Monday, May 11, 2009

Huanglong 黄龙 and Xuebaoding

Charles, Isaac and Burton having a snowball fight at the pass overlooking Xuebaoding in the far distance. 
Lungta, "wind horses": small paper offerings that Tibetans through into the winds whenever crossing a pass. 
5588 m high Xuebaoding seen from the 4007 m high pass overlooking Huanglong Valley. 
Xuebaoding in the background and the roof of the highest temple (Huanglong Si), a Daoist temple, silhouetted in the foreground. The original temple was built in the Ming Dynasty. It is heavily reconstructed today and was not open to visitors. It is also here that the annual festival Huanglong festival is held in spring.
Incredibly hardworking "beifus" carrying up to 100 kilos of wooden planks to the upper reaches of Huanglong Park to construct new walkways for park visitors. They make on an average 40 yuan a day. If they start very early in the morning and carry two loads a day they can make double. It is extremely hard work at this altitude (many of the tourists were sucking on oxygen bottles and all they had to carry was one small bottle of water). Many of them come from the earthquake areas and are desperate to find work anywhere they can. Every one of them met us with a smile as they were walking up and some of them asked for water to drink. Everytime I visit a scenic area or famous mountain in China I think of the enormous amount of work put into constructing the thousands and thousands of stone and wood steps and walkways. Truly coolie labor at its worst in my opinion, I think these workers deserve much better. 
The stone pagodas in the foreground are said to be the tomb of a Tang Dynasty general and his wife.  At this time of year the pools were the most beautiful powdery blue.
The classic postcard view of the upper pools of Huanglong.

All photos ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

After we left Songpan we headed back to Chengdu via Huánglóng and Píngwǔ. Huanglong is only 90 minutes by car from Songpan and one of the world's most stunning nature areas. Over 3,000 pools of incredible shades of powdery turquoise blue cascade down the mountain side beneath Xuebaoding Mountain (5588 m). Xuebaoding is the highest mountain in the Minshan Mountain Range, located only 300 km north-northwest of Chengdu as the crows flies. The pools are made from calcite deposits and have taken thousands and thousands of years to create. We visited Huanglong on May 5th, an absolutely brilliant day but still quite early in the season. The surrounding vegetation was brown and the rhododendrons were still only fat buds, almost ready to unfurl their beauty. At this time of year there is only water in the uppermost pools behind the highest temple. End of summer (lush green vegetation) and autumn (yellow, red and green leaves) are the very best times to visit Huanglong with all the pools and waterfalls bursting with water. If you are lucky to visit just after a heavy snowfall in winter everything will be blanketed in white snow, only the turquoise water of the upper pools showing. In winter the park can however sometimes be closed. 

There is a cable car at Huanglong that I highly recommend all to take. The entrance is located down the road from the main entrance. The Swiss made cable car takes you up to a high altitude viewing platform with views over the entire valley. From here it is a one hour walk on a basically level walkway straight to where the path connects with the main gate path just beneath the upper temple. From this point it is a short walk up to the upper pools. Down again to the main gate is an almost 5 km walk over planked paths and steps. Believe me, it is much easier going down than up and if you want to fully enjoy all the areas of Huanglong with ample time to truly enjoy the scenery - spend the money on the cable car. 

Huanglong means "Yellow Dragon" and takes its name from how the pools ripple down the mountain side, just like the scales of an enormous dragon. No other place in the world has such a large collection of pools as here, it is truly unique. 

Entrance fee: 
200 y full adult price/150 y for children over 1.30 m (under 1.30 free) and anyone over 65 yrs old. Cable car up is 80 y and down 40 y. 

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