JIUZHAIGOU COLORED LAKES, PANDA MOUNTAINS AND TIBETAN AREAS OF NORTHERN SICHUAN

ABA

Aba — officially known as Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture — is a region and autonomous prefecture in northwestern Sichuan, bordering Gansu to the north and northeast and Qinghai to the northwest. It covers an area of 83,201 square kilometers (32,124 square miles) and has a population of almost one million people. The county of Wenchuan in Aba is where the epicenter of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed over 20,000 people, is located.

Most of Aba lies in the Tibetan cultural and historical region of Amdo, the southern part in Kham. The west, and part of Kardze, is also known as Gyalrong. Gyalrong people speak a Qiangic language known as Gyalrong language. The source of the Min River and its tributary Dadu River are to be found in Aba

Aba is served by the Hongyuan Airport in the west and Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport in the east. Private taxis can be hired from these airports. Jiuzhaigou Train Station is under construction 55 kilometers (34 miles) northwest of Jiuzhaigou County's town and slated to a stop on the railway being built between Chengdu and Lanzhou.

Among the well-known tourist sites in Aba are 1) Wolong National Nature Reserve in Wenchuan County, the well-known giant panda reserve; 2) Jiuzhaigou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its many multi-level waterfalls and colorful lakes; 3) Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area, another UNESCO World Heritage Site; 4) Mount Siguniang, the highest point of the Qionglai Mountains; 5) Kirti Gompa, a 15th-century Tibetan Buddhism monastery; and 6) Nangzhik Gompa monastery, founded in the 12th century.

Kham

Kham is the wild Tibetan area in Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet that is very different from the dry and brown Tibetan plateau. A lush and green and well-watered place, Kham features old growth forests, rhododendron trees and spectacular mountains and Alpine scenery. Antelopes, golden eagles, packs of green parakeets, snow leopards, bears, monkeys and wolves and bandits still roam here. The roads here have only recently been opened to tourists and many places are still off limits.

Kham is different from Tibet in other ways. The Khampa Tibetans live wood or stone houses with brilliantly carved windows not concrete or mud brick houses or yak-hair tents as is the case on the Tibetan plateau. There is not a large Han Chinese presence here other than police and soldiers. Some Han Chinese here have even married Tibetans. There region has long had a reputation unruliness and independence.

Kham has a warrior tradition. Much of Kham was closed to foreigners until 2000 because if banditry and political resistance in the region by Khampa Tibetans, who led the resistance movement against the Chinese in the 1950s.

Tibetans here have been able to practice their religion and customs with relatively little interference from Beijing. Until the riots in 2008, monasteries openly displayed pictures of the Dalai Lama. In some villages you can still find people who practice polyandry. The area is also very poor. Many people are illiterate and infant mortality rates are high.

Scenerywise, Kham is stunning. There are mountains over 20,000 feet; red pandas and snow leopards, dense virgin forests and Tibetans, Naxi and Yi villages.The upper reaches of four of Asia's mightiest rivers---the Yangtze, Mekong, the Salween and Irrawaddy---flow parallel to one another within a 55 mile band, divided by high mountain ridges. The Yangtze river, known in this area as the Jinsha, marks the boundary between Tibet and Kham.

The relatively high rainfall and drastic elevation changes in Kham produce an explosion of biodiversity, which includes more than 10,000 plant species, 162 species of rhododendron and 120 species of primrose. The region is source of Asian medicines and herbs and matsutake and morel mushrooms. The Washington-based Nature Conservancy is active in the area, preserving plantlife and wildlife.

Unrest in Aba

There have been reports of violence and small uprisings since the big Tibetan uprising in 2008. Many protests and troubles have been in Aba. In the spring of 2008, many Khampas and people in Amdo took part in a widespread uprising against Chinese rule that began with protests and riots in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. For a while Aba or parts of it were closed to foreigners. Things have been relatively calm there in recent years but you never know.

