Yading Nature Reserve is situated in the southern reaches of Daocheng County in the southeastern corner of Sichuan Province. Since the local populace of both the village of Yading and Daocheng County are predominantly of Chinese-Tibetan origin, Tibetan place names are as common here as are their Chinese equivalents.
Yading is called Nyiden ("Facing the Sun") in Tibetan while Daocheng is called Dabpa. The most prominent topographical feature of Yading Nature Reserve is Nianqingonggarisonggongbu, the Tibetan name for the mountain whose Chinese name translates to Konkaling (aka Daocheng Sacred Peaks today, but whose mixed, Chinese-and-Tibetan name in earlier times was Konka Risumgongba), and whose three stunning snow-clad summits so impressed the Austrian-American plant explorer, ornithologist, ethnologist and photographer of National Geographic Society fame, Joseph Francis Charles Rock (1884-1962), that Rock, on an expedition in neighboring Yunnan Province during the late 1920s when he first set eyes on the peaks, decided that he absolutely must explore them closer up.
A series of detailed journalistic descriptions of these mountain peaks and the isolated valleys tucked away between them - descriptions that were replete with breathtaking photos of incomparable mountain vistas - was published in National Geographic magazine in the early 1930s and took the world by storm. The beauty of the topography and the quaintness of the people who lived in these remote places approached the surrealistic. In fact, so surrealistic was the impression made on National Geographic's readers that the scenes described by Rock at Nianqingonggarisonggongbu - and neighboring Mount Echu and its remote valleys - formed the basis for the fabled land of Shangri-La of the 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, by the English writer, James Hilton.
The Three Sacred Peaks of Konkaling
Map of Yading Scenic Area(Click the map to enlarge!)
The three sacred peaks of Konkaling are: Xiannairi (at 6032 meters above sea level, it is the highest mountain in Daocheng County), whose Tibetan and Indian names are Chenresig and Avalokitesvara, respectively; Yangmaiyong (5958 meters above sea level), whose Tibetan and Indian names are Jambeyang and Manjusri, respectively; and Xiaruoduoji (also at 5958 meters above sea level, the peak is sometimes rendered as Xianaduoji), whose Tibetan and Indian names are Chanadorje and Vajrapani, respectively. The Indian names are significant because these mountain peaks are also named after especially revered Bodhisattvas. For example, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (associated with Mount Xiannairi/ Chenresig) is a male figure signifying compassion. A variant on this theme, especially in China, is the Bodhisattva Guan-Yin, a female figure known as the Goddess of Mercy, and the patron saint, as it were, of seafarers as well as islanders while the Bodhisattva Manjusri (associated with Mount Yangmaiyong/ Jambeyang) signifies wisdom. The Bodhisattva Vajrapani (associated with Mount Xiaruoduoji / Chanadorje) signifies power.
The Three Sacred Peaks of Konkaling are accessed via hiking/ horseback routes.* There are two such routes (see the Tips section below where the details are presented), the one rather direct while the other makes a detour to Mount Echu on the way to the snow-clad Three Sacred Peaks of Konkaling. The Mount Echu route will only be mentioned briefly here, as it is basically a way of taking in Mount Echu enroute to seeing the Three Sacred Peaks themselves. In addition, once one arrives at the Three Sacred Peaks, one can choose among the various local routes which permit one to view the peaks in the order of one's preferences, though the order in which one views the peaks is of course directly related to the distance that must be covered.
Other Scenic Highlights of Yading Nature Reserve
There are a number of lakes, some smaller and others larger, in the Reserve. Wuse ("Five Color") Lake and Niunai ("Milk") Lake are located inside the triangle formed by the three sacred peaks, while Zhenzhu ("Pearl") Lake is located outside this triangle, near Gongga Chonggu Temple, which is situated due north of Mount Xiannairi.
Five-Color Lake, whose Tibetan name means "High Mountain Lake", is located on Mount Lamuci, at about 4100 meters above sea level. Mount Lamuci itself is situated south of Kangding. Five-Color Lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides, while a clear stream flows down from the lake on the fourth side and empties into the Zheduo River.
The Tibetan name for Niunai Lake is "Erongcuo" ("cuo" is Tibetan for "lake"; "erong" is Tibetan for "milk"). It was said that at the time of the coming of spring and the blossoming of flowers that the water in Lake Niunai seemed like pure milk, hence the name.
Zhenzhu Lake is situated at the foot of Mount Xiannairi (Mount Chenresig), a walk of some 20 minutes from Chonggu Monastery. The smooth, placid lake, tucked away among the trees, is set off by its surroundings, suggesting an inlaid pearl.
