Shuzheng Valley represents the trunk of the upside-down "Y" that describes Jiuzhai Valley's main tri-valley system. It is also the most visited of the three main valleys, which means that it is also the most visited of the five valleys that make up the Jiuzhai area's valley system. Shuzheng Valley stretches some 15 kilometers, roughly, north to south, is markedly downward-sloping from south to north, and is composed of a number of interesting individual scenic sites, including various lakes and ponds, some of which are travertine lakes and ponds – in fact, 40% of all of the lakes and ponds of Jiuzhai Valley are located in Shuzheng Valley (for a brief explanation of how Mother Nature produces travertine, read the second footnote of the Jiuzhaigou Overview article).
A stream courses along the base of each of the component valleys of Jiuzhai Valley. In only a single case does the name of the stream reflect the name of the valley in question, namely, in the case of Shuzheng Valley. In fact, apart from Shuzheng Valley, all of the valley's rivers have a name that differs from the name of the valley. At the base of Rize Valley is the Kongque Hedao (literally, "Peacock Riverway"), at the base of Zechawa Valley flows the Jiuzhaigou River, at the base of the Zharu Valley flows the Feicui He ("Emerald River"), while Changhai Valley, which we choose not to treat as a separate valley but as an integral part of Zechawa Valley, has no river at all, at least not in the traditional sense, since its base is covered in its entirety by one very long lake, Chang Hai (literally, "Long Sea").
Together these valley streams form the Jiuzhaigou River, which in turn feeds into the Jailing River, which itself empties into the Yangtze River. A number of the most prominent lakes of Shuzheng Valley are in fact successive swells in the Shuzheng River. The largest grouping of these lakes goes under the name of Nuorilang Qunhai (Nuorilang Cluster Lakes), or more commonly known as Shuzheng Cluster Lakes, though the waterfall at the southern ("upper" as in "upstreams") end of this string, or cluster, of lakes is called Nuorilang Pabu (Nuorilang Waterfall).
Shuzheng Valley is best described through a presentation of its component parts, or highlights, therefore, without further ado, we present the main features of this, the main valley of the Jiuzhai area's system of valleys, proceeding from south to north, as that is the most likely direction that the visitor will follow, given that the public transportation that serves the Jiuzhai Valley area arrives from the south, first at the extremities of the forks in the valley system's "Y", then proceeds northward down the length of the forks and finally down Shuzheng Valley itself. Note also that the lakes of Shuzheng Valley are simply too numerous to describe individually, therefore in the following only the main lakes will be profiled, but the visitor should be aware that these "short listed" lakes represent at best the tip of the iceberg, as it were.
Nuorilang Pabu (where pabu means "waterfall" and nuorilang is Tibetan for "grand and magnificent") lies just north of the confluence of the Zechawa River and the Peacock River of Rize Valley, where these two rivers feed into the Shuzheng River, meaning that it lies just north of the fork in the Jiuzhai Valley's main tri-valley system.* What the waterfall lacks in height, or drop (it falls a mere 20 meters), it more than makes up for with its 320 meter breadth. It is the broadest waterfall in Jiuzhai Valley and in fact the broadest highland waterfall in China. Moreover, Nuorilang Waterfall is one of the defining symbols of Jiuzhai Valley. Not surprisingly, there is a fanciful legend attached to the origin of Nuorilang Waterfall but since it isn't particularly charming or moving, we suggest that the visitor concentrate on the waterfall itself, which is, in contrast, both charming and "moves" quite a bit of water.
Shuzheng Village lies just across the river from, or west of, Nuorilang Waterfall. Before the village stands a golden pagoda with stupa where the local Tibetans worship and where the remains (in the stupa) of ancient Lamaist (i.e., Tibetan Buddhist) monks are preserved. The local Tibetans are quite devout; Buddhist prayer flags adorn the main street of Shuzheng Village, and daily prayer ceremonies at the pagoda are observed. Since Shuzheng Village lies on a slope just across from Nuroilang Waterfall, which itself lies just south of, or at the entrance to, the cluster of lakes that alternately go under the title of Nuorilang Cluster Lakes and Shuzheng Cluster Lakes, the visitor has an excellent view of the lake cluster from the elevated vantage point of Shuzheng Village.