In March 2009, hundreds of monks at Sey monastery in Aba staged a protest after Chinese officials banned prayers during the Monlam Buddhist festival. Chinese security forces responded by surrounding the monastery after the monks returned and put them under what Tibetan activists called a lockdown. A week earlier a monk protesting the ban on prayers set himself on fire and was shot at nearby Kirti monastery

On troubles in Aba in August 2012, Associated Press reported: “A Tibetan man was reportedly beaten to death during a clash with police in west China after two Tibetans set themselves on fire, in the worst flaring of violence in the region in months. The violence occurred in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture, which has emerged as a centre of political activism and the site of dozens of self-immolations in the past few years. The area, home to the influential Kirti Monastery, has been flooded with security forces, but they have been unable to stop the immolation protests. [Source: AP, August 14, 2012]

“Radio Free Asia said in an emailed statement that a Kirti monk named Lungtok and another man, identified only as Tashi, set themselves alight Monday evening. It cited a Tibetan in the Aba area who was not identified by name and other unidentified people inside Tibet. The report said a large number of police tried to clear the immolation site and ended up clashing with Tibetans. It said one man was beaten to death, but gave no other details. There was no way to independently confirm the report.

“A woman who answered the telephone at the Aba police department said there had been no immolations or confrontations between police and Tibetan locals. "Nothing like that has happened," said the woman, who like many bureaucrats in China refused to give her name. At least 17 were monks or former monks from Kirti have set themselves on fire, according to an earlier tally from the International Campaign for Tibet. The clash with police marked the worst flaring of violence in Sichuan since a series of protests in January 2012 that Tibetan activist groups say left six Tibetans dead. The Chinese government said at the time that two rioters were killed.”

Journalists Traveling in Aba with Government Minders

Jonathan Kaiman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Countless propaganda billboards, some many stories high, lined the highway. Religious Belief Must Be in Accordance With Socialism,” said one. “Love the Country, Love the Party, Love Religion,” said another. “Construct an Excellent Political Environment,” said a third. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2017]

“Aba has a long history of unrest, and though it falls outside the highly restricted Tibet Autonomous Region, swaths of the prefecture have also been off limits to foreigners and little is known to the outside world about daily life there. In 2008, anti-Chinese riots rocked China’s Tibetan regions. Authorities responded with mass detentions, shows of force, and “patriotic reeducation campaigns,” demanding that monks hang portraits of Chinese leaders in their monasteries. Since 2009, more than 140 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest. About a third of them lived in Aba.

“We would be on the road for eight days, traveling 1,000 miles through the prefecture and meeting some of its 920,000 people. Every day stretched out over 12 jam-packed hours or longer; we were forbidden to eat any meals on our own or conduct unchaperoned interviews. But the trip offered a rare chance to report on Aba without risk of government retaliation.

“We toured a solar power facility, a Tibetan medicine factory and a yak milk powder processing plant. Each boasted of high productivity figures, but all we saw were long sterile corridors without workers, and pristine metal machines. We visited a home for Tibetan elders, a school for Tibetan children, and several tourism encampments, where Han Chinese urbanites come to ride horses and sleep in tents, paying top dollar for a taste of nomadic life. We most looked forward to the interview with a “living Buddha” — our opportunity to ask about the religious repression that Tibetans in China often face.

“Both the officials and local Tibetans appeared anxious that any deviation from the party line would destroy their facade of normality, revealing the discord and uncertainty roiling beneath. When asked why authorities generally prohibit foreign reporters from visiting the Tibet Autonomous Region, one trip organizer, Chen Weide — a Sichuan provincial media official — said that it was because “the altitude is very high” and that authorities fear for visitors’ safety. (The area remains open to foreign tourists.)

We were closely monitored. Each time we stopped at an attraction, two to five SUVs full of middle-aged men — brooding smokers, most wearing ill-fitting polo shirts — would park behind us. The men followed along as we reported. They did not introduce themselves, and they did not respond to questions. “Everything was recorded. The foreign journalists recorded the tour guides, and Chinese reporters recorded the foreign ones. The shadowy men recorded us all.

“Late one night, another journalist and I sneaked out of the hotel and wound through the darkened side streets of Hongyuan County, a cluster of slapdash mid-rises on the edge of the grasslands. We stepped into a small shop, where a Tibetan family sold silver jewelry and Buddha statuettes. The shopkeeper, a young man, agreed to answer some questions. But as soon as we shifted the conversation to religion, he seized up, and his eyes darted anxiously. “We have a bit” of religious freedom, he said. He stuttered briefly and acknowledged that, yes, he revered the Dalai Lama. “It’s our belief,” he said. He clasped his hands. We left after about two minutes, ashamed of even asking. Outside, I scanned the empty streets, vigilant for tailing cars and footsteps, and lurking threats that may or may not have been there.

