After our time in Chengdu, we boarded a plane for a short flight and landed at 11,500 feet in the Jiuzhaigou area of Sichuan province. Jiuzhaigou, which is pronounced like “joe-jye-go,” translates as Nine Village Valley. It is part of an autonomous prefecture in Sichuan for the Qiang and Tibetan people. Sitting at the edge of the Tibetan plateau, it is imbued with the culture of Tibet.
The main attraction for most people here is the Jiuzhaigou National Park, which is a spectacular place filled with unbelievable mountain vistas…
Shannon and Quin demonstrate the classic Chinese photo pose
(and how to keep your legs warm when you're woefully underdressed)
…crystal clear lakes with dazzling colors…
…and nine traditional Tibetan villages.
Prayer wheels were almost as common as prayer flags; the colors were amazing
One of many, many photos Berkley posed for, this one with local Tibetan girls
The park was truly amazing. But while the views were inspiring, the hiking was rather mundane, taking place completely on wooden boardwalks generally overcrowded with Chinese tourists. One effect of the crowds was the continual need to stop so people could take pictures of Quin and Berkley; they were easily photographed 300 times that day. We decided the following day we would just set out for some hiking in the mountains around the Cairang Hostel, which we stayed at the first three nights.
After lunch in a little Sichuan restaurant filled with jovial Buddhist monks very interested in pictures with the boys…
…and a pair of adorable Tibetan twins…
…we found a nice little hut in the hills…
…and an amazing Buddhist worship area, festooned with reams of prayer flags strung around a sort of teepee and then up along the mountain ridge. This place was one of the most beautiful things we’ve seen in our time away this year. The ground was paved with paper prayer offerings and the colors were stunningly beautiful. The place inspired calm and reflection.
For our last night we relocated to a homestay/hostel in a traditional Tibetan village. While the Cairang Hostel was nice, it was in a touristy part of town, along the main road and surrounded by hotels and shops. The Zhuo Ma Homestay was out on a mountain side away from everything. We were able to explore on foot…
This prayer wheel was driven by water like a mill
…and on horse.
The host, Ama, and her grandson were gracious and fun. Ama cooked traditional Tibetan food using vegetables from the garden, eggs from the chicken coop and honey from the beehives out back. Had we been so inclined, we could have had yak meat from the local herd. We did try yak butter, which has a bitter, earthy flavor much like blue cheese. Very good on barley bread, but not so good in yak butter tea.
Though the yak butter tea was, ahem, not our cup of tea, the food all week was our favorite kind of Chinese—very spicy, but balanced with the numbing, citrusy taste of Sichuan peppercorns. We saw the source of the peppercorns—the prickly ash tree—while out hiking. They sold it in bulk at the airport.
Jiuzhaigou was one of our favorite destinations in China. The food, the scenery, the people and the colors were truly spectacular. I think we loved it so much because of the combination of stunning natural beauty and vibrant Tibetan colors. It's difficult to convey this in a blog; I hope this post gives you a taste of what it was like.