Xiniu Hai ("Rhinocerous Lake/ Sea") is the cluster lake closest to Nuorilang Waterfall. It is the largest of Shuzheng Valley's lakes, and is possibly its most beautiful, partly because the lake, surrounded by steep valley walls on either side, reflects the valley walls and the skies above in such an uncanny way that it can be a bit disorienting to view, since one is never quite sure which image is the real one and which is the reflected one. We will make note of the fact that the name of the lake is associated with a legend involving, not surprisingly, a rhino, but since also this legend is of questionable merit – and since rhinos cannot possibly have ever lived here – we will resist the temptation to repeat the legend.
Just south of the lake is a bridge from which the visitor can obtain a good view of the lake. Early mornings is said to be the time of day when the lake's mirroring properties are at their best. North of the lake lies Semo Mountain. Many of the lakes of Jiuzhai Valley are quite shallow, but Rhinocerous Lake, in contrast, is deep enough for boating; it is the only place in Jiuzhai Valley where one can rent a boat, in fact. The view of the surrounding land- and (mirrored) skyscapes from the middle of the lake is said to be priceless.
Laohu Hai ("Tiger Lake/ Sea") is the next lake in the cluster series, proceeding northward. It is just above, or south of, Shuzheng Waterfall which provides the lake with its name, according to one non-fanciful legend, since the sound of the adjacent waterfall is said to be reminiscent of the roar of a tiger, hence the lake's name. Another story that claims to explain the name of the lake is the fact that in autumn, the surrounding forest-clad valley walls are ablaze in colors, where the splotches of reddish-yellowish tree-top foliage contrast with the dark stripes represented by the tree trunks, hence this source of the lake's name. A third story says that the tigers that live in the adjacent mountains are fond of drinking from this lake, hence this particular source of the lake's name. We think that they all sound plausible – at least they don't unduly stretch the imagination.
Shuzheng Waterfall lies between Tiger Lake and Wolong Lake. The waterfall measures 62 meters in width and a mere 15 meters in drop, yet it is arguably the most ferocious of Jiuzhai Valley's four waterfalls, even if it is the smallest. The water gushes from the falls in a spray and produces an, at times, deafening roar that can indeed be likened to that of the roar of a tiger if not a lion. The tail end of adjacent Tiger Lake is divided into countless small, stepped branch pools, all of which converge to spill over Shuzheng Waterfall, which is what gives the waterfall its impressive force. The resulting curtain of light-reflecting mists is beautiful to behold.
Wolong Hai ("Crouching Dragon Lake/ Sea") is located below (north of) Shuzheng Waterfall and above (south of) Huohua Lake. In spite of its 22 meter depth, one can easily see the bottom of this crystal clear lake. Along the bottom of Wolong Lake snakes a milky white dyke formed of calcium deposits. When the wind produces waves on the surface, the effect is to cause the curves of the dyke at the bottom of the lake to appear to wriggle, while the many small troughs on the lake's surface take on the appearance of shimmering scales, just like a snake – or a dragon, of course, the most cherished mythical creature in Chinese history, for the dragon is both terrifyingly powerful yet benevolent, which is why it has always symbolized the emperor. When Wolong Lake rocks violently, the crouching dragon appears to leap, as if it would like to break the surface, but when the action of the surface waves becomes too violent, the dragon disappears altogether.
Huohua Hai ("Twinkling Lake/ Sea") is sandwiched in between Crouching Dragon Lake and Double Dragon Lake (Shuanglong Hai). Twinkling Lake, at only 9 meters in depth, is one of Jiuzhai Valley's shallowest lakes. But with its clear blue waters and its constantly rippling surface that produces a captivating twinkling effect, especially when viewed at sunrise, Twinkling Lake is one of Jiuzhai Valley's prettiest. Surrounded by the green colors of the walls of the valley, the lake often takes on the effect of an emerald, but in season, Twinkling Lake can also resemble a bouquet as it reflects a myriad of blossoming wild flowers in every imaginable color and hue. Many of the lakes here end in a waterfall, and Twinkling Lake is no exception, though its waterfall is unexceptional.
Shuanglong Hai ("Double-Dragon Lake/ Sea") lies below Twinkling Lake Waterfall. It gets its name from the two calc-sinter dykes at its base (you are reminded again that for a brief explanation of how Mother Nature produces calc-sinter/ travertine, read the first footnote of the Jiuzhaigou Overview article) that are said to resemble dragons, in exactly the same way that the single calc-sinter dyke at the base of Crouching Dragon Lake "resembles" a dragon. There is a legend about how those two "dragons" ended up glued to the bottom of Double-Dragon Lake which we will indeed recount, since we cannot simply reject every legend out of hand, right? Here's the skinny: in ancient times, two evil dragons who roamed about in Jiuzhai Valley caused a lot of hardship to the valley's inhabitants because they – the evil dragons – provoked frequent, violent storms, often accompanied by hail which, as every farmer knows, can be very destructive to crops as well as to chickens, not to speak of to small children.
