Jiuzhaigou. Home of spectacular waterfalls, lakes, and endangered plants and animals including the Sichuan golden monkey, the Sichuan takin, and of course, the Giant Panda (we were on the lookout, but sadly, we saw nothing). Located in the Min Shan mountain range on the edge of the Tibetan Himalayan Mountains, Jiuzhaigou is one of the most beautiful places in all of China, some would say in the world. It is home to many native people, plants and animals. Most currently, it has become the hotspot for many tourists, who in turn, bring buses, food, and of course, small souvenirs that we can bring home and give to our families and friends. Despite the vast number of tourists in the area, it was refreshing to find a place in China with clean air, clean water, and cooler temperatures (more similar to our backyard in Colorado, the Rocky Mountains). After seeing Jiuzhaigou, it will be difficult to top off this experience with a more amazing view. However, our path to get to and from this amazing area was not quite what we had in mind.
We started our trip at 8:00am Sunday, July 3rd. As we drove north in our diesel-burning bus, we fell asleep immediately as we knew we were in for an extensive bus ride. Not long into my glorious nap, I was awoken by the sound of the bus horn (this is a common occurrence in China. Traffic laws seem to be a suggestion rather than a rule, so people just seem to use their horn to notify people of their presence). As I look out the side window covered with water from the rain, my first sight was an extremely angry river raging below us, with the most beautiful mountains to the other side. As I look forward through the front window, I saw mud falling from the mountain on our right onto the road. Our bus slows down, and then drives right over the continuous flow. Twice we were forced to stop by police officers because the roads ahead were too dangerous for us to drive forward. Somehow, after a few minutes, we were able to continue on. The bus ride that was originally estimated to take 8 hours ended up taking us closer to 12. Once we arrived at our hostel in Jiuzhaigou, we were informed that the road had washed out due to mudslides. We were the last bus to arrive and no more buses were going to Chengdu for at least two days. We were lucky.
At our hostel, we got a good night sleep as we were venturing out into the National Park the following day. Upon our arrival, it was hard to ignore the thousands of people in line ahead of us, waiting to enter the park. Once we entered the park, the number of people grew exponentially. As beautiful as the park was, it was hard to ignore the thousands of people walking around and the buses cruising by the lakes burning off their destructive gasses. At one time, this place was reserved for wild animals and local people dedicated to yak herding. Now, it has become a hot spot for tourists across the world, meaning the less and less natural habitat for its natural residents.
Outside of the park, small shops were set up on the path most tourists take to get to and from their hotels and hostels to sell small souvenirs. As we walked from shop to shop, it was hard not to notice the aggressive selling techniques the shop owners displayed. As tourists negotiated prices, we thought about these local people and how this was now their primary tool for making a living. It is difficult not to see the effect tourism has made on the local people here. Once simple yak herders, they now rely on the tourism that the park brings to sell scarves, yak horns, and Tibetan flags to those who visit.
Despite the thousands of people, Jiuzhaigou National Park was by far one of the most amazing places either of us has ever seen (as proven by our 300+ pictures on our cameras). Trying to accurately describe this place would serve as a huge injustice to the beauty it. Every time we turned a corner or went another direction, we saw beautiful trees, stunning waterfalls, or a crystal clear turquoise colored lake. People walked through the park consistently were picking up garbage to ensure that the park stayed as clean as possible. Moss grew over rocks in the water, lush forests surrounded us, yet at times, we felt as though we were in the middle of a tropical paradise from the clean clear water that we were lucky enough to see. After seeing this beauty, it is not difficult to see why so many people chose to come visit as their vacation. However, the park itself is not the only amazing feature of the area.
Because Jiuzhaigou is so close to the Tibetan border, Sam and I were lucky enough to get to visit a family that lives in a small village in the mountains. Upon our arrival, we were offered yak butter tea and bread with honey made from high altitude bees making this honey the best honey that we have ever tasted. We learned about the Tibetan culture and ate homemade food (yak noodles). While there, we hiked down a mountain through her village and met more people. Everywhere we looked, we saw Tibetan flags. Fun fact: When we asked about the meaning behind these flags, we were told that all of the flags have prayers written on them. When the wind blows, the good wishes and prayers are blown across the land and land on all those who are in its path.
Our return trip home was also an interesting experience. Because the original road to Chengdu was closed, we took an alternate road back to the city. As beautiful as the roads were (we were surrounded by mountains, cliffs, and rivers the entire way back), there were multiple times we were forced to stop due to accidents on the road ahead or rocks falling on the road ahead. More than once, we were forced to drive around rocks that had fallen on the road.
It’s hard to believe that we only have 1 week left in China; in fact, today is our last full day in Chengdu. Our time here so far has been such a great experience for both of us. We have met so many wonderful people and seen so many amazing things. These next few weeks will include a lot of travel, as we will be going to Xi’an this weekend for a few days followed by 5 days in Beijing. We will keep you undated on all of our further travels.