• Rick

Before the Devastation of Jiuzhai Valley (九寨沟)

Updated: Dec 17, 2019


On 8 August 2017, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake devastated Jiuzhai Valley National Park (or Jiuzhaigou, 九寨沟), a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sichuan, China. The earthquake destroyed some infrastructures and natural sites in the national park, including the famous Nuorilang Waterfall, the prime attraction in Jiuzhai Valley.

Fortunately, the earthquake struck after 9pm when the number of people in the park is not as many as during the day — the popular attraction attracted about 40,000 visitors a day.

The park is now closed and nobody knows when it will reopen again. While restoration to man-made infrastructures can be done easily, the natural sites will require many years for nature to re-beautify its newly created landscapes. As a matter of fact, the natural landscapes of Jiuzhai Valley were shaped by earthquakes hundreds of years ago. It's a natural cycle.

While we lament the lost of lives and a beautiful heaven on Earth, let's reminisce the beauty of Jiuzhai Valley — during an autumn in 2009 (a year after the Wenchuan Great Earthquake in 2008, also in Sichuan province).

The Jiuzhai Valley

Jiuzhai Valley literally means "Nine Village Valley" due to the nine Tibetan villages in and around the valley. It consists of 3 valleys in a "Y" shape. The park entrance is at the bottom end of the "Y". From the park entrance to the intersection point of the "Y" before the road forked is Shuzheng Valley. Branching to the right is Rize Valley and Zechawa Valley is on the left. There are transports along the roads to ferry visitors to far away spots.

Most visitors will start with Rize Valley, followed by Zechawa Valley and Shuzheng Valley last. Nuorilang Waterfall is at the intersection point (well, you can say that all roads lead to the waterfall). The last part of the visit will be to walk from the waterfall down the valley to the park entrance. It is difficult to hop on a transport towards the end of the day when everyone is leaving the park.

First Fork: Rize Valley (日则沟)

Most visitors will start with Rize Valley as the 18Km valley has the most sites. The furthest end point is at the Primeval Forest (原始森林). For one day trip, most visitor will skip the forest and drop off at the Grass Lake instead to save time.

Grass Lake (芳草海)

The Grass Lake is at an altitude of 2,910 metres above sea level. The reeds in the lake were green during spring, with flower blossoms in summer, golden yellow in autumn and crystal white in winter.

Arrow Bamboo Lake (箭竹海)

Arrow Bamboo Lake got its name due to the arrow bamboos growing around it. It is also a very picturesque lake, especially when the water is calm.

Arrow Bamboo Waterfall (箭竹海瀑布)

Situated in Arrow Bamboo Lake, the waterfall is 7 metres high and spans 150 metres.

Scenic walking path from Arrow Bamboo Lake to Panda Lake.

Panda Lake (熊猫海)

There used to be giant pandas going to the lake to drink and hence its name. The same mirror image of the surrounding on calm water is breathtaking.

Panda Lake Waterfall (熊猫海瀑布)

The water in Panda Lake will flow down Panda Lake Waterfall, a cascaded waterfall of 78 metres.

Five-Flower Lake (五花海)

Five-Flower Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Jiuzhai Valley. The clear and blue shallow water and old fallen trees in the water give the lake its heavenly beauty. This is a favourite spot for many brides- and grooms-to-be to have their wedding photo shoots.

Pearl Shoals (珍珠滩)

Pearl Shoals has thin sheet of water flowing down a gentle sloping area to end at a waterfall.

Pearl Shoals Waterfall (珍珠滩瀑布)

Pearl Shoals Waterfall is about 21 metres high and spanning 160 metres.

Another beautiful grass lake between Pearl Shoals Waterfall and the next lake — Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake (镜海)

As the name implies, this lake is so calm that it can reflect anything above water (not when there are winds or rains).

Second Fork: Zechawa Valley (则查洼沟)

Long Lake (长海)

Long Lake is the highest accessible point in Zechawa Valley with an altitude of 3,060 metres and measuring 7.5Km with no known distributary channels. The lake is surrounded by mountains, capped with snow all year round, and forests that seasonally-changed its colors.

Five-Coloured Pool (五彩池)

Five-Coloured Pool are bodies of clear water with richly coloured underwater landscape.

Last Lap: Shuzheng Valley (树正沟)

Most of the damages caused by the earthquake are in this valley.

Nuorilang Waterfall (诺日朗瀑布)

Nuorilang Waterfall was the prime attraction in Jiuzhai Valley. It used to span 270 metres, the widest waterfall in China. The waterfall was completely destroyed by the earthquake. It is now a pile of earth with just a single stream of water. To see how it looks like now, ask Google.

The photos below are memories of the once magnificent waterfall.

Jiuzhai Valley Ethnic Cultural Village (九寨沟民俗文化村)

The cultural village is actually the Tibetan Shuzheng Village, one of the nine villages in the valley. This is a good place to check out the Tibetan village, try the food, get some souvenirs and visit a Tibetan temple.

Shuzheng Lakes (树正群海)

Shuzheng Lakes is a series of cascaded lakes that are naturally dammed.

Lying Dragon Lake (卧龙海)

Lying Dragon Lake got its name due to a dyke in the lake that resembles a dragon lying at the bottom. I was walking down the main road and the lake was a little too far away, but the "dragon" is still visible in the photo.

Wonder if the "dragon" is still in shape after the quake.

Sparkling Lake (火花海)

I missed Sparkling Lake completely during the 2009 trip due to a sudden rain that forced me to hop on a transport to the next point. It is a pity to have missed it and now the lake is totally destroyed. To see how it looks like before and now, ask Google again.

Reed Lake (芦苇海)

The Reed Lake is a reed-covered marsh with a clear turquoise brook zigzagging through it. During autumn, the reeds will turn golden yellow.

Bonsai Shoals (盆景滩)

Bonsai Shoals is the last attraction in Shuzheng Valley. There are potholes in the shoals and each hole has a plant growing from it. So, the scenery resembles many pots of bonsai growing in the river.

And the rest of the walk is to the park exit.

Except for the two sites that have new landscapes, the rest of the sites should be intact or with minor scars. I believe Jiuzhai Valley National Park will be opened to the public once restoration works are done and all infrastructures are certified safe. It probably won't be as breathtaking as it used to be when Nuorilang Waterfall was still standing, but it is still a great place to visit with its remaining beautiful sites.

Check out another trip in China

Solo Traveller in Guangxi and Yunnan, China (独行桂滇)

#jiuzhaigou #sichuan #china #UNESCOsite #九寨沟

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