“Situated in the north-west of Sichuan Province, the Huanglong valley is made up of snow-capped peaks and the easternmost of all the Chinese glaciers. In addition to its mountain landscape, diverse forest ecosystems can be found, as well as spectacular limestone formations, waterfalls and hot springs. The area also has a large amount of endangered animals.” UNESCO World Heritage Committee made the above comments when including Huanglong in its World Natural Heritage in 1992. Since then, Huanglong — the unrivalled beautiful scenes of “Hidden in remote mountains, with no one knowing it” for a long time had rapidly emerged to become popular around the world.
Located within the south of Minshan Mountains in Songpan County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in the north of Sichuan Province, Huanglong is covered with huge surface areas of travertine among immense forests and ice peaks, and meanders and flies in the earth and heavenlike a golden dragon. The major scenic spots are Huanglong Valley, Mouni Gully, and Xuebaoding (Snow Mountain Peak), etc. This area is precisely a natural travertine museum because of its various types of travertine landscapes, with a full range of stone dams, colored ponds, travertine shoals, waterfalls, and potted landscapes.
I. Mouni Gully
Mouni Gully is well known for its giant travertine waterfalls. The Zhaga Waterfall is located in the mountain forests with an altitude of over 3,000 meters, and it takes the whole mountain as background, placing a layer of white voile on the yellow travertine from top to bottom. Those dark-hued forests seem to specially give way to the Zhaga Waterfall. The forest trees stand beside the falls with good manner. In fact, the Zhaga Waterfall is fast as well as slow; consequently the white voile is thin and thick. During the entire process of climbing along the plank road to the upstream of the Zhaga Waterfall, the sound of the waterfall drowns out the unique tranquility of the forests.
You will discover that the Zhaga Waterfall has been a turbulent torrent even at its initial formation phase only when you reach its pinnacle. At that moment, the early-formed current is running through the forests rapidly, slipping through the cliff, and surging with countless sprays. Finally it passes by under your feet and dives downward in a jump-promoted form, and crashes in a dauntless gesture into the valley bottom with a drop of 100 meters; it dominates the whole mountain forests.
II. Colored Ponds in Huanglong Valley
Besides the Multi-colored Pond, Huanglong also has several scenes being well known for their respective colored ponds: Flamboyant Pond, Azalea Pond, Mirror Pond, Bonsai Pond, Glittering Pond, and Welcome Pond from the top of the mountain to the bottom. The ponds are broadly similar, for all the ponds are fed by snow mountain water flowing from top to bottom covered with the color of the ten-thousand-year travertine, but slightly different because of the surrounding sparse vegetation.
The Flamboyant Pond is the largest open-air travertine in Huanglong and even in China. It covers an area of 20,000 square meters and consists of over six hundred cross-connected colored ponds. Travertine ponds reflect different color spectrums due to their irregular depths. Sometimes they appear blue when you look from a distance and green when you get close to them; they are delicate and charming when you look down to them and transparent when you look squarely at them. From bright yellow to light green and dark blue to deep blue, they turn out tenuous distinctions, looking like flowers vie with each other to show their beauty.
Continuing to walk down, you will come in front of a piece of spacious travertine after passing by the Azalea Pond with numerous trees contending for beauty. Here is the Mirror Pond located at the middle point of the whole Huanglong Valley, where there are relatively more chairs for tourists to take a short rest. Stand on the platform and overlook by leaning on the railing, the water is like a mirror and reflects the distant hills and thick clouds, and your mind flies with the boundless openness and distance, and spreads to the other invisible end of the mountain valley along with the towering coniferous forests all around.
