A Fairy Tale of Autumn @ Jiuzhaigou

Before I start to write something about this trip, I have done some brainstorming about the one-of-a-kind vocabulary to describe the beautiful scenery on this trip. But soon I realize that the magnificent natural beauty is beyond description. I had been dreaming of visiting Jiuzhaigou, a famous nature reserve located 330 km north of Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan Province. My dream came true this autumn.
 
I joined a package tour for four days. Our first destination was Chengdu, which was very close to the "5/12" earthquake center earlier this year. Thanks to this disastrous earthquake, Chengdu has earned its fame worldwide. In the past, speaking of Chengdu, people would recall the lovely pandas. But now, most people would immediately think of that very earthquake and concern about local people’s life in the aftermath of the quake. However, according to our local tour guide, Chengdu is still a typical city for recreation and relaxation in China. Chengdu people enjoy playing mahjong and drinking tea at a number of traditional teahouses at their leisure. By visiting the Panda Research Base in Chengdu, I understood how relaxed life could be here. The pandas were lovely and lazy. They did nothing all day except eating and sleeping. Of course they peed and pooped, too. I got a chance to see how the caretaker stimulated a cute little panda cub to pee and poop. Believe it or not, as the pandas are regarded as "the treasure of the nation"; their urine and feces are precious as well. The caretaker collected the sample for research. All the cubs were raised in a special room. They were treated like human babies, sleeping in a crib. If not sleeping, they would squeak for human’s attention. I stood for a while by the big glass window to watch every move of these panda cubs. They were so adorable! I admired the caretaker could hold them in her arms but also sympathetic for her duty that she looked after them just like the human infants. It’s quite a hard job. I wish I could spend a whole day at this panda research base.
 
The tour guide took us to a restaurant which served dozens of dishes of Sichuan snacks. This was our first dinner in Sichuan. Paralleled to Cantonese cuisine, Sichuan cuisine is renowned at home and abroad. Sichuan snacks are also famous. I noticed when I was in Guangzhou, almost all Sichuan dishes were super hot for me. But maybe the climate and the water supply is different in Chengdu, even the spicy dishes are not as spicy as those in Guangzhou. It was a pity that I did not have a chance to go to the teahouse in Chengdu. I plan to return to Chengdu just for one single purpose—dining!!! At night I went to a Sichuan Opera show. Quite different from Peking Opera, Sichuan Opera does not have much vocal singing but focuses on body movement and face expression. The Sichuan Face Changing and Sichuan Puppet Face Changing were the highlights. I had an impressive evening.
 
The next day our tour group took an early flight to Jiuzhaigou. Because of the earthquake, some parts of the mountain road are damaged and blocked. Now the most convenient way to Jiuzhaigou is to go by plane, which takes about 40 minutes from Chengdu. The airport lies in between two prestigious attractions—Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou. Therefore, upon our arrival our first destination was Huanglong. The weather here was much chillier than that in Chengdu. It was about 10 Celsius. According to our tour guide, the day before it was snowing and all the flights were delayed or canceled. We were lucky though as our plane landed on time. Huanglong, literally Yellow Dagon in English, is well known for its colorful ponds, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and highland forest. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. I knew nothing about Huanglong before traveling to it. Honestly speaking, you need to be prepared for an endless "l-o-n-g" trekking at this site. I took a cable car to the mountaintop. I thought I could see the ponds right away but it was far from it. I trekked through 2 km pathway at an altitude of 3100 meters. I could not walk fast or even run because of highland reaction which could easily result in nausea, dizziness, headache and even coma. I kept walking and walking over 60 minutes or so. I was sometimes giddy with my non-stopping feet when watching my way. By the time I got to the path which leads to the colorful ponds, it was about time for me to walk down for departure. I was too tired to walk up some more and decided to return. I did not miss the colorful ponds though. On my way down the mountain, I saw some beautiful ponds. Both Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou are famed for its outstanding travertine, namely calcium carbonate, formations. The crystal clear ponds immediately caught my eye from a distance. Cyan water, kyaki stones, yellowish and greenish mountains and occasionally some scarlet maples as backdrop, everything is perfectly woven together as a charming water color painting by Mother Nature. With the sound of incessant streams and breeze brushing through the forest, the entire ecosystem is breathing rhythmically as if a sound man. The landscape at Huanglong is well kept. There haven’t been any battles or natural disaster stepping on this intact area. If you are looking for endangered species or a recluse haven, Huanglong must be the place.
 
