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Joni and I are companions on the "10" hour bus ride to Juizhaigou Valley in the Tibetan Plateau. The bus is far from comfortable. No AC, no heat. Windows don't really open. No restroom. Barely any brakes. The driver is intent on never stopping... but since the bus would break down every once an a while he seldom had a choice where we take breaks.
Immediately as we leave Chengdu we are in the mountains... well, Chengdu is surrounded by mountains, but you rarely see them because of all the smog. The mountains here are Limestone. Fragile and aged, they crumble easily, and landslides are common. This is the region that suffered the heaviest casualties from the 2008 earthquake. Whole villages were covered by boulders. I didn't realize it at the time, but the road we took up the valley was freshly built. On the other side of the river was the ruins of the former highway and all the villages, farms and even traffic that fell victim to that devastating quake. The construction of this new highway was ongoing, and part of the extra time needed to get to Juizhaigou was the result of frequent construction.
Along the way, we passed hundreds of small villages, each one with their own tourist "attraction." Some are massive ornate bridges, others are colossal statues of ancient Chinese warriors. Some of the best were reproductions of castles, forts and temples from the warlord era. Of more interest to me was the style of the homes in each village. Although they didn't differ drastically, each village had some defining style characteristic to their design. Usually something ornate about the roof. Almost all of the smaller villages utilized personal solar generators for electricity.
We would hit a rest stop ever hour or two, though there were plenty along the way. Families, even villages, would have economies centered around the highway. One rest stop would have a cafeteria, snacks and drinks, pay restrooms (one yuan/one time), a hose for washing the bus, cooling down the brakes and engine, and often people in native clothing and/or with Tibetan Yaks for tourist photos. Competition for buses and cars to stop is intense. Often whole families would stand in the road with signs trying to wave traffic into their stop.
Fruit and nut vendors at one rest stop.
This village built this pagoda as part of their tourism program to encourage visitors to stop. This and a couple of rest stops is all this village has.
A roadside village with rest top vendor tents, their sole tourist attraction (pagoda) and a few houses up on the cliff. This village is fortunate enough to be close to a dam, so they have power. Across the river is where the old highway, and other villages were located. You can see the ridge the former highway was located on. It is now almost completely covered in landslides.
The bus ride there was nothing shy of 14 hours. And this was going at top speed, with the bus driver only lightening on the pedal when we reach snow at high altitudes. This is when Joni realized she only packed summer clothes. As we walked the 2 miles form the bus station to our rooms in freezing rain, we tried to land a taxi, which were scarce. Fortunately in china... everyone with a car and some bills to pay can be a taxi. It cost me a whopping 100 yuan for a ride just shy of 2 miles. Ridiculous, but I think Joni would have froze to death otherwise. I had to give her my flannels and a jacket.
Since this was Joni's first time in Sichuan, she wanted to try some authentic Sichuan cuisine, and I certainly did not object. We ordered a lot of good things that I was familiar with... and this was the meal that kept me up all night puking. By morning I had little strength and my stomach felt like it could turn at any moment. We made it to Jiuzhaigou Valley around noon. I took my time. I was so hungry, but I couldn't eat. It was a beautiful day for photographing mountains, but not for waterfalls or water... and I really didn't feel like photographing anyways. We are now in the Min Shan mountain range on the edge of the Tibetan Himalayan Plateau. We are high.. the air is thin... the sun is hot... the shade is ice cold. Everything is tiring. Even peeing is tiring... hiking is exhausting.
Jiuzhaigou Valley is massive, but it does have one main road that can get you to all the good spots. Go off the road and you can see some Tibetan villages, cool waterfalls and lakes, and possibly get mauled by a panda.
This is the main entrance to Jiuzhaigou. It is a Tibetan-style building. Inside are office, guides, a bunch of food vendors and a souvenir shop with a lot of crap.
A small Tibetan village along the river.
This is what Jiuzhaigou is all about. This lush valley contains three distinct gullies that are packed with blue-to-green colored lakes and thousands of waterfalls. The high concentration of calcium carbonate from the limestone bedrock is what gives the water its varied colors, and in many locations creates waterfalls. The high concentrations of minerals in the water, precipitate out onto rocks, trees, and other calcium deposits, creating natural dams for water to spill over. This layering, combined with the high fertility of the valley has resulted in a river filled with plants, pools and whitewater. It's an amazingly colorful sight. Its even more amazing, considering Jiuzhaigou only recently became protected (1980s) that China hasn't destroyed this place already.