Mount Echu means "Shining Mountain" in Tibetan. Mount Echu's Lamuge Forest Farm is the largest of its kind in Daocheng County. The shape of Mount Echu seems to shift with the changing colors of the forests which surround it. In autumn, the whole mountain is lit up by flaming trees and flowers, causing the mountain to shine, hence the mountain's Tibetan name. Viewed in situ, i.e., from the mountaintop itself, or when viewed from certain vantage points along the lower reaches of neighboring Konkaling, Mount Echu's splendor takes the viewer by surprise.
Axi Mountain Park
Axi Mountain Park is located some 6 kilometers from Gongling District, and is accessible by public roads. The village of Axi preserves its ancient folk ways, which can best be described as humble and kind. Tourists will appreciate the process of making pottery by hand, which is on open display in the village, as well as the famous site of the "Battle of Axi". At Axi Mountain Park, tourists can experience the sublime harmony of villagers living in close cooperation with one another while communing equally as harmoniously with nature, prompting comparisons to an earthly paradise such as the legendary Shangri-La.
Mengzi Grand Canyon
Mengzi Grand Canyon, with a total length of 13 kilometers, is situated between the villages of Mengzi and Riwa. The steep canyon gives birth to majestic mountains, some that are as straight as a pillar reaching up into the heavens while others have less sublime forms such as those which suggest animals - for example, a monkey.
Hell Valley is one of the eight stone "forests" of the world mentioned in the Buddha scriptures. It measures 3800 meters above sea level at its highest elevation, and 2500 meters above sea level at its lowest elevation, where misty cloud banks slide past the mouth of the valley and in among exotic rock formations and dense, primitive clutches of trees. From the right distance, the appearance of the stone "forest" is a bit spooky, so hellish are some of the stone shapes. To heighten the eeriness of the place, the waterfalls of Hell Valley produce strange calls that echo up and down the valley.
In the Tibetan language, Zhihuozhalang means 'Shouting-to-Drive-Off-Any-Intruder Barrier'. Zhihuozhalang is a huge rock, regarded by local Tibetans as the God of the Mountain Gate. A local river considered sacred by Tibetans, the Gonggayin River, converges here, then empties into the Chitu River. The neighboring inhabitants of Muli Tibetan Autonomous County, which lies just east of Daocheng County, extended the natural walls of the Gonggayin River with stones that were intricately laid and which impart a magnificence to the river. Every year on the date of Saga Dawa (April 15th of the Tibetan lunar calendar, the date when Buddha was born and a particularly auspicious day to attain nirvana, or become immortal), local Tibetans promenade around Zhihuozhalang in a religious ceremony that culminates in a ritual bath in the Gonggayin River.
The remnants of Chonggu Monastery are situated at the foot of Mount Xiannairi (Mount Chenresig/ Mount Avalokitesvara). The monastery, which has become seriously damaged over the years, consists today of only fragments of bricks and broken walls. No one knows for sure when the monastery was originally built, only that it was constructed as a branch monastery to Gonggaling Temple in the village of Gongling farther north. Special monks, or Lamas, called Zhaba locally, are assigned to Chonggu Monastery to read Buddhist scriptures and chant religious songs. In the monastery's chapel stands a Shijia scultpure with oblations. The government's plans for the area, which is severely economically depressed due to a long-running state of under-development, is to restore the monastery once the area becomes sufficiently developed, infrastructurally, for such an undertaking.
Luorong Grassland, with an elevation of 4150 meters above sea level, is one of the famous lodging sites inside Yading Nature Reserve. The grassland is surrounded on three sides by the Three Sacred - and snowy - Peaks of Konkaling. A delightful contrast is thus formed by the nearby snowy peaks, the forests, the meadows, the streams, the lakes, the waterfalls and the log houses. The best vantage point to appreciate Luorong Grassland is against the backdrop of the Three Sacred Peaks, Wuse Lake and Niunai Lake.
The Three Sacred Peaks of Nianqingonggarisonggongbu (Konkaling), the "Shangri-La" unveiled by the pioneering explorations of Joseph Francis Charles Rock in the late 1920s, represent the hopes and dreams of the area's Tibetan inhabitants, and is also the home of the souls of their ancestors, just as it will one day, they hope, also be the repository of their own souls. Yading Nature Reserve is also home to a diverse variety of birds and animals. Thanks to its native inhabitants, who have been faithful custodians to this unique natural habitat, Yading Nature Reserve is an area of pristine forests, pure rivers and crystal-clear lakes. The Reserve and its sacred mountain peaks, now also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve covering an area of some 550 thousand hectares, is one of the best-preserved, most complete natural ecosystem in all of China.
* By "accessed" is meant that one is led to the vicinity of the peaks, where one has an excellent view of them. These peaks are not for scaling by tourists, as they are sacred, firstly, and secondly, they are snow-clad year around and would require mountain-climbing experience (and stamina under high-altitude, low-oxygen conditions) as well as mountaineering equipment. The hiking/ horseback routes pass alongside the base of the mountains, presenting unforgettable views of the towering, snow-clad peaks above.