In the northern Sichuan, close to the border of Northwest China’s Gansu Province, Jiuzhaigou is a breathtaking alpine valley discovered by lumberjacks in the 1970. It now welcomes an annual influx of nearly two million tourists from home and abroad.
About 480 km north of the Sichuan Provincial capital of Chengdu, the 720-square-kilometer valley of JIuzhaigou, which ranges from 2,000 to 3,100 meters above sea level, is spread over a Y-shaped ravine more than 40 kilometers long. Listed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO since 1992, Jiuzhaigou offers a number of dazzling features and unparalleled natural beauty, Home to takins – large horned Tibetan wild animals – snub-nosed monkeys and giant pandas, Jiuzhaigou is a nature reserve with North American-type alpine scenes – snowy peaks, clear lakes and forests sprinkled with Tibetan prayer wheels, flags and stupas. What the tourist finds particularly fascination is the transparent and multi-colored water in its 108 lakes – which is why local Tibetan women wear 108 braids during festivals. A local geographical record compiled in the 19th century, says: “Water here is bright green like an emerald, reflecting trees and mountain peaks.” The description is apt, indeed. Many who have been there share their view that the beauty of its water defies description.
The wood-clad mountains were an array of colors. The tree flamed with the autumn hues of crimson and yellow. Waterfalls and cascades, dashing and roaring, sent up clouds of mist. All of the lakes were transparent, tinted turquoise, blue and emerald because of their mineral content. The lakes vary in size from the 66 hectares of Changhai Lake to some of only a 20th of a hectare. Narrow plank bridges span small lakes, while others are so shallow that small plants sprouting from under driftwood lying on their beds trace a delicate pattern of green across their rippling surfaces. There is no definite explanation of how the lakes were formed, although most geologists agree they are barrier lakes created by dykes of calcium carbonate deposited and brought down by mountain streams. Tibetan folklore has it that these lakes were the panes of broken glass from the goddess Wonuosemo’s mirror. Many Tibetans believe that in the ancient times, Jiuzhaigou suffered such disasters that its mountains collapsed, trees and flowers withered and inhabitants fled. The Goddess Wonuosemo and God Dage decided to restore the valley to its former glory, performing the miracle from their respective mountain abodes. Rivers flowed again, forests sprang up, birds returned to nest, and abandoned villages were filled with people once more. Wonuosemo and Dage eventually fell in love and lived in celestial bliss after foiling an attempt to separate them. United at last, the lovers pledged their affection with an exchange of gifts. Dage gave Wonuosemo a bright, gleaming mirror to show his sweetheart her beauty. In her delight, Wonuosemo loosened her grasp and the mirror slipped from her hand. They searched the gully in vain, but they kept coming across luminous pools of water, throwing back at them mirror images of trees, mountains and clouds. Suddenly they realized the pools were the mirror fragments, and they have remained in Jiuzhaigou ever since. Jiuzhaigou, which means “nine fence gully” in Chinese, is named after the nine Tibetan settlements, which nestle in the mountain valley.