The good King Gesar (a figure in a renowned Tibetan epic), like another Saint George (a Byzantine slayer of dragons), smote the two dragons, putting a spell on them and causing them to be trapped at the bottom of the lake where they would be rendered harmless ever after. Note that a single dragon is almost always goodness itself, but it is as if two of them strike up company, mischief follows (this can randomly be said of teenagers!).
There is apparently no longer any dragon-mischief in Jiuzhai Valley. In any case, Double-Dragon Lake is so peaceful and tranquil that it is the favorite haunt of graceful swans and mandarin duck couples, though tranquility-shattering squabbles do often break out among the latter.
Luwei Hai ("Reed Lake/ Sea") lies at the northern end of the cluster of lakes the begins just below Nuorilang Waterfall. As the name suggests, the edges of the lake are lined with densely packed reeds that attract waterfowl because they provide cover for many aquatic insects. In the center of the lake can be seen the darker, jade-green water of the river that runs through it, Shuzheng River. The lake is at its prettiest in autumn when the shocks of reeds gradually change from a pale green to a golden tan, and the autumn-draped birch trees that line the lake sprout clusters of catkin that resemble exaggeratedly long, furry-looking catepillars suspended from delicate threads, trembling and shimmying in the cool autumn breeze. As if to complete the idyllic picture, egrets and widgeons voraciously feed on the many insects on offer here, as if aware that winter is just around the corner and the cornucopia that nature has provided is quickly depleting.
Heye Zhai ("Lotus Leaf Village") is situated at the northern end of Shuzheng Valley and on the opposite side of the Shuzheng River from the cluster of lakes just described. Distance-wise, Lotus Leaf Village lies roughly midway between Reed Lake and the entrance to Zharu Valley, which branches off from Shuzheng Valley just south of Provincial Highway 301, though the village, as indicated, lies on the opposite side of Shuzheng River. Lotus Leaf Village is an ancient Shuzheng Valley village noted for its Tibetan architecture and its quaintly pastoral setting. Behind the village is a 100-year-old, still-going-strong pine tree that has been dubbed the "Welcome Pine", since its branches are spread wide and have sprouted countless smaller branches and twigs over the years, presenting an image that seems to beckon the visitor with a "Welcome!"
Penjing Tan ("Bonsai Shoals") is a stretch of shallow-water travertine ponds with beaches interspersed with numerous willow, pine, poplar and cypress trees in bonsai format, and with shocks of tall reeds and the occasional azalea, or brightly-flowered rhododendron. The combined beauty of the colored travertine pools and the delicate green foliage of the trees, reeds and shrubs in question is breathtakingly beautiful; it is so picturesque an image, depending on the viewing angle, that one almost has to pinch oneself to believe that one is observing something from the real world, not a scene from a fairytale! Bonsai Shoals is the last scenic site belonging to the northern end of Shuzheng Valley south of the entrance to Zharu Valley. Beyond the entrance to Zharu Valley lies one last scenic site belonging to Shuzheng Valley...
Baojing Yan ("Priceless Mirror Cliff") is a giant limestone cliff face that rises some 400 meters above the Feicui Hedao (aka Emerald River) which courses past the cliff. The reference to a mirror is solely due to the extreme flatness and relative smoothness of the cliff face, while the reference to the "priceless" qualifier is owing to a legend in which Zhayi Zhaga, the supreme ruler over all mountains, created the cliff face as a sort of gigantic STOP sign intended to halt, or face down, if you will (pun slightly intended), a cruel demon that was plaguing the valley, which is a feat that is hard to put a dollar-and-cents value on.
At the northern end of Shuzheng Valley, and on the western bank of what is here the Jiuzhaigou River, lies the city of Jiuzhaigou itself, the administrative seat of Jiuzhai Valley, while slightly farther northward, beyond the city of Jiuzhaigou, lies Provincial Highway 301 and the many hotels and hostels, some of which are of course located in the city of Jiuzhaigou itself, including the Jiuzhaigou Sheraton Resort Hotel.
