Jiuzhai Valley: A Vibrant Display of Color and Water

2019-05-06 08:45:00 Source:China Today Author:By staff reporter JIAO FENG
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LOCATED in Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, the Jiuzhai Valley stretches more than 50 kilometers towards the Sichuan Basin on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Jiuzhai Valley, or literally the valley of nine villages, got its name because there are nine Tibetan villages in the valley. From an aerial view of the valley, it can be observed that it consists of three main valleys, namely the Zechawa Valley, Rize Valley, and Shuzheng, forming a “Y” shape that connects the main scenic areas in the area. The clear mountain lakes, spectacular waterfalls, colorful forests, snow-capped peaks, turquois ice, and the local Tibetan ethnic culture all make the place a very unique tourist attraction.
Even though the Five Flower Lake experienced an tragic 8.8 earthquake in 2017, after about a year, the natural beauty returned to its original state, looking like a sapphire stone in the forest, May 17, 2018. 


Jiuzhai Valley has been designated as a World Natural Heritage site, a national geological park, and a national nature reserve. The region is home to 18 nationally protected animal species, including the giant panda and golden snub-nosed monkey. In addition to this, the natural habitat is home to 74 nationally protected endangered plants including the gingko and taxus chinensis, and there is a vast variety of fossil specimens, ancient glacial remains and so on, giving the valley value in the fields of ecological protection, scientific research, and scenic tourism.


Even though the Five Flower Lake experienced an tragic 8.8 earthquake in 2017, after about a year, the natural beauty returned to its original state, looking like a sapphire stone in the forest, May 17, 2018.


Rich in Flora and Fauna


The Jiuzhai Valley Nature Reserve has deep ravines. There is a vast disparity in elevation between its two ends, with the northern rim being lower in altitude, the central region reaching 4,000 meters, and the southern rim higher than 4,500 meters and its peaks are snow-capped almost all-year round. The region has a high plateau humid climate, and forests cover 80 percent of the region. For thousands of years, the Jiuzhai Valley was hidden away in the heart of the lofty mountain ranges of Minshan, and as a result, the local Tibetan people were almost shut away from the rest of the world, living a self-sufficient lifestyle doing farming and animal husbandry. The primitive ecology in the region accordingly has been well preserved. In 1978, the Jiuzhai Valley was designated by the State Council as a protected scenic reserve, with 620 square kilometers put under protection, becoming China’s first nature reserve focusing on the protection of landscapes and natural scenery.
 During the Risang Festival, people in the Jiuzhai Valley walk around the local temple in groups spinning prayer wheels for blessings, June, 2015.


Jiuzhai Valley Nature Reserve is the core region and corridor of the giant panda population in the Minshan Mountains. With its traditional natural ecosystem, it is a key area in China for biodiversity protection. In addition to being home to the giant panda and the golden snub-nosed monkey, it has many other animals unique to China, like the white-lipped deer, Chinese monal pheasant, and other nationally protected animals like the snow leopard, small panda, etc. As for the diverse and rare species of flora, according to statistics, rare plants including the Chinese caterpillar fungus, saussurea involucrata, and bulbus fritillariaea cirrhosae can also be found in the nature reserve. In short, there is a vast variety of flora and fauna with terrestrial vertebrates ranging from mammals to amphibians.


In an effort to reduce the negative impact of regular crowds of visitors on the lakes in the valley and surrounding natural environment, a network of wooden walkways extending over 60 kilometers has been built in the nature reserve. This not only makes it easier for visitors to see the scenic spots, but also effectively protects the local ecological environment. Beyond this, green ecological lavatories, equipped with fully-automatic flush free technology, have been set up; the waste is hauled away in bags and processed outside the scenic area.


A Colorful Water World


Water is the spirit of the Jiuzhai Valley with its colorful lakes, ponds, rivers, and waterfalls. The water in the lakes and ponds is a green orchid color all year round, revealing beautiful lake beds. With various angles of sunrays displayed during different seasons, visitors to the park can enjoy unique views of very colorful lakes.


More than 400 million years ago, the region of the Jiuzhai Valley was a shallow sea, making it an ideal breeding ground for various prehistoric life forms. But with the passage of time, many biological life forms died off, leaving behind an accumulation of skeletons and remains which later turned into the calcium deposits. Later, as a result of crustal movements, the ocean bed was raised up and became the plateau we see today. As a result, not only were various lakes formed, but through karstification many travertine deposits were formed, creating the elegant lakes and flowing rivers we see today in the valley.


There are a total of 108 lakes in the Jiuzhai Valley Nature Reserve. As a result of calcium carbonate, each of these lakes exhibit very charming displays of color, including azure blue, dark green, or crystal clear. Even if all the water is green, under different lights, stunning displays of different hues of dark green, azure blue, aqua, and orangish yellow can be seen on the lakes.


Of the many bodies of water located throughout the valley, the most famous and beautiful lake is the Five Flower Lake. In one body of water, visitors can observe a display of light yellow, dark green, dark blue, navy blue, and so on. This mottled display of color makes the lake one of the highlights of the whole Jiuzhai Valley Nature Reserve.


Another charming lake is the Sparkling Lake. Surrounded by dense forests, the surface of the lake is so clear and tranquil that it resembles a mirror. Every morning after the mist dissipates, the reflection of sunlight on the water’s surface looks like a land of many dazzling lights, all sparkling at the same time – thus its name, Sparkling Lake. Tragedy struck this natural wonder when the area was hit by an earthquake that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale on August 8, 2017. After the earthquake, the Sparkling Lake never recovered. A breach, 40 meters east-west, 12 meters south-north, and 15 meters deep, was formed in the dam downstream, causing the lake to dry up, exposing the lake bed. Today, the ruins of the Sparkling Lake left behind by the earthquake are a scar of the Jiuzhai Valley Nature Reserve.


