THE BEWITCHING BEAUTY
Picture this. Trees sleeping at the bottom of lakes so intensely turquoise you'd think them made of molten gemstones. White foam ricocheting off of dark rocks or sliding easily into the earth like a wedding gown. The thick Autumn foliage taking a red and golden plunge into crystal waters. Colour upon colour upon colour, and above all that chromatic chatter... stillness. Silent woods. Sky and mountains all around.
This is Jiuzhaigou, a natural park on the northern part of the Chinese province of Sichuan. A place truly like no other, where every stone and every tree seems drawn from the same magical and primeval place.
To think that I almost missed it, that I almost didn't make the trip to get there, discouraged by the prospect of two ten-hour bus rides and reports of excessive tourism in the park... It seems hardly possible now that I could've passed on such incredible beauty.
The town where I stayed overnight during my visit was spartan and cold. Even my hostel bed, under a heavy pile of blankets, felt like the icy bottom of a river during Winter. And that's to say nothing of the sobering experience that was walking across an open patio made of concrete in the early hours of the morning to take a shower in the annex next door where the bathroom stood.
Dinner on the night of my arrival was simple, in tune with my extreme tiredness. Wonton soup in the restaurant right by the hostel, followed by sleep. In hindsight, my depleted energy levels were already a telling sign of the illness that, a couple of days later, would have me visiting a hospital in China and staying put in the same city for a whole week.
At the time I knew nothing of this. So at the crack of dawn the next day I summoned up my best globe-trotting spirit and made sure I was among the first to enter the park. Here is some of what I saw.