Songpan

Songpan (300 kilometers north of Chengdu, 10 hours by bus from Chengdu in northern Sichuan) is nestled in the Min mountains and attracts visitors who like horse trekking. A jumping off point for visits to Jiuzhaigou Valley and Huanglong Scenic, the town is shared by Tibetans, Hui Muslim and Han Chinese. In the Muslim part of town mutton and yak meat is widely eaten. In the Han Chinese sections pork is preferred.

The economy of Songpan has traditionally been dominated by agriculture and livestock raising but in recent years, tourism has become an increasingly important sector, and is actively promoted by the authorities. Songpan is popular with backpackers, foreign students and Chinese language learners staying in China as the base for treks through the scenic mountains nearby. Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area is located in Songpan county. Jiuzhaigou Valley is to the north.

Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Songpan is accessible by bus from Chengdu. Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

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Five Color Pool

Jiuzhaigou: China’s Yellowstone and Yosemite

Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve (2½ hours by bus from Songpan and 13 hours from Chengdu in northern Sichuan) is one of the world's most stunning and beautiful places. Situated in remote and largely uninhabited area of China, it was described by Edward Hoagland in National Geographic as a “chain of flower-colored, ribbony lakes and fingery waterfalls, underneath escarpments chevroned with maple, spruce, or bamboo forests cut by the talus of old landslides."

Jiuzhaigou means “valley of nine villages." Situated in the Min mountains on the edge of the it a Y-shaped, glacier-carved valley that is 30 kilometers long and comprised of three valleys — the lower 2000-meter-high Shuzeng valley and the Zechawa and the Rize valleys — which fork off of it and climb a height of about 3,000. Along the sides of the valleys are cliffs, escarpment faces, and mountains that remind some of Yosemite Valley. Around the valley are dense forests and snowy peaks and Tibetan villages. The highest point in the park is a 4,558-meter (14,954-foot) -high holy mountain named Zayizaga. Water from the lakes and streams eventually ends up in the Yangtze.

Jiuzhaigou Valley is a nature reserve and national park, whose multi-colored lakes, dense forests and snowy mountains and bring min Yellowstone National Park. It lies in the Minshan mountain range on the edge of the Tibetan Himalayan Plateau and extends over 720 square kilometers. Situated around branch of the Baihe River, the upper stream of Baishuigou Valley, Jiuzhaigou Valley is named after the nine Tibetan villages located along its length. With an elevation ranging from 2,000 meters to 4,500 meters, the valley is covered by primary forests and 108 lakes. It is known for its crystal lakes, multi-level waterfalls, colorful forests, snow-capped peaks and Tibetan culture. Over 140 types of birds can be found in the valley, together with many other kinds of endangered animals and plants, including pandas and Sichuan takin. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national AAAAA scenic zone, Jiuzhaigou Vally is located in Jiuzhaigou Country of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture.

Jiuzhaigou: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. The park was named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1997. According to UNESCO: “ Jiuzhaigou is renowned for its scenic and aesthetic majesty. Its fairyland landscape of numerous lakes, waterfalls, and limestone terraces, with their attractive, clear, mineral-rich waters, set in the spectacular alpine mountains with a highly diverse forest ecosystem, demonstrates remarkable natural beauty.... Stretching over 72,000 hectares in the northern part of Sichuan Province, the jagged Jiuzhaigou valley reaches a height of more than 4,800 meters, thus comprising a series of diverse forest ecosystems. Its superb landscapes are particularly interesting for their series of narrow conic karst land forms and spectacular waterfalls. Some 140 bird species also inhabit the valley, as well as a number of endangered plant and animal species, including the giant panda and the Sichuan takin.

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Waterfall in Jiuzhaigou

The Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area is a reserve of exceptional natural beauty with spectacular jagged alpine mountains soaring above coniferous forest around a fairyland landscape of crystal clear, strange-coloured blue, green and purplish pools, lakes, waterfalls, limestone terraces, caves and other beautiful features. These include a number of karst formations; indeed the area is a "natural museum" for alpine karst hydrology and research. Covering 72,000 hectares in the northern part of Sichuan Province, Jiuzhaigou preserves a series of important forest ecosystems including old-growth forests which provide important habitat for numerous threatened species of plants and animals, including the giant panda and takin. Attaining heights of 4,752 meters in the southern Minshan Mountains, Jiuzhaigou also contains an important number of well-preserved quaternary glacial remnants with great scenic value.

