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China's Sichuan province: Visiting the lair of the Yellow Dragon

05-30-2011 11:20 BJT

The sudden screams from the predominantly Chinese tourists echoing around the bus as it negotiated a bend made me look up sharply. I was relieved to discover we were not about to crash - instead, the cause of the commotion among my fellow passengers was the sight of our first lake within the 280 square miles of Jiuzhaigou National Park in China's Sichuan province.

Jiuzhaigou, which means Nine Village Valley, is famed for its series of glacial lakes, and the stunning view of the intense turquoise waters - so clear that the surrounding trees and sky were reflected in a sharp mirror image - was certainly astonishing.

We continued to be amazed as we alighted from the bus for a closer look at the lakes, spectacular waterfalls and lush foliage.

Glacial lakes: The rock pools at Huanglong Natural Preserve, Sichuan

According to Tibetan legend, a goddess was presented with a mirror by a mountain deity who was in love with her. Startled by the appearance of the devil, she dropped the looking glass and it shattered into 114 pieces. But instead of seven years' bad luck befalling her, the shards were transformed into 114 glittering lakes to create 'the fairyland of Earth'.

Only officially discovered by the government in the Seventies, the sheer natural beauty of Nine Village Valley - named after the number of villages along its length - saw it designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1992. It has also been used as a backdrop to films including Oscar winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The fairytale setting surely features in quite a few wedding albums too, judging from the number of couples I saw posing for photos while decked out in their wedding finery. They had certainly chosen the right time of year - in mid-October the leaves on the trees were turning into the vibrant autumnal colours of bronze, burnt orange and red.

This nature reserve may be way off the beaten track for most Western tourists, but it's undoubtedly a huge attraction for the Chinese - more than 10,000 people a day visit the area during peak season.

No public vehicles are allowed inside the park - visitors get around on hop-on-hop-off eco-friendly shuttle buses. Well maintained boardwalks, along with wooden viewing platforms strategically positioned around the lakes, make exploring an enjoyable experience.

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