Nature’s power to restore iconic UNESCO Heritage Site Jiuzhaigou works wonders
The captivating beauty of Jiuzhaigou, or “Nine Village Valley”, in Sichuan Province, China, has been crafted by nature over hundreds of millions of years. A massive earthquake that hit the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in early August damaged some scenic sites of the Jiuzhaigou National Park and forced its temporary closure. However, nature has its curious way of reshaping dreamy landscapes, making them even more wondrous. Experts familiar with the unique geology of Jiuzhaigou are confident that some of the damaged scenic areas will be restored, either naturally or artificially.
Powered by nature, the transformation of Jiuzhaigou’s breathtaking landscapes and vibrant colours has remained a work in progress. The area’s unique high- altitude landscape underlain with limestone is constantly evolving, chiseled and carved by glacial, hydrological and tectonic activity triggered by earthquakes, because it lies on the major faults on the diverging belt between the Qinghai-Tibet Plate and the Yangtze Plate.
Over 400 million years ago, Jiuzhaigou, on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, was covered by crystal clear seawater so shallow that it allowed abundant sunlight to penetrate its depths, enabling many prehistoric organisms and marine flora and fauna to thrive. Thanks to photosynthesis and depository of the remains of multiple life forms, a thickening layer of calcium carbonate began to form under water, measuring around 4,000 metres in depth. Jiuzhaigou’s world-renowned lakes of blue, green and turquoise colours originate from the glacial activity and hydrological forces. Years of natural phenomena, including landslips, rock falls, mineral sediment building, dammed the lakes that were later solidified by the magical process of carbonate deposition (travertine). The lakes’ highly prized vivid palette is a result of the high concentration of calcium carbonate. Its crystal-like clarity makes the bottom of these lakes highly visible even in tremendous depths.
The vista of colourful lakes is enhanced with the backdrop of magnificent snow-capped mountains, including the 4,000-metre Zha Yi Zha Ga Mountain, that were shaped by glacial movements and hydrological effects after the ice ages. Massive glaciers also coursed through the plateau and carved out spectacular valleys and their gullies, as well as the stunning waterfalls, including the iconic Nuorilang Falls. The subsequent melting of glaciers transformed parts of the land into lakes. Jiuzhaigou is also a unique ecosystem of amazing biodiversity: some areas are home to 40 percent of China’s plant species that change colours along with the seasons.
After the August earthquake, some access to the national park was blocked and some of the best-known attractions, such as Nuorilang Falls, sustained varying degrees of damage. Nevertheless, nature’s power of healing itself is awe- inspiring. For instance, the well-known Sparkling Lake, which was almost drained immediately after the earthquake, has its turquoise water replenished naturally and looks nearly unchanged. An expert from the Chengdu Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chen Xiao-qing, of Chinese Academy of Sciences, was interviewed by mainland media soon after his team surveyed the park. Chen said that most of the lakes and streams in Jiuzhaigou were left intact, even though Panda Lake was reduced in size due to landslip. Moreover, Jiuzhaigou’s unspoiled biologically diverse ecosystem in high altitude allows any destroyed vegetation to re-grow easily.
Because the earthquake has destabilized some of the surface areas, Jiuzhaigou will be under the risk of landslips. But they should be contained easily, thanks to the relevant departments’ extensive preventive measures implemented over the years. “Jiuzhaigou has been under the threat of landslip and rock falls. In 1985, the authorities took extensive measures to prevent and repair some of the scenic spots,” Chen noted. “For example, the several much-photographed trees near the edge of Mirror Lake used to be in the lake’s centre. The almost annual landslip had moved the trees by 20 metres each year. Through government’s efforts, the trees were almost returned to their original location. This proves that the containment and restoration measures taken in 1985 have been effective. We are in the process of investigating the damage to the containment system built earlier to determine if we need any additional measures.”
“Before 1985, huge volume of rocks and sand were flushed into Jiuzhaigou’s lakes and streams. A containment system has been installed to filter out the sand and rocks upstream before the water goes into the lakes. This helps reduce contamination significantly and keep the water crystal clear,” Chen said.
Banyan Tree Jiuzhaigou
Among the newest luxury resorts in Jiuzhaigou is Banyan Tree Jiuzhaigou, managed by Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts. At 2,500 metres above sea level, the mountain resort features an exclusive and private sanctuary of 209 guestrooms and suites. The first and only resort in Jiuzhaigou with 360-degree panoramic views of the mountains or valleys.
“Banyan Tree Jiuzhaigou was not affected by the earthquake and all guests staying at the hotel were unscathed,” according to a spokeswoman of the resort. “After the earthquake, we continued to operate for several days to ensure the safe departure of all guests,” she noted.
In the aftermath, a high level of professionalism embraced by staff of Banyan Tree Jiuzhaigou is in clear evidence. Although the resort was threatened by possible tremors, under the guidance of the management, all staff members made it their top priority to guarantee the safety of their guests and security of their belongings. “Many associates took the initiative to comfort the guests and ensure they have a continual supply of drinking water and food. They have done their utmost to give their guests a sense of security and warmth,” the spokesperson continued.
“As part of our safety and preventive measures, the resort is closed temporarily and will be reopened as Jiuzhaigou restores its natural beauty,” she said. “Banyan Tree champions the sustainability and preservation of nature and this corporate philosophy is embraced by all staff of the international group. Many of our staff members have volunteered to assist in the restoration works in Jiuzhaigou.”
Over hundreds of millions of years, nature has transformed Jiuzhaigou from an ocean into geologically diverse landscape. The constant evolution of Jiuzhaigou’s landscape and scenery will never fail to surprise and amaze visitors.
For more details and to make reservations, Banyan Tree Jiuzhaigou, No. 1 Baohai Road, Baohua Town, Jiuzhaigou County, Aba, Sichuan Province, P.R. China
please call +86 837 889 8888, or email reservations-