Travel Report Five

Siguniangshan, Sichuan Province

“The trouble with a statement like, ‘this is probably the most beautiful place I’ve been to’ is that I then have to try to back that up with photographs. Difficult.”

There are three valleys, Shuangqiaogou, Haizigou, and Changpinggou, each with its own gate where tickets must be bought. 2016 cost was 90rmb for each valley.

Buses are available from the tourist centre in Rilongzhen to Changpinggou valley. Haizigou is a short walk from the town. Getting to and from Shuangqiaogou is a little more challenging, and (2017) requires lifts from locals (for a modest fee).

Climbing opportunities, including ice-climbing, are excellent for those with the necessary skills and equipment.

Two of the valleys have wooden boardwalks for parts of their lengths, which provide relatively easy walking. On the mountains themselves there are no tracks.

Small hotels are comfortable and very friendly.

Accommodation: There are many comfortable small hotels in the town, along with a tourist centre.

This is a Tibetan Buddhist area, and that fact has not been lost on the officials who promote tourism. These prayer flags are right outside the tourist office.

It’s not all for the tourists, though. In the valleys there are simple Buddhist acknowledgements of the cycles of existence.

Recommendation: Unless camping or climbing, allow a day to explore each valley. There are very few people on the walkway in Shuangqiaogou, most being happy to ‘hop’ between photo sites on the valley’s buses. A walk down the valley is a beautiful experience.

Yes, there is ‘commercialisation’ That is, there is a tourist industry that is very much promoted by government officials, to bring money in to what was a poor region. But there is still a sense of the wilderness here; more than, say, in the European Alps. With wilderness come beauty, and danger.

Wild walking is possible for those who have done deeper research, although not particularly encouraged. Camping is possible in the quieter upper parts of Changpinggou and Haizigou. Local people provide horses with guides in those two valleys.

Haizigou itself has no walkways. Pathways through bushes are sometimes rough and narrow, churned up by equine traffic.

To access Haizigou you should go to the visitor centre in Rilongzhen and then take a wooden walkway, climbing many steps, roughly southeastwards. Just inside the park gate there is an opportunity to take to horseback.

Horses can carry the visitor a few km past the end of the boardwalk, to an open area dominated by the mountain. On horse or on foot, it’s worth going at least that far. The guides here will offer a horseback return journey – but they will charge well for the ride of two hours.

The ticket office for Changpinggou is at the visitor centre in Rilongzhen. The price includes a bus ride to and from the gate to the valley, a few kilometres away.

The boardwalk here exists in the lower few kilometres only, rough (and sometimes very muddy) but clear pathways go significantly further.

The boardwalk nominally runs for most of the 29km length of the valley – all except the lower few kilometres. However, in October 2016 the lower half was in a bad state and closed, making it necessary to take to the road on foot or on bus.

The entrance to Shuangqiaogou is through a narrow gorge 7km east of Rilongzhen town.

After paying the entry fee there are buses to shuttle visitors to the large parking area at the head of the valley, with stalls selling

refreshments and souvenirs, 29km away. It’s a beautiful journey. Most visitors are happy to use the frequent buses to hop back down the valley from selfie-spot to selfie-spot. The more independent-minded can set off walking.

Wildlife includes monkeys, deer, vultures, leopards, although sitings will be rare in the valleys. Giant pandas have been known to be seen – even more rarely.

Wildlife hangs on in the face of mass human intrusions.

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