In the heart of Central China, at the foothills of the Minh Mountains, lays Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve.
The Chinese say “Nowhere else under the sky can match Jiuzhaigou”.
This fabulous wilderness of pure streams, lakes the colour of opal, and thick forests of spruce, maple, rhododendrons, azaleas and bamboo, is so vastly different from the rest of China that needs to be visited to truly get a sense of the variety of landscapes and environments that make up the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Y-shaped valley of the nine villages (the English translation of Jiuzhai) was discovered accidentally by loggers in the 1960s. Up until then only the 110 families of local Tibetans knew of its existence. A legend attributes its creation to the shattering of a precious mirror that had been polished with clouds and wind as a gift for a beautiful goddess. The goddess, however, dropped it while she was admiring herself and its shards, falling to the ground, created the surreal lakes and ponds of Jiuzhaigou’s 72,000 hectares of wilderness.
Today we know that this superb landscape was created around 2 to 3 million years ago. At that time the Earth’s crust folded and rose in cataclysmic upward thrusts that created the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau of which the Minh Mountains are part. The deep valleys amongst the peaks became vast reservoirs of travertine, lime and other elements contained in the rocks that give the lakes in Jiuzhaigou, and the Hanglong pools, their surreal colouration. In 1978 Jiuzhaigou became a Nature Reserve and all logging stopped to protect the rare and ancient spruce and pine forests. In 1992 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage ecosystem.
The local Tibetan population has lived along these valleys for nearly 3,000 years. Their beliefs and their proximity to nature have given rise to a rich tapestry of agrarian and mystic traditions based on Buddhism and the more ancient Bon religion. Their music, murals, folk tales and dances recount fabulous stories of demons and dragons populating the lakes, caves, and mountains, and of valiant warriors defeating them in strenuous duels aided by benevolent gods.
“The Jiuzhaigou Valley is a fairyland landscape of crystal clear, strange-coloured blue, green and purplish pools, lakes, waterfalls, limestone terraces, caves and other beautiful features.”
Why Visit Jiuzhaigou?
When I visited Jiuzhaigou, autumn tinged the landscape in hews of brown, red and yellow contrasting sharply against the sparkling crystal-clear turquoise, emerald and garnet waters of the lakes and ponds. I walked the 60km or so of wooden walkways and bridges that crisscross and loop around this wonderful natural enclave. Far from the hustle and bustle of Chinese cities, this is a region with a fascinating history, culture and nature.
Although Jiuzhaigou is unknown to foreigners, it is a dream destination for Chinese travellers, especially honeymooners. So if you decide to visit, do not expect to be alone. To enjoy some solitude one has to be prepared to explore passed the throngs of awe-struck local visitors, who, thankfully, only venture as far as the easiest-to-reach locations.
In the last few years, the luxury hotel industry has built some great properties, with spas, villas and even a golf course that allow travellers to this region to enjoy its wild beauty from a comfortable and very pleasant base. If you are considering a trip to China and would like to experience Jiuzhaigou and the country’s most iconic and memorable locations, contact Nomads Secrets and I will curate a fully customised journey that will showcase the best of this diverse and interesting land.