Three hours North East from Songpan lies Jiuzhaigou Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for the natural beauty of its waterfalls and lakes. The reserve is a Y-shaped gully with rivers that form a series of terraced lakes. Often the lakes are very close together, so as one lake overflows from its banks it spills down into the next one. In other areas a river or swamp covers the distance between two lakes. Sometimes the river is two metres wide and gushing fast, and sometimes it is hundreds of metres wide but very shallow. The river runs through cool forests and lush meadows of tall grass and flowers, nestled in between soaring pine-covered mountain ridges. There are also a tremendous number of waterfalls of all shapes and sizes.

There are over a hundred kilometres of walking tracks and the elevation rises from 2000 metres at the park entrance to over 3100 metres in parts. Tourists who don't feel like hiking between the more famous photogenic sites can use the park's fleet of buses to move directly from scenic site to scenic site. Alternatively, the park has well made wooden boardwalks through the forests and directly above rivers and waterfalls. These walkways between the famous sites ended up being many of our favourite parts of the reserve.

A unique feature of Jiuzhaigou is the vividly blue coloured water which is caused by a high concentration of calcium carbonate. Each lake varies from blue to turquoise to green and they are all impossibly clear, so much so that fish are easily seen and logs on the bottom can be seen hundreds of metres away. These features make the lakes indescribably beautiful, more blue than the sky and as clear as liquid glass.

The park's steep entrance fee buys two days entry but the ridiculously extortionate bus fare (90 yuan) only covers one day. However, due to a tip-off from a couple we met on the Songpan horse trek, we were able to walk into the park on the first day and catch the bus out for free! Suckers!

We found Jiuzhaigou to be extremely impressive. It was even more beautiful than Wuyishan and we thought that was going to be very hard to top. After two fantastic days of exploring Jiuzhaigou we decided to try our luck going on to Xi'an via the less-traveled path via Guangyuan.

No comments: