Written by Roger Ratcliff on 01 Aug, 2000
Peace and Quiet in a Chinese National Park with 10,000 Boisterous Chinese
The Jiuzhaigou National Park bus finally came to a stop. I had the unfortunate luck of sitting in the rear set. Several times during the 45 minute ride I was catapulted completely out of…Read More
Peace and Quiet in a Chinese National Park with 10,000 Boisterous Chinese
The Jiuzhaigou National Park bus finally came to a stop. I had the unfortunate luck of sitting in the rear set. Several times during the 45 minute ride I was catapulted completely out of my seat as the bus sped up the bumpy curvy mountain road passing other Park buses on hills and cliffside curves. This ride, and the loud pop music on the bus, did not put me in a good mood. The day before I had taken a bus from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou National Park - eleven hours of white knuckle gripping the armrest as the bus charged into one mountain curve after another. After spending several weeks in Chinese cities, I was looking forward to a 'U.S. National Park' experience of communing quietly with nature. Maybe my nerves would stop jangling and maybe I would regain some of the hearing that I was sure I had lost being in China. So far, this Chinese National Park did not have a calming effect.
At 10,000 feet elevation was the Primeval Forest, one of the park's 'scenic spots.' It was occupied by several hundred exuberant Chinese tourists. Some were so exuberant they would shout and yell into the forest for no apparent reason other than the pure joy of being in an old growth forest. Maybe spending much of your life in a Chinese city does this to a person. Local Tibetans hawking horse rides and trying to get you into traditional Tibetan clothes to have your picture taken on a yak added to the noisy bedlam. Everybody seemed to be having a great time riding horses, sitting on yaks, yelling, and taking photos. I was not impressed.
I was the old crouch who had spend many days of my life walking quietly on wooded trails enjoying the great outdoors in relative solitude and quiet. I was not happy. The rest of the day did not cheer me up as my gracious Chinese hosts took my wife and I on one bouncy bus after another, to one crowded noisy scenic spot after another. I was amazed at the beauty of the alpine mountains reaching over 14,000 feet, the clear colorful rivers, the terraced lakes with tropical blue water, and sloping waterfalls like I had never seen. But my enjoyment was diminished considerably by the crowds and the noise.
Two months later, my wife and I are still at Jiuzhaigou National Park where we have been volunteers. Before China, we volunteered in Alaska for two years with the U.S. National Park Service. We lived in isolated cabins in the wilderness with no electricity or plumbing. We lived in an arctic village of 45 people accessible only by plane, small boat, or snowmobile. The wilderness park we worked at one winter above the Arctic Circle would get about 4,000 visitors a year. Jiuzhaigou gets 5,000 visitors a day during mid season and over 10,000 a day during high season. Enjoying the impressive beauty of Jiuzhaigou was challenge for us. We did learn how. Here is our advice.
First a little background. The major scenic spots along the 50 km of roads are often crowded but worth seeing. Buy a map to help orient yourself. The scenic spots are marked on the map. There are three valleys that form a 'Y.' The top of the Y is south (not my idea - that's the way the map is). Park buses operate on the Y and will, for the most part, pick you up and let you off wherever you want.
The lower part of the Y is Shuzhen Valley. Visit this area in the morning as most people visit this area in the afternoon. There are boardwalks and trails near Shuzhen Village that allow you to see waterfalls, terraced lakes, and shoals. Shoals are wide areas of shallow water running through a kind of bushy forest. In years wandering around North America and Europe, I have never seen scenery such as this.
The upper right side of the Y is Rize Valley. Visit this area in the afternoon as most buses go up this valley in the morning. There are beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and shoals to see. From Panda Lake to Pearl Shoal Waterfall there are trails and boardwalks. The Primeval Forest, an old growth forest, is at the top of Rize Valley.
The upper left side of the Y is Zechawa Valley. Most buses go up this valley in the afternoon to Long Lake, a large alpine lake. Go in the morning to avoid the crowds. At the top of the valley is a large alpine lake. Walking down the road from the lake can be enjoyable. Zechawa Valley has fewer scenic spots than the other two valleys.
During high season, July through October, the above advice may not work well as there may be crowds everywhere near the roads. Even so, the scenic spots are worth seeing.
Solitude for Walkers - Places few Park visitors go:
Zaru Valley: A mile or so upvalley from the Park entrance is a turn to the left to Zaru Temple, a Buddhist temple, and Zaru Valley. Zaru Temple is open to the public. There are no stunning lakes or waterfalls up Zaru Valley, and there will probably be no other Park visitors. There is a mountain stream, two Tibetan villages, terraced fields, and solitude. A few vehicles and local Tibetans may be on this road.
Heye Village: This village is on the right three or four miles from the Park entrance. It is the first village you see in the Park. A gravel road goes several miles behind Heye Village to many terraced fields and three other Tibetan villages. This is a scenic valley walk with little chance of vehicle traffic. You may encounter some locals in traditional Tibetan dress.
Haijiao Valley: Four or five miles upvalley from the Park entrance (a mile or so upvalley from Heye Village) will be a two track road on the left crossing a wooden bridge decorated with prayer flags. This two track road goes about three miles to Haijiao Village, a mostly abandoned village, and terraced fields. The road stops at the village but livestock trails go on for a few more miles. There will probably be no traffic on this road. You may encounter a field worker and some horses.
Allow a couple of days to see the major scenic spots along the road. Most visitors take one day - that's a bit rushed. If you like to walk and want some fresh air, solitude, and a glimpse Tibetan village life, spend three more days walking the above valleys. Basic dorm no-shower-anywhere lodging is available in the three Tibetan villages in the Park for about $3 per night. Doubles with a shower are around $4 per person. Park entrance fee and bus fee is about $20 and is good for as long as you stay in the Park. If you leave the Park for more than two hours, you pay the entrance and bus fee again.
Jiuzhaigou National Park is an 11 hour bus ride north of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. Major guidebooks list Jiuzhaigou National Park and tell how to get there. There are websites describing Jiuzhaigou.
Written by Roger Ratcliff on 17 Oct, 2000
Follow the road up the valley containing the Baima Villages and you arrive at Wanglang Nature Reserve. About 5 miles into reserve there is lodging with hot showers and food. It is a quiet place to enjoy nature, hike, and relax in a mountain lodge…Read More
Follow the road up the valley containing the Baima Villages and you arrive at Wanglang Nature Reserve. About 5 miles into reserve there is lodging with hot showers and food. It is a quiet place to enjoy nature, hike, and relax in a mountain lodge setting.
The park ranges in elevation from about 7,000 feet to peaks around 15,000 feet. The principal endangered species in the park are pandas (about 30), takin (an ungulate), and snubbed nosed golden monkeys. The peaks look like the steep peaks in the Rockies but the forested areas are much richer in biological diversity. There is plenty of arrow bamboo, a favorite food of the pandas.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is funding a panda protection effort in Pingwu County. About 1/6 of all the pandas in the world are in Pingwu County and 2/3s of the pandas in Pingwu County are outside of reserves. WWF is developing tourism of various kinds in the reserve. WWF refurbished a 50-bed lodge in the park recently.
Hiking and walking while viewing panda habitat is definitely possible. The chances of seeing a panda are slight. The vegetation is thick and the pandas are shy. The reserve has no developed trails but there are cow trails, some old trade-route trails and about 12 miles of rough road with little traffic (except during the May and October holidays).
The trade-route trails can be used by poachers. The summer of 2000 saw a shootout between park staff and two poachers. One poacher was injured. Both poachers were caught.
The city of Pingwu offers a rest from the noise and dust of many Chinese cities and is visited by few foreigners. A fifteen-minute walk takes you from one side of the city to the other along streets mainly occupied by people, pedicabs, and a…Read More
The city of Pingwu offers a rest from the noise and dust of many Chinese cities and is visited by few foreigners. A fifteen-minute walk takes you from one side of the city to the other along streets mainly occupied by people, pedicabs, and a few motorized vehicles. In the city center is a 500 year old Buddhist Temple which was saved from Cultural Revolution damage by establishing a propaganda center in the temple for the Cultural Revolution. A human calls worshipers to prayer in the city mosque. At night the streets are crowded with residents slowly strolling through the quiet streets. There are plenty of restaurants serving local specialties at low prices.
The city is in a valley. You can walk up either side of the valley through steep terraced hillsides dotted with farmer’s houses. Workers plow fields with oxen and harvest crops by hand.
The buildings are old - but old in China doesn't mean quaint or charming. It means dark and depressing. The streets and the interiors of the houses are cement. Some people have ceramic tile on the floor, but most just have bare concrete floors and walls with no paint. The stairwells, even in new multistory buildings are dark and dirty.
Out our window is the street is active - old men in Mao suits talking, Baima women in their traditional dress walking by, people playing mahjong, and lots of grandmas carry little kids on their backs. There aren't many cars here because we are on a dead-end street. The street sounds are mostly voices. The garbage truck plays a song when it comes by.
Written by Roger Ratcliff on 16 Oct, 2000
There is a road between Pingwu City and Jiuzhaigou. Off this main road is a road going up a valley containing several Baima villages. Many of these villages offer lodging and food. Baima people wear very colorful cloths and little white hats with white feathers.…Read More
There is a road between Pingwu City and Jiuzhaigou. Off this main road is a road going up a valley containing several Baima villages. Many of these villages offer lodging and food. Baima people wear very colorful cloths and little white hats with white feathers. They are very attractive and lively people. We spent nights in two of the villages.
Baima are an indigenous minority, possibly related to Tibetans. Part of their language is similar to Tibetan, but that may be because they have lived in close proximity for hundreds of years. There are trade routes (horse trails) from the Baima area through Wanglang and over some pretty amazing passes to the Tibetan areas of Jiuzhaigou and Songpan.
There are about 3000 Biama people in the world, 1300 of them live in a handful of little villages in this valley, and another 700 live in other parts of Pingwu County. We think of the Baima people as an endangered species.
When staying in a Baima village, it is traditional for groups of beautiful young Baima women sing to dinner guests encouraging them to drink. One evening we stayed a travelling companion was over-encouraged to drink. When the Baima women saw he was getting out of control, six of them rushed him, knocked him off his feet, grabbed his arms and legs and began swinging him up and down and back and forth. As the evening wore on they gave the same "swinging" treatment to all of us, including my wife Donna. It is just something they do when the mood strikes them - they are a lively group. As the evening wore on, our friend could no longer stand, so the village men carried him off to bed.
While eating, we hear women in the kitchen singing together. The morning after, a group of young women in traditional dress stood in the road just laughing and singing one song after another. It made us wonder about the advantages of a society being "developed."
In another village, we sat around an open fire inside the eating room (there is a hole in the roof, and the ceiling is hung with meat smoking from the wood fire). We had dinner and talked, via a translator to the family (mother, dad, kids, sisters, brothers,¡). Baima-Tibetan is their native language. Maybe 20% know how to write in Baima-Tibetan but all know how to speak it. Mandarin is taught in school. Most children don¡¯t go beyond primary school. They stay at home and help their parents until they are old enough to get married and start their own households.
In another village, about 20 young men and boys came galloping up laughing, shouting, and beckoning for us to go for a ride on their horses. In the evening they would all gather in the street and race their horses, try to buck each other off, and laugh and joke together.
Their kids usually don't go beyond the sixth grade. But the seem quite cheerful. They just help out at home until they get old enough to get married and set up their own household.
We visited the school. Like other village schools we have visited, it is just a cement block building with no heat, broken windows, and little lighting. Kids bring lumps of coal to keep them warm in the winter. There is a black board at the front of the room and no other decorations or paint. Thirty kids, K - 3, go to the school. There are two Chinese Han teachers and the curriculum is Chinese and math.
The kids learn Baima at home, so they have to learn Chinese as a second language. The village did not have teachers for several years. Those years the kids either went to another village to go to school, or just didn't go to school. Some of the more wealthy families live in Pingwu so their kids can attend school beyond the 3rd grade.