Jiuzhaigou: 155

Jiuzhaigou: 155, originally uploaded by lacitadelle.

...more acceptable to the authorities in a sensitive area than a Tibetan Buddhist.

Jiuzhaigou is in the far northwest of China's Sichuan Province on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, in the Aba Autonomous Tibetan and Qiang (Chiang) Prefecture. It runs from a base of 2,600 metres to 4,300 metres and is now an unspoilt wooded valley with a chain of multi coloured lakes and spectacular waterfalls plunging down.

Its name means Nine Villages Valley after the Tibetan settlements that populate it. In theory these villages are tourist sites now, but when we were there there had been Tibetan unrest only two weeks earlier and it appeared that the population had been removed from all but one of the villages (which was in full-swing as a sales outlet), and there were police cars parked in the entrances to the other villages. Chinese soldiers (apparently chosen for their extreme youth, so as not to upset the tourists) rode with us in all the public service buses that ferried us from site to site.

Access from Chengdu is usually by a 10-hour coach trip, but the 2008 Sichuan earthquake had wiped out the road four months earlier, so we flew in via Jiuzhaigou-Huanglong Airport, the second highest airport in "China proper". This was so high up that landing didn't even made my ears pop, let alone send me deaf for days like most landings. The hotels (at the foot of the valley) are not high enough to cause significant altitude sickness (AMS, acute mountain sickness) symptoms, even though daytime trips are up to 4,300 metres - just breathlessness if you try to go up steps too fast.

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