In Sichuan Province, there is a valley where nine Tibetan villages have lived for generations. It is called Jiuzhai Valley, which literal means “Nine -Village Valley,” a masterpiece of nature that encompasses a wide variety of landscapes including towering snow-capped peaks, crystal-clear lakes, flying waterfalls, and lush forests. It has long been regarded as a place of “sacred mountains and holy water” by local Tibetans.
Due to its rich natural resources and diverse landscapes, Jiuzhai Valley has been given many titles: World Natural Heritage, National Key Scenic Area, National 5A Tourist Attractions, National Nature Reserve, National Geological Park, and a member of the World Biosphere Reserve Network. Because of its rich biodiversity and display of rare species, Jiuzhai Valley is the first nature reserve in China whose main purpose is to protect natural scenery.
In terms of animal species, it is home to 122 terrestrial vertebrates, including 21 mammals, 93 avian species, four reptiles, and four amphibians. It also acts as a habitat to a group of animals protected by the state at the first level, such as the giant panda, golden snub-nosed monkey, leopards, Thorold’s deer, greater kudu, and Chinese monal. The forest coverage of the reserve exceeds 80 percent, and there are 74 types of rare plants protected by the state. Ingredients for valuable Chinese medicines such as Caterpillar fungus, snow lotus, Thamnolia, yellow Himalayan fritillary, and Gastrodia elata can also be found in this area.
In addition, the valley also has a range of geological features including calcified lakes, ravines, waterfall, karsts, and forest ecosystems, making it a hotspot for scientific research.
Its unique geographical location has created a unique diversity of landscapes. Sitting around 400 kilometers south of Chengdu, capital of China’s southwestern province of Sichuan, Jiuzhai Valley lies in the northern range of the Minshan Mountains, and elevation of its terrain varies from 2,000 to 4,500 meters above sea level. The peaks in the center and north have an average elevation of above 4,000 meters while the lowest spot is 2,000 meters in the south. With branches of the Yangtze River cutting through the mountains, Jiuzhai Valley has deep valleys and a number of water bodies strewn across its landscape. Today, the area open to tourists is composed of three major valleys making a “Y” shape with a total length of about 60 kilometers.
A line of snow-covered trees surrounds the pristine Five-Flower Lake after a snowfall on December 11, 2021.
It is often said that “One does not feel the need to bother visiting other water landscapes after a trip to Jiuzhai Valley,” as the dreamy water scenery here is like no other. Among the 114 lakes in the Valley, the Five-Flower Lake is one of the most famous and the most beautiful for its varied color palette.
The Five-Flower Lake lies 2,462 meters above sea level, is 450 meters long, 313 meters wide, and nine meters deep. It was formed by landslides and mudslides that blocked the original glacier valley. The calcification of the lake floor and the distribution of various algae and aquatic plants create patches of shades in the lake.
Looking down from the viewing deck, the crystal-clear lake displays an array of hues, ranging from turquoise and lime green to navy blue and golden yellow, forming a patchwork of colors that are arranged in the most stunning way. The lake is a gift of nature whose colorful and beautiful scenery can never be created artificially. One cannot help but feel that this is a magical land and a paradise of colors. In autumn, the trees on the shore turn into different glorious tints of red, yellow, and green and together with the colors of the lake they present a mesmerizing natural palette. Many photographers come from all over the country in autumn to capture the magical scene here.
An aerial view of Cui Lake in Jiuzhai Valley during the summer, on June 29, 2022.
Long Lake, Five-Color Pond
Another must-see scene is Long Lake, the largest, deepest, and highest lake within the boundaries of Jiuzhai Valley with a diameter of 4,350 meters.
Rimmed by lush woods, the color of the water is greenish blue, and the surrounding peaks are snow-capped all year round. On the observation deck, tourists can enjoy a panoramic view of the S-shaped lake set against the blue sky and white clouds which blend with the snow-capped peaks. After pacing down along the wooden walkway to the bank of the lake, tourists can take a closer look at it where they may be more impressed by the grandeur of the lake and the scenery on the bank.