In addition to colorful lakes and ponds, the Jiuzhai Valley is also a kingdom of waterfalls, with stunning views of water gushing out of jungle forests. Nuorilang Waterfall is the widest waterfall in China, with water gushing down over the towering and lofty green rocks, giving it the appearance of the Milky Way. In the morning sunlight, the water sprays often create a stunning rainbow that spreads across the valley, leaving the viewers spellbound. Facing the waterfall is an observation platform where visitors can sit and enjoy a panoramic view of the waterfall. During the fall months, the falls viewed through cloud mist create a magnificent masterpiece on a massive scale.
Autumn colors of the Jiuzhai Valley, Aba, Sichuan Province.


The most magnificent scenery in the valley is in winter when many of the waterfalls completely freeze over, forming a grand array of glacier falls. Some of the glacier falls are very colorful with various shades of blue, giving them the name “blue ice.” The impressive blue colored glacier falls hanging off the massive precipices are the great ice carvings of the natural world, presenting a feast of bluish and greenish natural beauty that will never be forgotten by a viewer.


Enchanted Forests and Snow Covered Mountains


In addition to water, the mountains in Jiuzhai Valley are also very colorful. With the change of seasons, the more than 20 square kilometers of primeval forests present a variety of features, including more than 2,000 kinds of plants and forest flowers, all displayed in their most colorful attire. Of all the seasons, autumn is the most beautiful one in the valley.


Every year during the months of fall, the vast sea of forests changes into their magnificent costumes, transforming the reserve into a colorful ocean. From the bottom of the valley to the top of the mountains, leaves rich in color make the forest come alive with specks of red, green, and yellow. Dark orange smoky trees, the golden birch leaves, the red maple tree, and deep red wild fruits, present dazzling pieces of dark and light patchwork, all adding to the vibrant beauty of the landscape.


Among the trees, a kind of red birch is particularly eye-catching. Growing at an altitude of 1,500-3,000 meters, it has a red trunk, and its bark is very thin, and slightly curly as being detached from the trunk. It was said that the bark is a token of love between Tibetan men and women. A Tibetan young man would peel off a bark of birch, carve his heart on it and then give it to the girl he loves, symbolizing the eternity of love.


There are three famous mountain peaks in Jiuzhai Valley – Mount Wonuosemo, Mount Dage, and Mount Zhayizhaga. The holy mountain of Zhayizhaga, the highest peak in the reserve, is located in the deep reaches of Zharugou on the east side and belongs to the core area of Jiuzhai Valley Nature Reserve. The local people regard the mountain as sacred and call it “the lord of all mountains.”


As the most revered mountain in the reserve, Zhaiyizhaga attracts countless pilgrims every year. It hosts monthly pilgrimage on the 15th day of each lunar month and the ma-chi festival on the 15th day of the 3rd lunar month. The faithful make their way in groups, some on horseback, some on foot, around the sacred mountain in a counterclockwise direction, praying for the blessings from Buddha. Because of the unique geological structure and climate of the mountainous area, this holy mountain is always cloaked in clouds and fog, making it very difficult to see its whole picture. Being able to see the holy mountain in its entirety is considered a rare opportunity.


Local Tibetan Culture


Historically, the Jiuzhai Valley is a great corridor of ethnic integration. Geographically, it is in the transitional zone from the northeastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Sichuan Basin. From a cultural perspective, it is located in a marginal region between areas dominated by the Tibetan ethnic group and that dominated by Han ethnic group, thus exhibiting a mixture of lifestyles from pastoral areas to the crop-farming areas. On the one hand, the Tibetan people maintain their own unique cultural traditions, such as their mysterious primitive religion, complicated style of architecture, unique style of clothing, and lively festivals. On the other hand, they live in harmony with the surrounding Qiang, Hui, and Han ethnic groups, influencing each other’s culture, and forming a diversified cultural environment.


The ancestors of the Jiuzhai Valley originally migrated from the remote Ngari region in Tibet, and their descendants have been living in the valley for many generations. Today, the local people still maintain their Tibetan religious and folk customs, such as wearing their exquisite costumes, carrying agile waist knives, drinking fragrant highland barley wine and buttered tea, offering white hada to guests, performing quick tap dance, and using two cows to plough their fields. All of this expresses the local people’s passion for life. Visible everywhere are piles of Mani stones, lamasery towers, and the continuous spinning prayer wheels, all displaying the religious piety of the local people.


Shuzheng Village is the largest and most prosperous of the nine Tibetan villages in the Jiuzhai Valley. It is represented by the largest of the nine white pagodas standing at the entrance to the Jiuzhai Valley. These pagodas symbolize the unity of the nine Tibetan villages, conveying prayers of the local people for peace and happiness.


Inside the Shuzheng Village, homes are a display of traditional Tibetan cultural decorations covered with gorgeous handicrafts and daily living utensils, and the table is set with much wine and delicious food. Dressed in Tibetan costumes, young men and beautiful women enthusiastically introduce their ethnic culture and living habits to visitors. It is also a designated folklore village where visitors can experience Tibetan architectural style, traditional Tibetan paintings on the doors and windows, and the costumes of Tibetan people. A tour of the village will help you understand more about the daily life of the Tibetan people, and appreciate their clothing, food, housing, and transportation.


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