Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Songpan Horse Trek part 1 Chengdu to Songpan via Yingxiu and Wenchuan

All images above from Yingxiu epicenter area ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Who came along on this trip? 24 family and friends and 3 drivers all living in Chengdu. Nationalities? Chinese, American, Swedish, British and French. Languages spoken, heard or passed by on this trip? English, Swedish, French, Chinese, Aba Tibetan, Baima and Qiang. All of our kids go to school together, the age range was: 3 year Sam Goldings to 75 year old Ingrid Morejohn Senior.

After several weeks of planning and organizing (thank-you Ethan G, Catherine P, Mike and Laura Li and of course Emma (Guirong) Li in Songpan for advice, help and support) we finally left Chengdu on May 1st at 6.00 am. We had rented a small bus in Chengdu and despite advice to the contrary our driver Mr Su Wenbo thought that taking the Chengdu - Pixian - Dujiangyan - Yingxiu - Wenchuan - Maoxian route would be the quickest way to reach Songpan. This proved to be a big mistake: May 1st was the beginning of a national holiday and although we made very good time out of Chengdu and past Dujiangyan once we got up into the mountains we quickly got bogged down in the pile-ups that were caused by the one-way traffic that was the only direction allowed because of the extensive road work going on due to the massive devastation caused by 8.0 magnitude May 12th, 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Odd days up and even days down). The two private drivers had their driver's licenses confiscated by the local traffic police (a story in itself) but were lucky enough to get them back a few hours later after much hassle, teeth-grinding, threats and diplomacy. 

Aerial view of Yingxiu on May 14, 2008. © Xinhua News Agency

Quickly on from Dujiangyan we began to notice earthquake damage. When we reached the epicenter (1 pm) at Yìngxiù 映秀 it was heartbreaking to see how almost the entire city had been destroyed. It was literally just a gigantic heap of rubble with countless dead most likely still trapped beneath the ruins. Before the earthquake the population was 6906 people, 80% of the town was destroyed, supposedly only one-fifth survived. As the crow flies the epicenter was only 80 km from Chengdu where all of us on this trip had been when the earthquake hit a year ago. Because of the damage and winding roads it had taken us 7 hours to drive here.  

For the rest of the day we witnessed the enormous effort that the local people, government and army had put into repairing the roads, villages, towns and cities. They have quickly pulled their lives back together and everywhere we saw bustling activity, roadwork, temporary housing, new shops and houses built, markets and caravans of trucks delivering food, livestock, tractors, motorcycles, appliances and building material. This work will go on for a very long time, and of course, the greatest benefit is for the people who actually live along the main transport arteries. How the people that live in the high mountain villages above and beyond the Min River are getting along can easily be imagined: very difficult.

We continued on our way and at 2.50 pm reached Wènchuān 汶川 and came to Mào Xiàn 茂县 at 4.00 pm. We were deep into Qiang territory now and the hillsides were green and full of spring blossoms. The Qiang are a separate ethnic group with a population of about 200,000 lively mainly in NW Sichuan. Traditionally they have built beautiful stone houses but these were few in number along the main road. Most were newly painted cement houses but nicely done with pebble mosaic facades, shale siding, trapezoid shaped windows and lovely potted plants. In the late 1980s when I first travelled this road I remember numerous stone houses and even a fair number of stone watchtowers that can be seen all the way across western Sichuan far into eastern Tibet. It began to rain, Mr Su had been driving for almost 12 hours when we reached Diexi Lake, sight of major quake destruction in 1933 (see below). In the late 1980s this lake was full of massive log jams, the Min not being dammed until 2006. Fortunately logging was forbidden in Western Sichuan in the early 1990s. 

Finally at 7.35 pm, with the rain pouring down all around, we pulled into Songpan and the welcome embrace of Emma's Kitchen! Pizza and cold beer all around, nice clean double rooms at the Shunjiang Nianqing Kezhan directly behind and just before midnight the two other cars finally arrive. What a day!!!

Min River:
We followed the Min River (Mín Jiāng ) the entire journey and as every minute passed we went up up up. Chéngdū  is at the bottom (500 m) of the Chengdu Basin. Our destination was Songpan at over 2800 m. The Minjiang is 735 km long and gets it water from the snows of the Minshan Range. The Min is a tributary of the Yangtse which it later joins at Yibin (after passing the world's largest buddha at Lèshān 乐山). The Min is dammed at Zipingpu 紫坪铺水利枢纽 near Dūjiāngyàn 都江堰

Earthquake notes along our route: 
On August 16, 1976 a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Songpan-Pingwu (casualities 41). Two large (6.7 and 7.2) aftershocks hit again a few days later. On August 25, 1933 an approximately 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Diexi in near Maoxian. This earthquake destroyed the town and surrounding villages of Diexi and caused about 9,000 deaths. Diexi itself sank into the landslide dam-created Diexi Lake 叠溪海子 which can today be viewed as the beautiful and placid deep-jade green Diexi Lake close to Songpan.  


  1. Fy som det ser ut! Bra att få en påminnelse. För oss som nästan är på andra sidan jorden känns det fort avlägset. Man vill börja gråta när man ser det.

  2. Dr Cameron ChenMay 7, 2009 at 3:05 AM

    In 2006 I had the chance to go on a tour to Jiuzhaigou via Wenchuan and Songpan and the bus ride was amongst the most scenic I have ever been on.

    I am a Chinese-Australian living in Melbourne and menially slaving away in a hospital, but happen to have more than a passing interest in photography.

    This July and August, I am visiting Stockholm, Uppsala, Malmo, Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen, Svalbard, Helsinki, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Zhangjiajie, the Three Gorges, and Chengdu on my annual leave.

    If you have any suggestions on places to photograph in particular, drop me an e-mail! Would love to hear from your experiences.

    Dr Cameron Chen (

  3. Håller med TaiTai - det är snart ett år sedan denna förödelse skedde o så mycket lidande för alla drabbade. Kan behöva bli påminnd. Tycker det är svårt att förstå hur naturens krafter kan orsaka detta men bilderna visar tydligt resultatet.

  4. Jättefina bilder, bra skrivet. Tack Ingrid/Kattis

  5. Hej! Det var mycket omskakande att passera genom området som vi hört så mycket talas om och som vi upplevde själva lite på avstånd. Mycket sorgset men också otroligt upplyftande att se hur människor kan hämta sig så snabbt från en sådan katastrof. Kände mig återigen stärkt i hur tåliga och tuffa kineser är, de flesta kämpar tappert vidare.

    Mr Chen: Yes, Western Sichuan is one of the most visually powerful places ön earth! What a trip you are going to make this year, hope that you enjoy Sweden and find it a beautiful place too. Places to photograph in Sichuan: Danba (see my posts on this blog), Daocheng, Tagong (here too), Hailougou, Ganzi, Hongyuan, Zoige, Lugu Lake on the border of Yunnan and any of the old "gucheng" like Fubao. Of course, one day you must also travel to Yunnan, the most beautiful province of China. Have a good time in Zhangjiajie, I have only been there once and had dense fog for one week! Yi lu ping an.