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Published: January 7th 2008
[youtube=PNdyX3opu9g]There is not a whole lot we could say about Songpan
. The drive up from Chengdu was rather pleasant and scenic, winding along a muddy river for miles. The driver didn't smoke in the bus which was a good thing considering that we had had our fill of the dangerous, annoying, inconsiderate habit. But he was decidedly flatulent
forcing us to debate which habit we detested more. Songpan, the old city anyway, was contained within new city walls built on ancient gates. It was a mini city with a decent collection of souvenir shops, restaurants and budget accommodation. We heard that trekking or horseriding to its pristine backlands was quite the adventure but Songpan's first snow had already fallen leaving the overpasses slippery white and the air deathly cold. And so, from atop the city walls, we watched life and commerce unfold.
Songpan did provide us one major benefit. You see, our Chinese visas allowed us two entries into the mainland; each entry for no more than 30 days. Since we had already spent more than 21 days, we were faced with a bit of a dilemma. We toyed with the idea of waiting until we got to Beijing and
taking the Trans-Mongolian train to Erenhot in Inner Mongolia and then continue to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. We'd spend a few days in the country of warlord Genghis Khan and then come back to the PRC on the second entry. But again, money and time constraints and the region's infamous Siberian blizzards and sub-zero temperatures effectively crushed those plans. And so we decided to forfeit the remaining 9 days and apply for a renewal visa. If we had done the renewal in Chengdu it would have taken 5 days, in Beijing a week but Songpan issued our brand new visas in 30 minutes. What remarkable efficiency!
The 3-hour journey started at 1 pm and it would be the most scenic and impressive of all our bus rides so far. Snow mountains, grasslands, icy rivers and forests of colorful trees signalled that we were headed for something spectacular.
Jiuzhaigou: A fairy-tale in real life That we had stepped into a fairytale was evident the moment we disembarked
. It was a crowded kind of fairytale though, shared with about 10,000 other dreamers, but a fairytale nonetheless. Ten minutes prior we had each paid a heart-stopping, wallet-busting RMB 330 at the entry
portal for 2 days of adventure and had hopped on the shuttle to the first stop. It was a no-brainer why 'Sparkling Lake' was so named as sunlight crystals danced gleefully on the surface. Legend has it that goddess Wunosemo's mirror fell to the ground and the 118 shards became the glistening blue-green lakes spread out before us. Light refracted from the ridiculously clear water warping old, sunken tree trunks into impossible bends. Around the lake was an explosion of colour. Autumn was in full bloom. Innumerable variations of greens, oranges, reds, yellows and purples freely mixed and matched creating a wondrous tapestry. Memories of every piece of museum artwork we had ever seen faded to a dull, lifeless grey. The color combinations were superb, the brush strokes bold and confident, the detailing exquisite, the arrangements perfect. This painting was the work of the artist of artists. The lake itself was fed by Shuzheng waterfall and its sound was the perfect anchor for this symphony of nature. Involuntary 'oooohs'
escaped the lips of those around us and little old ladies cooed and clucked their approval.
Dragging ourselves away, we rode the shuttle pass where the road forked
right and all the way to the end. The plan was to work backwards to the front
. Get it? Anyway, at the end of the eastern road was Long Lake, a stunning blue watering hole set at the bottom of a multi-coloured valley. At its rear sat a colossal, majestic snow-capped mountain. The air was fresh, cool and clean and the beauty overwhelming. Donning minority costumes, we became one with the colorful surroundings gaining a deeper appreciation (and envy) for the people who spend all their lives here. Following two jabbering squirrels down a wooden trail, we chanced upon Five-coloured Lake. Three distinct colors were evident, maybe 3½ if we stretch it. Losing the crowds, we took isolated trails in the woods just so we could observe undisturbed. The sun cast shadows and light on the heart of a broken tree and illuminated moss clinging to bark. Ice diamonds flickered on the waters, tiny waterfalls streamed down the mountains and the wind whispered our names. The snow mountain's peak still towered above the mosaics and autumn leaves floated down to cushion our steps. We were free. Free and alive. And in a place which was way too pristine, beautiful and
fragile to be a part of this cold, uncaring, polluting, industrialized world. "If only we could package this and share it with the world"
, we thought. "Would they care it? Would they share it? If only..."
And then there was Norilang. Lake-fed from above, she was a beaut. Her wide, powerful cascades flung cool, refreshing sprays down to our faces and her voice was the sound of thunder. Further down the road was Rhinoceros Lake, Mirror Lake, Tiger Lake and 5,000 tiny cascades. And multi-coloured trees. And then there was a grassy meadow where grasshoppers hopped and nobody shopped and a crazy brook babbled incoherently.
Prayer wheels whirled like dervishes in the rushing waters escorting the sun westward and taking the light. Taking our energy. The shuttle deposited us at the entrance and we somnambulated to our overpriced beds and fell asleep praying for daylight to return.
As sure as day, day came. Back into the fairytale we went but this time to the other end. Here, a forest of stately pine trees filled the air with their fresh pine scent. Ducks glided peacefully between channels of bright green algae and spineless creatures played 'kick, push" on
Swan Lake. On the shuttle again, we passed a point with an exquisite view on Panda Lake. But the bus wouldn't stop because the overhanging wall of stone was too dangerous, they said. Determined not to miss one of the reserve's best views, we scrambled up the mountainside, grabbing vines for support, digging our toes into the decaying leaves and mud and dodging loose boulders. We stayed in the trees. Stayed low. And when the buses passed, we jumped out and ran to the top of the vantage point. It was worth every drop of sweat. One ultra-beautiful, speckled, colourful, sexy body of water was Panda Lake. Snap! She was ours forever. Just before the buses returned, we slipped back into the trees. We were just there. We were never there. We were just smoke. Smoke and daggers.
Pearl Shoals was hundreds of feet wide but only inches deep. The falls washed the moss, tickled the shrubs and seduced the roots as she rolled down the incline. Midway across, we stopped to play wiggling fingers in the stream with glee and the innocence of children.
And the leaves fell to cushion our steps and everything was right with
the world. We thought that Jiuzhaigou seemed like how the world used to be before the smoke stacks and the chainsaws, the plastics bags and the careless humans
We wanted to stay in the fairytale forever but those prayer wheels were whirling like dervishes escorting the sun westward and taking the light. Taking our energy.
The seats in the bus were as hard as our overpriced beds. Our bodies were aching from two full days of hiking. But, in retrospect, we were ecstatic that we had made the sacrifice of time and money to visit the place and meet the people, especially Luotingli. She was an energetic, bubbly character with one interesting story that we can't tell without her permission.
In the relative dark of 6 a.m. we watched the entrance pass. Jiuzhaigou was truly a wonder; a unique, special place. But the slight haze we had seen wasn't always the morning fog. It seemed like the beginnings of smog that somehow always accompanies humans. We hope that this was one of those 'happily-ever-after' tales. If not, then at least we had the opportunity to see it pristine.
The end. 😊
😊 Luotingli, for being our friend
😊 Jiuzhaigou, for being a shining example to the world
This blog contains 2 videos. Hit the video tab below to view here or click this link for our YouTube post: Pearl Shoals Falls, Jiuzhaigou Disclaimer
: We do not guarantee the appropriateness of YouTube videos other than the ones we posted.
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