“Jiuzhaigou contains all the elements necessary to demonstrate and protect its natural beauty, and is surrounded by buffer zones. Although the site was partially degraded by previous forestry activities, it is recovering through tree planting and strict management which includes protecting water quality, air quality, and forests. At time of inscription some 800 residents in six villages lived inside the site, with the policy being to seek voluntary agreement to gradually reduce the human population within the reserve.

As a national park and a national nature reserve, Jiuzhaigou is protected by national and provincial laws and regulations. A General Plan for Jiuzhaigou National Park is in place and approved by the national government, which provides a framework for the protection and management of the park, including a detailed monitoring plan for park resources. Water resources, biodiversity, forest pests and diseases, and weather and climate are all monitored under this plan. In addition, the plan provides for protection of biodiversity, traditional culture, and the environment under increased tourism development.

As part of the monitoring and protection of Jiuzhaigou, the Science Department is intimately involved in collaborative research with both domestic and international universities and researchers. Important areas of research and monitoring include the evolution of Jiuzhaigou’s tufa deposits; air and water quality; archaeology; meadow reforestation and biodiversity; and human-landscape interactions. The results of these research projects form the basis for new management policies. The continuing growth in tourism is a challenge and of concern, and many remedial actions to control the effects of human activities have been undertaken based on the research and monitoring projects.

Tourism at Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou Reserve covers 620 square kilometers (278 square miles). The picturesque scenic spots are mainly distributed along Shuchin Gully from the entrance of the park to Norinam and two branch gullies (Chawa and Rize gullies). The “Y”-shaped section covers an area of 720 square kilometers. The scenic zone contains 118 alpine lakes, 17 waterfall groups, many travertine shoals and various kinds of rare animals and plants. The famous tourist attractions in Jiuzhaigou include the Sword Hanging Waterfall, Fragrant Grass Lake, Swan Lake, Sword Bamboo Lake, Panda Lake, High Waterfall, Five Flower Lake, Pearl Shoal Waterfall, Mirror Lake, Norinam Waterfall, Rhinoceros Lake, Shuzheng Waterfall and Shuzhengqun Lake, Jiuzhaigou Valley is open to tourists all the year round, and autumn is the best season for tourists to visit Jiuzhaigou in terms of scenery but there often swarms of people in the park at that time.

Jiuzhaigou is very developed and crowded. During the height of the summer tourism season it attracts about 18,000 people each day. A fleet 280 buses shuttle the visitors to the boardwalks that the encircle the small lakes, where they wander around at at their own pace and wait in line for the next bus to take them to the next lake. Over 100 hotels sit at the entrance to Shuzeng valley. At Nuorilang, where the road forks, there is a shopping center and cafeteria. The left fork ends at a long, squiggle-shaped lake, where costumed Tibetans sell souvenirs. Altogether there are 60 kilometers of wooden walkways, stairs and observation decks for visitors to walk on.

Restrictions have been placed of foreign visitors to Jiuzhaigou Valley because of its location in the volatile Tibetan area of Aba. Jiuzhaigou was declared a World Heritage Site in 1992 after it was threatened by loggers. The pandas that once thrived in the park are largely gone except for maybe a handful that wander in and out of the park. Among the animals that can be found in the park are golden, snub-nosed monkeys, hog badgers, musk deer, lynx, civets, red pandas and rhesus macaques. Visitors occasionally see birds swim in the clear lake and fish fly into the clear air. [Source: Edward Harland, National Geographic. March 2009]

Songcheng (Jiuzhaigou) is a theme park originally conceived as a celebration of Song Dynasty culture.Andrew Chin wrote: “Boasting a unique model that emphasizes live theatrical cultural performances, Songcheng is able to usher in vast groups of people.” Website: www.songcn.com [Source: Andrew Chin, That’s Shanghai, July 28, 2016]

Location: Jiuzhaigou Valley, Yanjiang, Ziyang, Tel:0086-837-7739753; Websites: jiuzhai.com click Google translate; : Travel China Guide Travel China Guide UNESCO World Heritage Site site: : UNESCO Hotel Web Site: There is accommodation in the park and in Songpan. Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books;

