the valley, where we encountered a group of professional wildlife photographers with their huge telephoto lenses and 3 monks enjoying some outdoor R&R.
I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the mountains behind the Gansu monastery. The ridge took me towards the sky burial grounds where the Tibetan Buddhists actually leave their dead to be picked clean by the birds, sometimes with human intervention involved.
Our coach ride from Langmusi towards Ruoregai (or Zoige) brought us through Zoige Marsh, world’s largest highland marsh in the world and home to many wildlife. During our time, we saw mostly herds of yaks and sheeps grazing, under the watchful eyes of their Tibetan masters.
We took a side detour to Tangke where we climbed up a long wooden walkway to view the spectacular 1st bend of Yellow River. The walk did leave me breathless, partly because of the higher altitude and the awesome sunset colours as we watch the sunset from the top.
Besides passing by many Tibetan Buddhist communities, we saw plenty of Chinese Muslim people too. Local mosques were interesting, since it has typical Chinese temple architecture with its curved roofs and vibrant colours but topped with the crescents instead. It’s always amazing how people from two different religious backgrounds can live side by side each other harmoniously.
Food along our journey was mostly Sichuan style – hot & spicy, oily and salty. Hearty peacant food to keep the locals sustained through the harsh cold weather. Most people here tend to eat more hand-pulled noodles (la mian) or steamed buns (mantou) with their dishes. Managed to savour plenty of yak meat & lamb which is found in abundance here compared to other meats.
The highlight of this trip would be the visits to Huang Long and Jiuzhaigou national parks. Visited Huanglong first, and our early morning arrival was greeted with fresh snow which have fallen night before. Experiencing snow is always a delight to most Malaysians, since we live in a hot & humid climate all year round.
Huanglong is famed for its series of colored pools and waterfalls formed by calcite deposits. Took the cable car to the top and started our walk through the many natural wonders found along the way.
The biggest & highest series of travertine pools was a sight to behold. Managed to reach it before the hordes of tourists came along – enjoyed the picturesque wonder in peace.
Had a wonderful picnic lunch at the open deck in front of the top temple. Basked in the warm sunshine, definitely a welcome treat after the icy cold morning.
Rest of afternoon was spent visiting the rest of the ponds and waterfalls along the walkway down to the park entrance. Towards the end, I became so blase by the similar sights that I just sat down near the last colourful ponds and rested my tired body. Sitting there people watching, the craving for coffee was intense – since I haven’t a decent cup since stepping foot in tea-drinking China.
Visit to Jiuzhaigou was both breathtaking but crazy intense. The natural beauty of the lakes and waterfalls is definitely out of this world. The stressful bit was trying to see as much possible within the day inside the huge national park, and dealing with the hordes of local tourists. It is common affair that the locals have no civic sense of queuing up – so getting on & off the buses inside Jiuzhaigou transformed normal people into desperate refugees shoving each other around.
Main sights inside Jiuzhaigou park is laid out on a Y-shaped and visitors have the options to use the hop-on & off buses or wooden walkways to reach all the attractions.
One of the best way of attempting Jiuzhaigou is to take the bus from entrance all the way to western end towards the Virgin Forest. From there, catch the next bus down towards Arrow Bamboo Lake. From that point, one can start walking down to the rest of the beautiful sights along the wooden walkway towards Nuorilang.
Reckoned one of the most enchanting stop was the Five Flower Lake due to it clear & intensely rich lake waters. With fallen tree logs scattered around the lake bottom, and the mountains in the background showing off its autumn colours – even the most basic camera will capture brilliant pictures. Encountered plenty of couples taking their wedding pictures around this lake – salute to the poor bride who had to endure the torture of walking around in her heavy gown and thick make-up.
The next big wow for me was the crescent-shaped Pearl Shoals Waterfall, which starts out as little noisy ripples across a wide travertine area at Pearl Shoals.
By the time we reached Nuorilang bus terminal bus terminal (at the crossroad of the Y formation), we only have another 1 hour to explore the rest of Jiuzhaigou. So decided to take the bus all the way to the other end at Long Lake and catch the next bus down towards exit. Definitely a mad rush to reach the exit in time for our evening journey back to Songpan.
The last day was spent sittting in the coach bus for the whole day as we made our northbound trip from Songpan to Lanzhou. Slight hiccup along the way, as our coach was stopped by the police just before lunch. It was one of those nasty traffic stops where the local police use the opportunity to gain “side income”. As our guide refuse to budge on the asking price, we wasted time for the negotiations, which turned sour as the police team decided to disappear at the dot for lunch along with some paperwork from our coach driver. Another wonderful experience not uncommon in China these days.
Definitely enjoyed my first adventure to China – amazing sceneries, interesting local communities and wonderful travel companions. With such vast area filled with so many different landscapes, people and food – I am sure that there will be plenty of China escapades to come. Yes, the quest is on to learn and practise my pitiful Mandarin!