Melted mountain snow is the source of the water of Long Lake. An interesting fact is that there is no outlet around the lake, but the water does not overflow its banks during the wet season in summer and autumn, and does not dry up during long drought in winter and spring, so the locals in the Valley call it a blessed water body. In winter, the icy frozen surface can be as thick as 60 centimeters, making it an ideal place for ice sports.
Another celebrated lake, called the Five-Color Pond, locates just a kilometer away from the Long Lake. It is known as the gem of the Jiuzhai Valley for its exquisiteness. Many people audibly gasp in astonishment at the clarity of the lake and the variety of colors found in it. Hidden deep in the Valley, this delicate pond lies 3,010 meters above sea level, is about 100 meters long, 60 meters wide, and 6.6 meters deep. Compared with other lakes in the Valley, the Five-Color Pond is rather small, but it is famed for a myriad of colors, putting it at par with the Five Flower Lake.
The Five-Color Pond is so exceptionally lucid, that through the pool water, one can see the stone pattern on the rock surface at the bottom as well as algae, fern, and other aquatic plants. These aquatic communities contain different shades of chlorophyll so that they show varied colors in the lake water that is high in calcium carbonate. Due to the color difference of the sediment at the bottom of the pool and the different colors of the plants around the pool, the originally blue-colored lake surface becomes colorful. In the same pool, some areas are dark blue, some light green, some reddish yellow, and some pinkish blue, making it a rare sight to behold.
During the wintertime, more surprisingly, the water does not freeze. Also, despite the change of seasons and the alternation between wet and dry seasons, its water level never seems to fall or drop. This is because the water’s source is underground where it is maintained naturally at room temperature all year round with no freezing period, and the supply of water is stable throughout the year.
Norilang is 2,343 meters above sea level and measures 24.5 meters high and 320 meters wide. It is by far the widest travertine-topped waterfall found in China. Norilang means male god in Tibetan, and carries the meaning of “great and tall” in the local language. At the vantage point on the cliff next to the main road nearby the cascade, tourists have a panoramic view of the fall. Torrents pour down from the trees at the top of the waterfall, cascading down and pounding the rocks below.
In winter, the waterfall resembles a huge ice blanket, with countless icicles hanging from the cliffs, looking like a magical world of ice. In the sunlight, the ice is blue-tainted, which is what the valley is also known for. Ice gives off a blue-tinted glow when light is scattered in ice particles of different densities, which is the same reason why the sky and the sea are blue. This attracts many tourists to Jiuzhai in winter to see the blue ice spectacle despite the cold.
A thousand-year-old Tibetan village in Dalu Township, Jiuzhaigou County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Si-chuan Province.
Jiuzhai Valley is named after the nine Tibetan villages that are found in the valley. Shuzheng Village is one of those villages that is open to tourists in the region, and the villagers often invite visitors to experience their local culture.
In the village, visitors can appreciate traditional Tibetan architectures, decorations on doors and windows, and Tibetan costumes. There are also Tibetan residences sharing in-person experience of traditional Tibetan life in the region, during which visitors can try Tibetan clothing, eat local food, sit in Tibetan-style houses, and experience traditional modes of transportation.
Inside the traditionally decorated house, walls are adorned with rows of local crafts and utensils, and the tables are filled with wine and local specialties. The hosts dressed in Tibetan costumes introduce their ethnic history and traditions, while visitors sit on the carpet listening and tasting barley wine and butter tea. There is also a performance demonstrating traditional Tibetan song and dance, and visitors who are interested can join in the dance with the villagers.
The village faces a 4,200-meter-high sacred mountain, and there are nine white pagodas built inside the village, representing the unity, peace, and happiness of the nine original Tibetan villages. With the colorful sutra streamers fluttering in the wind, the holy white pagodas sit silently in the sunlight, listening to the prayers made by the visitors.
The blue sky, bright sunshine, fresh air, and ancient villages together form a beautiful picture of harmony and unity. The clear and colorful lake — set against the tainted forests, snow-capped mountains and ancient dwellings — gives off the effect of being in a magical place on earth, which makes for an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to visit and experience it.