* Note that Google Maps (and Google Earth and the whole Google shebang) mistakenly place Nuorilang Waterfall at the opposite end of Shuzheng Valley, near the junction with Provincial Highway 301 (worse, if one clicks on the "Report a problem" link – meaning, of course, a problem with the map – Google assumes that you want to report a moral or ethical issue, as if the map contained abusive language or pornographic content, or who knows what, a sad commentary on Amercian society, one can only presume!!!).
Solo Adventure Tips:
Shuzheng Valley represents the trunk of the upside-down "Y" of Jiuzhai Valley's tri-valley system. As such, it also marks the northern extremity of Jiuzhai Valley.
How to Get There?
See the Jiuzhaigou Overview article for information on how to get to the park from Chengdu (this corresponds to the How to get there link in the Table of Contents of the same article).
1 – The weather: The temperature of the Jiuzhai Valley area, which is home to several rather deep valleys (Zharu Valley is very deep, i.e., has steep slopes), swings greatly, therefore layered clothing is an absolute must in order to fully enjoy one's visit to this pearl of a valley system. The lowest temperatures (around 9 degrees Celsius) are in January while the highest temperatures (around 22 degrees Celsius) are in July-August, but since relative temperature differences make a difference to one's perception of comfort, sharp swings in daily temperature means that it can go from cold to hot rather rapidly, depending on the time of day (the diurnal swing is marked) and perhaps on the day, as well as, of course, on the season. From late spring/ early summer to late fall is the best time period, with the time slot September-October generally being the best.
2 – Accomodations: Jiuzhai Valley's commerical accomodations, ranging from 5-star hotels to simple bed-and-breakfast arrangements (hostels), are situated at the northern end of Shuzheng Valley where the valley ends at Provincial Road 301. Many of the accomodations in fact lie along Provincial Road 301 itself, between the city of Zhangzazhen in the west to the city of Longkang in the east, though some of the hotels and hostels lie along Shuzheng Valley, near the junction with Provincial Road 301 (note that Zharu Valley branches off from Shuzheng Valley in an easterly direction (on the opposite side of the Jiuzhaigou River), from a point roughly midway between Provincial Road 301 and Bonsai Shoals). As well, a few hotels and hostels lie in the village of Shuzheng, which is situated relatively close to the fork of Jiuzhai Valley's upside-down "Y", and roughly opposite to Nuorilang Waterfall.
Deeper into the valley system, it is possible to arrange overnight accomodations with a Tibetan or Qiang host family, but the accomodations here are strictly geared to backpackers and to those who find it particularly interesting to "rub shoulders" – perhaps more literally than one had bargained for (many Chinese tourists to the area bed down several persons to a room) – with the local populace.
3 – Getting Around (Transportation): There is, as indicated, an easy-on, easy-off shuttle bus system whose price is included in the tour. If you wish to walk a longer stretch of Shuzheng Valley, then you should consider walking the stretch from Bonsai Shoals to Nuorilang Waterfall on the eastern side of Shuzheng/ Jiuzhaigou River, since the sites in question are all very interesting and densely packed. You might wish to take the shuttle bus from the fork in the tri-valley system to its northern end, roughly, at Bonsai Shoals, then take the hike back along the eastern bank of the river to the fork you just departed from (there is a similarly dense agglomeration of scenic sites along Rize Valley).
4 – Food & Drink/ Dining: Just as with the clusters of accomodations, the eateries/ restaurants of Jiuzhai Valley are concentrated either near the intersection of Shuzheng Valley and Provincial Road 301 or near the fork in the tri-valley system's upside-down "Y". The international fare is concentrated near the northern (Provincial Road 301) end of the valley while the local/ ethnic/ traditional fare is concentrated near the fork in the "Y" – for example, in the Nuorilang Tourists Center, where you can also purchase a box lunch and eat it picnic style while gazing upon, for example, Nuorilang Waterfall. Among the local specialties are whole roasted lamb, Tibetan barley liquor, buttered tea, a wide range of Tibetan dairy products – from cheese to cream to yoghurt – as well as other ethnic Tibetan favorites. In the swank hotels and restaurants at the other end of the spectrum (and valley) you can dine on international and classical Chinese fare.
5 – Souvenirs: You can also find souvenirs and native handicrafts – produced either by Qiang or Tibetan ethnic minorities – at both locations and in a range of price classes, of course. Qiang embroidery is said to be priceless, and one of the very best of Jiuzhai Valley's souvenirs to take back home with you.