III. Travertine in Huanglong Valley
The Huanglong scenic area consists of a dozen large or small scenic spots, but can be generally divided into vivid blue color ponds, dark and pale green coniferous forests, snow-capped Xuebaoding, and golden shining yellow travertine landscapes. During your tour, besides the coniferous forests which can be seen everywhere at both sides of the valley, the most attractive landscape would be the large pieces of yellow travertine. Even when the sun is hidden by thick clouds, the travertine still appears bright yellow, and displays magnificent momentum. They are connected with each other by large pieces, and go endlessly down along the Huanglong Valley from the Multi-colored Pond and spread to the valley bottom. Sometimes they fluctuate and stack up like the mighty waves of the Yellow River, or jump up and down like the Loess Plateau, and sometimes they are smooth and vast like the desert yellow sand, and fly straight down just like the natural flow of waterfalls.
IV. Huanglong Ancient Temple
Established in Ming Dynasty, the Huanglong Ancient Temple is also known as the Snow Mountain Temple. The Songpan County Annals recorded that when Da Yu (Yu the Great) came to Maozhou to regulate rivers and watercourses, a yellow dragon took a boat to help him. Afterwards the yellow dragon became an immortal, and left the multi-colored landscape, and the descendants built a temple to worship and commemorate it. So it seems that the Huanglong Valley is named after the Huanglong Temple, and the travertine shoals just like a yellow dragon is not just imagined at all. In fact, Huanglong has three temples, the front temple, middle temple, and back temple. The best-preserved temple is the back temple of Taoism, and the front temple has disappeared over the years. Not far away from here lies the Huanglong Middle Temple of Tibetan Buddhism at about halfway up the mountainside.
When you look carefully at the plaque of the ancient temple, you can find there is another mystery: you can find the characters “Huang Long Gu Si” (Huanglong Ancient Temple) when you see the plaque directly, but you will find the characters “FeiGe Liu Dan” (Flying Pavilion and Flowing Red) when you see it from the left side, and “Shan Kong Shui Bi” (Empty Sky and Clear Water) from the right side. The ancient temple and landscape in Huanglong are subtly described in one plaque. Each corner at the top of the temple has a circling yellow dragon, and a colorful giant dragon is drawn on both doors of the temple. When you enter the temple, you find that the style is also dominated by carved beams & painted rafters and flying lattices & brackets of the Taoist School and the Yellow Dragon Immortal sits uprightly in the main hall.
V. Multi-Colored Pond in Huanglong Valley
Nearly 700 calcified ponds converge at the Huanglong Valley peak with an elevation close to 4,000 meters, such large or small ponds in different shapes are the soul of Huanglong scenic area — the Multi-colored Pond.
When you carefully view the Multi-colored Pond, colors in it are different; all the colors from azure, sea blue, light blue to bluish green, dark green, and light green are dynamically changing due to different angles and lighting. The 700 calcified ponds are connected together and stacked by layers, and magically change colors corresponding to different interleaving relationships. They are like lotus leaves and flower petals, and also the most complete palette. As long as a light and graceful ripple, they can show you a perfect view with the heavy or light makeup. Combined with distant blue black mountains and intertwined coniferous forests, the cold colors in the spectrums of yellow, green, blue, cyan and purple constitute the indescribably beautiful landscape in this magical land. People love it at the first sight and the whole world just spaciously and quietly unfolds before your eyes.
When you ascend the Huanglong Valley scenic area all the way up, you will enjoy a full view of Xuebaoding which is the dominant peak of Minshan Mountains with an elevation of 5,588 meters. The Jade Peak erects at the top of Huanglong Valley. The snow water flows into the valley and forms the travertine lagoon with numerous flowers and trees contending for beauty before your eyes, and then finally converges into the most famous Mother River in Sichuan Province, the Minjiang River. The perennially snow-capped Xuebaoding has been the Holy Land of Taoism and Tibetan Buddhism since ancient times, and the local Tibetan nationality, Qiang nationality and Han nationality call it Sacred Mountain and worship it.
Standing at the mountain foot to overlook Huanglong Temple, no matter if it’s the middle temple or back temple, it is needless to say the Buddhism and the Taoism, they all seem tiny and remote in the huge bosom of Xuebaoding, and time seems to be able to change them in a wink of an eye. Only the Xuebaoding is white and lofty as before, and quietly enjoys the vicissitudes of life.