Huanglong

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Huanglong 

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08-02-2006 11:41

Huanglong

This is the place to escape from the concrete jungle. In North-western Sichuan province, the landscape is shaped by magnificent mountains and deep valleys. The place is bursting with natural wonders and old ways of life.

Often called 'a heaven kingdom', Sichuan is known throughout China for its fertile land and leisure oriented lifestyle. In the northern part of the province, knife-like rivers cut through surging mountains, creating amazing views. In amongst the spectacular scenery, are some undisturbed corners where nature has really gone wild.

Now of all the attractions in Sichuan we've chosen to start out trip in the Huanglong area. The place has both natural and historic value and regular flights connect it with a number of big cities such as Chengdu and Chongqing.

The Huanglong park sprawls over 700 square kilometers and is surrounded by damp forests, mountains, coniferous woods, grasslands and the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau. Climatically, it lies close to the intersection of four regions: Eastern Asia, the Himalayas, and the subtropical and tropical zones of the Northern Hemisphere. About 65% of the site is forested, with much of the remainder being above the tree-line.

Without a doubt, the region's big attraction is its karst formations which surface in the form of limestone pools, shoals and travertine falls. To see them, you have to go to Huanglonggou, a valley hidden among steep hills and snowy mountains.

Why people call this place a Yellow Dragon probably is the rock formations are just like yellow scales on the back of a gigantic dragon.

The water is crystal clear and contains all kinds of minerals, drawn out of the limestone mountain behind. Each small pool displays a heartbreakingly beautiful colour that would defy any painter's palette.

The limestone dams remind me of coral slowly reaching out across a seabed. The calcium deposits are a sharp, golden contrast to the clear yet mysteriously colorful water. This is the so-called Ten-Mile Golden Beach. When there's no algae or bacteria to interrupt it, the deposition process forms a kind of limestone shoal. Here, a network of shoals extends in an unbroken chain over some 3 and a half kilometres! A very thin layer of water gushes down the hill as if in a rush to be somewhere else.

The landscape is three thousand meters above sea level and a non-stop walk from the bottom to the top takes about an hour. Altogether, it's seven-kilometre uphill climb. But be careful at these heights, the exertion can be a problem for many people. The view is breathtaking and it also takes my breath away.

All in all, the view along the road is rewarding enough to carry you to the very top. Once you get there, you'll find yourself at the so-called Five-Color Pond, the eye of the Yellow Dragon. It's hard to describe the water. The surface ripples in baby blues and lush greens. Its nature run riot with colour and it all changes within a matter of meters, from one pool to another. The place is so dazzlingly unreal that people imagine it be where goddesses come to bathe.

But don't be too drawn in by its beauty. The weather in the area is unpredictable – it can change at any minute.

 

Muonigou Valley

About two hours' drive from the Yellow Dragon is Muonigou Valley. This is where the crowds thin out to almost nothing and you enter a land that looks a lot like a prehistoric wilderness. It's a place of thunderous waterfalls and small miracles.

You can hear the roar of the water long before you see it. This is Zhaga waterfall, the biggest of its kind in China. Again, calcium carbonate is shaping the landscape.

The Zhaga falls are 93 meters high and, in summer time, two to five cubic meters of water tumble over the edge each second. Zhaga means white in the local Tibetan language. This is a travertine waterfall, meaning that behind the rushing water is a crust of limestone, gradually growing calcium particle by calcium particle. Get up close and you will be drenched by the spray. The water is chilly and the breeze stirred by the downward force is both sweet and refreshing.

The small pools and lakes hidden in the forests of Mounigou are no less impressive than the Zhaga falls but much more quiet. Each has its own elegance and poetic name.

This one is called the White Flower lake because the water's surface is covered by quietly blossoming nameless flowers. This one is called the Emerald Lake for obvious reasons. Many of the names of the lakes contain the word for mirror. Perfectly still pools reflect the quiet environment around. It's really a very secluded world and a place for meditation and reflection. The peacefulness and beauty of the green and blue have a soothing effect. All you could hear is the chirping of the birds and the gurgling of the water. And there's a very good chance that you will have it to yourself.

One of the lakes is called Erdaohai and it is sacred to the local Tibetans. Each year around spring they come here to worship the lake. The Tibetans must have their own reasons, why they choose this one in particular. All of the pools are very beautiful.

The hot springs of Zhuzhuhai, or the boiling pearl lake is the only place where you can see traces of a human presence. A hot bath here, with its alpine view is a nice reward after a day walking in the forest.

The water here smells of bad eggs. The water is not as hot as you would imagine, it's only 20 degree Celsius. It's supposed to cure all kinds of diseases, but for me, it's enough to stretch my tired legs.

 

Editor:Chen