After walking about 6 km in one day, I did not feel like going anywhere at night. Having a restful sleep, I felt much better to enjoy myself at Jiuzhaigou the next day. It was on October 29th, 2008—exactly one year after my mom passed away. The weather was superb, even the tour guide said we were very lucky to encounter such pleasant weather as the previous few days it was snowy and cloudy. I deemed it was my mom’s blessing. Thanks to her blessing, I had a memorable time in the fairyland of autumn. I wish she could enjoy as much as I did. It was very convenient for tourists to visit by green fuel shuttle bus at the national park. Since there are many lakes, we visited them one by one by shuttle bus. Jiuzhaigou, namely a valley of nine villages, is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Early in the morning as there was no breeze, the lake reflection was as crystal clear as a mirror. The tranquil surface of water was so attractive. It was like an enthralling magnet taking my breath away unconsciously. From the map the geographical shape of Jiuzhaigou is like a letter "Y." I went through almost all the lakes. I was totally captivated by the magnificent scenery. In late autumn, the mountains were all clad in colorful dress—green, verdant, yellow, orange, red, white and grey. While the water itself had brilliant colors in the sun—emerald, cyan, turquoise and navy blue. With the reflection of the mountains, the water became even more breathtaking as if a pallet of mysterious hues. Neither an artist nor a photographer could capture the best combination of tinge and light. It must be Mother Nature’s unpredictable creativity and her magical hands! I passed by several waterfalls, one of which never freeze in winter while the other one had a spectacular frozen image. The cascading waterfalls and the sturdy old trees made up for a picturesque painting of motion and still. Jiuzhaigou is a photogenic place. Many professional photographers from all over the world come here to indulge themselves. I even saw a couple taking wedding photos at Jiuzhaigou. The tour guide on the shuttle bus introduced that the local Tibetan people call the colorful lakes "Haizi" in Chinese, meaning "son of the sea." Originating in glacial activity, these lakes were dammed by rockfalls and other natural phenomena, then solidified by the processes of carbonate deposition. Some lakes have a high concentration of calcium carbonate, and their water is very clear so that the bottom is often visible even at high depths. Generally speaking, we could see the depth of 8-10 meters in the water in a sunny day. So the lake looks shallow but it is actually very deep. With the azure sky as backdrop, the colorful foliage at Jiuzhaigou was another fantastic treat next to its famous water scenery. Standing by the lake and watching the entire picture, I was really in a wonderland without stress, noise and trouble. I wish I could settle down here and appreciate the landscape every day. As it got dark, I left Jiuzhaigou unwillingly…
 
At night we went to a Tibetan family for a light meal. It was a big family of 20 or so. The sisters and brothers welcomed us at the gate as soon as we got off the bus. We were greeted with a white long scarf, similar to the flower lei in Hawaii. Then we spun the prayer wheels and prayed around a yak head. The sisters and brothers treated us with several Tibetan dishes, such as beef in herbal soup, special potatoes which grew in the mountains, beans and other unknown goodies. The highlight of the meal was the barbecue lamb and a wild chicken. I did not care for the lamb but the chicken was delicious. One of the sisters in the family played a wedding singing game with one of our group members. They made so many hilarious jokes that all of us got a great kick. After the meal, we danced by the campfire. Tibetans are great dancers. No matter male or female, old or young, they all can dance wonderfully. We just followed suit and my imitation was just enough to keep me warm in the chilly evening but not for visual pleasure.
 
The trip ended with lots of beautiful memories. I had a chance to see the sunrise on the plateau and the low cloudy sky at the highland airport. It was said that it used to be 30,000 people a day at Jiuzhaigou before earthquake. But now it only reaches 3,000 a day. So I came at the right time without too many visitors pushing and shoving to take pictures. The good weather, the breathtaking landscape and the friendly Tibetan people, it seemed to be a great trip especially tailored for me. I enjoyed myself immensely.
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