Admission: 220 yuan (US$34.77) per person (summer); 80 yuan (US$12.64) per person (winter) Getting There: Jiuzhaigou is accessible by bus and organized tour from Songpan and Chengdu. Many visitors arrive on the 40 minutes flights from Chengdu. Tourists may take a bus at the Chengdu Xinnanmen Passenger Transportation Center to the entrance of Jiuzhaigou Valley; or take a bus at the Chadianzi Bus Terminal to the country town of JIuzhai, and then change a bus to Jiuzhaigou Valley. Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Lakes and Waterfalls at Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve

Jiuzhaigou is particularly famous for its colored lakes. There are a total of 118 lakes in the reserve. The lakes were created by avalanches and landslides that blocked creeks and cause the water in them to back up. The colors in the water come from dissolved limestone which causes the water to change mostly from emerald to turquoise depending on the time of the day.

According to legend the colors come from cosmetics dropped in the lakes by goddesses and the limestone formations were made by dragons and mermaids. Tibetans believe that spirits live in the lake and reflective quality of their surface comes from a mirror polished with clouds by a god. According to the story the god gave the mirror to a goddess who dropped it with the shards creating the valley's 118 lakes.

Among the lakes are Five Colored Pond, Tiger Lake, Golden Bell Lake, Grass Lake, Panda Lake, Mirror Lake, Rhinoceros Lake, Red Lake, Bonsai Lake and Swan Lake. Five Flower Sea is said to contains water of five different colors. All of them appear to have a polished finish when there is no wind, when they almost magically reflect the clouds, sky and trees above. The lakes are just as beautiful under mists and clouds as they are when the weather is bright and sunny. The Chinese say, “Nowhere else under the sky can match Jiuzhaigou,

Arrow Bamboo Falls is especially breathtaking in the spring when its swells with clear snowmelt and becomes a cascade flowing throwing a forest of spring green. The falls are about 170 meters wide with the highest cataracts almost 10 meters. Water flows through trees at Shuzheng Falls. The whole area is stunning in the autumn when the birches, willows and maples burst out in red, yellow and orange.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Nuorilang Waterfall is one of the largest travertine waterfalls in China, which is 24.5 meters high, 270 meters wide and drop 20 meters, with an elevation of 2,365 meters, and it is the widest of the many waterfalls in Jiuzhaigou and the widest waterfall in China. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

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Huanglong

Huanglong Scenic Area

Huanglong Scenic Area (56 kilometers from Songpan on the road to Jiuzhaigou, 340 kilometers north of Chengdu) has stunning mountains and waterfalls and a temple but is more well known for its scenery than its temple which is mostly in ruins. It's main feature is a luxuriously green gorge sided by mountains that rise 3000 meters (9000 feet) above a river. The first half of the eight-kilometers (five-mile) trail that runs along the gorge is built on planks. From the trail you can see dozens of waterfalls, caves and forests choked with climbing vines. Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and United Nations World Human and Biosphere Reserve in 2000.

Huanglong neighbors Jiuzhaigou, and is is known for its limestone-formation landscapes and colorful travertine (limestone-deposit) pools. Located in the southern part of the Minshan mountain range, Huanglong extends over an area of 700 square kilometers is home to endangered species such as the Giant Panda and the Sichuan Golden Snub-nosed Monkey.

According to UNESCO: Situated in the northwest of Sichuan Province, the Huanglong valley with its series of travertine lakes, waterfalls, forests and mountain scenery is a superlative natural property. Topped by permanently snow-capped peaks rising from a base of 1,700 meters up to 5,588 meters, these include the easternmost glacier in China. Covering 60,000 hectares, this area located within the Minshan Mountains also includes spectacular limestone formations and hot springs. Its diverse forest ecosystems provide the home for a number of endangered plants and animals. [Source: UNESCO]

Location: Huanglong Scenic Spot, Pingsong Rd., Songpan Xian, Aba, Sichuan, China, Tel: 086-837-7249800; UNESCO World Heritage Site site: : UNESCO . ; Admission: 200 yuan (US$31.60) per person (summer); 60 yuan (US$9.48) per person (winter)

Getting There: No buses run directly from Chengdu to Huanglong directly. Usually tourists may get on a public bus at the Chungdu Chadianzi Bus Terminal to the Chuanzhu Temple or to the entrance of Jiuzhaigou Valley in Songpan County, and then change a bus to Huanglong.

