Saturday, August 18, 2012


I normally associate the mountains and nature with peace and freedom. That's probably because, before now, I had never visited the mountains in China.

Jiuzhaigou is the Banff of China. Access to the park is controlled through a single gate at the foot of the valley. More than 2.5 million people visit the park each year, each entering the park through that same single gate at the foot of the valley. We've come here on a weekend during the high season. You do the math.

Private cars and bicycles are not allowed in the park, which means that you must purchase a ticket to ride on the park-operated buses that take visitors from one sight to another within the park.

The roads in the park are clearly not designed for buses, narrow and with tight switchbacks; yet, buses are the only mode of transportation available on the road in this park. Even foot access is restricted to wooden walkways; and only in designated areas. Given the shear number of people visiting the park on a given day and the limited distance of path, this means that "hiking" in the park can feel a bit like queuing for a new iphone.

The dated information that we had before coming to the park suggested that there was an extensive trail system could be used as an alternative to the buses. Even the tickets to the park show a dotted line paralleling essentially all of the roads in the park. Eager to escape the queue-like hike, Pierre and I searched out the "lost trails".

The path was in mostly good condition,

but had sections in extreme disrepair....overgrown...

...broken by fallen rocks or otherwise rotting...

...or intentionally dismantled. 

For the most part, we could make our way through the exposed, rusty nails and wobbly boards, but, in the cases where the path disappeared all together or were under water.

It has made for a fun (but slow) adventure. We have not seen anyone else using the "lost trails", so it's been a very nice way to escape the crowds. The path is never too far from the road and we can hear the constant roar of the buses hauling visitors up and down the valley - so not having any idea where we are hasn't really caused much concern. 

While our tickets suggest that staying in the park overnight is "strictly prohibited", we have found a place to stay with a family in one of the Tibetan villages in the valley. The roar of the tourist buses has begun to die down and it almost feels like we are in nature...finally.

We hope to hike for another few hours tomorrow and then begin our journey to Machen for a slightly less touristy trek. 


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