Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan Province.
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After much debate, we eschewed the famous Yangzi river cruise in favor of a few days hiking in Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve, a pristine forest valley and home to nine Baima Tibetan villages. While I had had my heart set on the Yangzi cruise, we learned that the scenery had been marred by pollution as well as rising waters due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam (to be completed in 2009). To my surprise, none of our books listed the cruise as a recommended highlight of China: “The steep, shadowy peaks that once menaced the narrow river dwindle in height, their grandeur and mystery swallowed by the rising river.”
By contrast, all the guidebooks (even our low-key Lonely Planet) raved about Jiuzhaigou and we decided that a few days without cigarette smoke, spitting and crowded tourist sites, would be a welcome change. Flying into Jiuzhaigou, I was overwhelmed with excitement to see the snow capped mountain peaks rising above the clouds next to our airplane – a taste of the land of Mt. Everest. We landed in a snowy mountain plateau and then took a taxi down the mountain to the Nature Reserve.
Our book describes the area: “Set against a backdrop of thundering waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, and forests, 108 iridescent turquoise lakes fan out across mountain valleys like a peacock unfurling its plumage.” Legend holds that the warrior-god Dage presented a magic mirror, crafted from clouds and winds, to his beloved Tibetan goddess Wunosemo. One day, a meddling devil, envious of the couple’s love and happiness, made Wunosemo drop her treasured mirror. The mirror fell to earth where it shattered and formed the 118 glittering lakes of Jiuzhaigou.
We spent two full days hiking through this spectacular region and visiting the Tibetan villages nestled in the park along the way. For me, this will always be a treasured part of our journey through China. -Heather
(Yes, Heather did take these pictures. Thanks to software guru, multi-continental industrialist and future cult figure Mark Suster for turning me on to Bubbleshare, which enabled the fancy scrolling thing with the pictures. -Alex)