In this wide open part of the valley in direct sunlight, I had a difficult time getting decent photos. But for the sake of documentation, I just shot what I could.
This waterfall is the result of buildups of calcium deposits from the river water.
This is a view looking downstream. The row of trees across the river is the crest a waterfall--a wall created by calcium deposits. The mineral wall traps soil, which the trees can grow on. The trees in turn become coated with calcium and, over time, increase the height of the waterfall.
The name Jiuzhaigou means "9 village Valley," for the 9 Tibetan villages along its length. Since the road was built and the valley being declared a protected area (and agriculture prohibited), two of the villages furthest from the road were abandoned. Villagers now rely solely on crafts and tourism for income.
This is one of the Tibetan villages. Think it is Shuzheng Village. It's relatively close to the entrance to the valley so it's popular with tourists.
Tibetan prayer flags are strung up anywhere they can be. Each flag is inscribed with a prayer.
On the other side of this road, and on the shore of the river is this old grist mill. This mill is older than the United States. Kudos to the Chinese for preserving it and making it accessible. It's a pretty neat place for tourists because here the boardwalk is close to the river, and leads to a sizable waterfall.
Perfect place for a mill. The water here is fast.
Joni poses for some photos. She is wearing my shirt because I didn't think her School uniform would be warm enough for the Himalayas.
Here's the village I was just in. How long did it take to walk to this side... about 1 hour.
Calcium-tolerant algae love these shallows, but for the most part not many living things can grow within the deep pools. Fallen trees will remain preserved for decades.
I feel like I'm going to die.
The doorway of an old sawmill.
One of the deeper lakes... I don't recall the name.
No tripod on this trip, and even if i decided to bring one, it would have killed me to lug it around. Thus, I'm shooting in direct sun, handheld... not ideal for waterfalls, but at least I'm getting decent exposures considering how much glare these scenes had.
Another handheld shot of the whitewater at the base of Shuzheng Waterfall, which i believe to be primarily a natural stone waterfall, rather than one comprised mostly of calcium deposits. You can tell this from the boulders that make up its structure.
A long exposure of Shuzheng Waterfall from a tree stump about half-way down it.
Another series of gorgeous photos, Matt. What an amazingly beautiful country it is...I can only imagine how many photos you took in all.
Love the information you provide too...even the part about getting sick...and being too tired to "pee".
I would love to visit this area too!
beautiful photos, educational commentary, fantastic series! but next time you go, try sneaking a bag of lobster cheese chips into every single shot so we can search for it.
wow Matt, great, just what I was waiting for...place looks pretty cool - nice to see and hear the whole experience
Great photos and notations. You lucky dog, the girl is adorable. Favorite pic is the last one of the waterfall...go figure. Single Pagoda by the water could also be a keeper with some work?
Thank you... there are more...
Another view of Shuzheng Waterfall
The lake above the waterfall
The water gets deeper in depth and color
You can see the bottom way out into the lake. Reminded me of Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse, but the water here is clearer.
From running this site, I know about all types of mills, or at least I thought I did... Here is a new one for all of us... a religious mill.
For Tibetan Buddhists, the continuous recital of prayer in words or mind is important to keeping the pursuit of enlightenment.
Prayer wheels, beads, and charms usually contain written prayers. The rotation of these prayers (always in a clockwise motion) is considered to be the equivalent of verbal recital of the prayer. One device for "spinning prayer" is the prayer wheel. Which are often positioned in rows, which people will walk around in a clockwise direction, spinning the wheels (also clockwise).
Here I found a mill type with the sole purpose of keeping a giant prayer wheel spinning. Numerous mills like this lined the banks of the river above the waterfall, and the creaky sound of the brass prayer wheels on their wooden frames, and the chime of dozens of bells complemented the serenity of the the slow-moving water. This was my favorite part of the park.
Here's some Chinglish for you. This was in the bus station/tourist center.
There was a bus to get back... these people were ahead of us in line.
The next day we returned. I was feeling better. Joni was not. We traveled up further into the valley. Here are some mountain peaks.