Like fragments of glass, 114 lakes shimmer across the landscape of Sichuan’s Jiuzhaigou National Park on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Indeed, legend relates that the lakes originated in the shattering of a mirror presented to the beautiful goddess Woluo Semo by an adoring mortal.
Association with divine beauty is apt for this UNESCO World Heritage Site, where elevation ranges from 6,500 to over 15,000 feet, waterfalls cascade deep within pristine forests, and the many lakes are renowned for their clarity and vivid blue, green and turquoise colors. More than 40 percent of all seed plant families found in China grow in Jiuzhaigou, and its valleys are home to more than 60 species of mammals and 220 species of birds.
“Jiuzhaigou” translates into English as “Nine Village Valley,” and ethnic Tibetan communities, with their signature stupas, prayer wheels, and prayer flags, still exist within the park’s boundaries.
When Jiuzhaigou became a national park in the early 1980s, the first initiatives were to ban logging and commence restoration of the forests. Reforestation has led to a rebound in habitat for animal and bird species. Among notable mammals that reside within the park are Sichuan golden monkey, takin, red panda, and a small, rarely seen population of giant pandas. New bamboo growth and recent signs of increased giant panda activity give rise to hopes for the future of this iconic animal in the park.
“Sister park” agreements have been established with other national parks worldwide, including U.S. national parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone and Olympic. These exchanges create a forum in which park administrators explore common issues, such as sustainable tourism and conservation methods.
Jiuzhaigou represents the “wild” in our panda bear tour, The Wild Side of China, with departures in April and September 2013. Next year, make your national park tour an international adventure.