Sights in Huanglong

According to UNESCO: “Huanglong is renowned for its beautiful mountainous scenery, with relatively undisturbed and highly diverse forest ecosystems, combined with the more spectacular localised karst formations, such as travertine pools, waterfalls and limestone shoals. Its travertine terraces and lakes are certainly unique in all of Asia, and rate among the three most outstanding examples in the world. [Source: UNESCO]

“The Huanglong valley is relatively compact and surrounded on three sides by precipitous peaks. An entrance station at the mouth of the valley controls access. Outside the buffer zone there is seasonal stock grazing by nomadic Tibetan pastoralists but impacts are limited. Situated in the northwest of Sichaun Province, the Huanglong valley is made up of snow-capped peaks and the easternmost of all the Chinese glaciers. In addition to its mountain landscape, diverse forest ecosystems can be found, as well as spectacular limestone formations, waterfalls and hot springs.

Huanglong is known for its colorful pools created by calcite deposits, especially in Huanglonggou (Yellow Dragon Gully), as well as for its diversity in forest ecosystems, snow-capped peaks, waterfalls and hotsprings. Its highest peak, Xuebao Peak, is 5,588 meters (18,333 meters) high and is covered with snow and glaciers the year round. This is China's easternmost glacier.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Zhaga Waterfall of Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area in China: Zhaga Waterfall is one of China s largest travertine waterfall, which is 93.7 meters high and 35-40 meters wide. The upper reaches of the waterfall are lakes, and the lower reaches are terraced riverbeds. The water of the waterfall falls rapidly from the huge steps, and after three steps of travertine falls, it hits the huge travertine stone wall and forms a huge waterfall. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

Siguniang Mountain

Siguniangshan (120 kilometers west of Chengdu as the crow flies) is spectacularly situated in high snow-covered mountains. It is reached on a beautiful but scary road. Sigulianshan (Four Girls Mountain) is both the name of the one road town and the pyramid-shaped peak above it. Most of the people that live here are Tibetans. Jeep trips are offered places with awesome scenery.

Siguniang Mountain is located between Xiaojin County and Wenchuan County in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. It covers about 2,000 square kilometers and consists of four continuous peaks, with the main peak reaching 6,250 meters. The mountains are covered by snow and ice all year round and are known as the Alps of the East. Every year, travelers from all over the world come to hike on Siguniang Mountain. A popular route is from Rilong County, via Changping Village and Yakou County to Bipenggou scenic spot. It takes you three days and is a wonderful opportunity to experience Sichuan. the mountain is home to many species, including golden monkeys and black bears. There are places where visitors can enjoy sightseeing, mountain climbing and other recreational activities.

Siguniang’s name, according to a local legend, comes from frigid northern winds that once blasted the region. In order to block the winds and protect local residents, four beautiful girls turned into four peaks to shield the area from the gusts. According to the Chinese government: “Just like four girls, the charming peaks are white as ice and pearly colored as jade.” The 6,250-meter (20,025-foot) -high fourth peak is the highest as well as the most captivating. The heights of the first, second, and third peaks are 5,355 meters (17,569 feet), 5,454 meters (17,894 feet), and 5,664 meters (18,583 feet) respectively.

Travel Information: Best time to visit: May and June, or September and October; Admission: 70 yuan during the busy season (April-November), 50 yuan during the low season; Changping Valley: 70 yuan (US$11.06) per person (summer); 50 yuan (US$7.9) per person (winter); Shuangqiao Valley: 80 yuan (US$12.64) per person (summer); 50 yuan (US$7.9) per person (winter); Haizi Valley: 60 yuan (US$9.48) per person (summer); 40 yuan (US$6.32) per person (winter) Getting There: The road distance between Chengdu and Siguniangshan is about 250 kilometers, which can be covered in six to seven hours by car and eight or nine houses by bus via Xiaojin. You can take No. 4, 75, 82 or 86 buses from the Chadianzi stop in Chengdu.

Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries-Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains

Among the 1,800 giant pandas in the wild, about 85 percent are in Sichuan. Among China’s 19 panda natural reserves, 17 are in Sichuan. Wolong is one of the world’s largest nature reserves and reproduction centers for pandas.Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries-Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 2006. According to UNESCO: “ The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary includes more than 30 percent of the world’s population of giant Panda and constitutes the largest and most significant remaining contiguous area of panda habitat in the world. It is the most important source of giant panda for establishing the captive breeding population of the species. The property is also one of the botanically richest sites of any temperate region in the world or indeed anywhere outside of the tropical rain forests. Underlining the outstanding value is that it protects a wide variety of topography, geology, and plant and animal species. The property has exceptional value for biodiversity conservation and can demonstrate how ecosystem management systems can work across the borders of national and provincial protected areas. [Source: UNESCO]

“Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries...covers 924,500 hectares with seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains. The sanctuaries constitute the largest remaining contiguous habitat of the giant panda, a relict from the paleo-tropic forests of the Tertiary Era. It is also the species' most important site for captive breeding. The sanctuaries are home to other globally endangered animals such as the red panda, the snow leopard and clouded leopard. They are among the botanically richest sites of any region in the world outside the tropical rainforests, with between 5,000 and 6,000 species of flora in over 1,000 genera. Associated Press

“Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries-Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains is principally renowned for its importance for the conservation of the giant panda, recognized as a “National Treasure” in China and as a flagship for global conservation efforts. The property is the largest and most significant remaining contiguous area of panda habitat in China and thus the world. It is also the most important source of giant panda for establishing the captive breeding population of the species.

In addition to the giant panda, the property features a great number of endemic and threatened species of plants and animals, including other iconic mammal species such as the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard among the 109 species of mammals recorded (more than 20 percent of all Chinese mammals). The property is an important centre of endemism for some bird taxa with 365 bird species recorded, 300 of which breed locally. However the property is particularly important for flora, being one of the botanically richest sites of any temperate region in the world with some 5,000-6,000 species recorded. Many species are relicts, such as the dove tree, and there is significant diversity in groups such as magnolias, bamboos, rhododendrons, and orchids. The property is a major source and gene pool for hundreds of traditional medicinal plants, many now under threat.

“Located in China’s southeast province of Sichuan in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains between the Chengdu Plateau and the Tibetan-Qinghaian Plateau, the property includes seven nature reserves and eleven scenic parks in four prefectures or cities. It covers a total area of 924,500 hectares surrounded by a buffer zone of 527,100 hectares.

Conservation at the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries

According to UNESCO: “The boundaries of the property have been designed to maximize the protection of giant panda habitat based on panda survey data carried out in 2003-2004, as well as the distribution of existing natural habitat. Fragmentation of habitat makes it essential that large intact areas of panda habitat are adequately protected and also that green corridors are established to enable movement of panda species and to avoid inbreeding. A number of towns, villages, agriculture land, major infrastructures and sites of high impact tourism have been excluded from the property, leaving enclaves. [Source: UNESCO]

“Integrity issues include the need to enhance integrated monitoring and management capacity across all 18 management units of the property; establish and implement tourism management plans and tourism impact monitoring programmes; review existing infrastructure within the property with a view to better controlling impacts and, where possible, to remove infrastructure and allow habitat restoration with native species; ensure the "Sichuan World Heritage Management Committee" has sufficient powers, resources and authority to ensure it can effectively carry out its role in relation to management of the property; and to closely monitor the impact of the dam at Yaoji, and the associated relocation of people. Reviewing the possibilities for future addition of areas of high nature conservation value to the property, with priority on those areas which are particularly important for panda habitat and which are close to but outside the property (such as the Rongjin Nature Reserve which is as a critical link between the giant panda populations of Quionglaishan and Liangshan), is also recommended.

“The Property is wholly owned by the government of the People’s Republic of China. It is protected under a range of laws and regulations at national and provincial levels, including: Regulations on Wild Plant Protection of the People 's Republic of China (1997): Forest Law of the People 's Republic of China (1998); Environmental Protection Law of the People's Republic of China (2002), Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Nature Reserves (2002);

“A management plan of 2002 aims to ensure that “The biodiversity, ecosystem and habitat of the giant panda will be effectively protected in the World Heritage site and social and economic development of the human population in the area will be harmonized with the natural environment guidelines for the area and for management of different types of use”. It provides a sound framework for site management and conservation.

“The property is currently well-protected and in good condition. Following the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake which measured 8.0 on the Richter scale, a restoration and reconstruction plan for the property has been compiled and implemented. Future management priorities include to progressively increase the level of staffing and resources within all reserves within the property; improve the coordination relationship between all reserves within the property; better support scientific research and education; and maximize the tourism benefit and minimize the tourism impact.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site; Beifan.com; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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