Few foreigners know where it is or what is in it, in fact almost nobody knows its existence; There is not a single organized trip that passes through here, this being the way how more foreign tourists visit the country. Unknown to the world and yet, this province is a treasure within China.
With an extension comparable to Spain or Thailand, it houses impressive and very diverse attractions. The reason why we have not heard about it is simple: these points of interest are very far from each other, distributed in a radial way respect to their little relevant capital, so too often we will be obliged to go back to on our way from one to the other. Imagine that in a trip to Spain you would like to go to Granada, Seville, the beaches in Cádiz, Valencia, Barcelona and Galicia, that to go from one to another you had to go through Madrid every time, and that there were no airplanes or high speed trains to most of those destinations; the trip, although fascinating, would require too much time and effort. This is exactly what happens to Sichuan:
- Chengdu. The main city is in the center. With more than 11 million inhabitants it is one of the most prosperous in the country, and unfortunately one of the sites with less interest.
- Use as a claim to be the world capital for conservation of pandas. This is obviously something to be thankful for, but its centers, especially the most famous and least distant from the urban area, for tourists do not suppose more than zoos of these beloved animals; time has past since visitors could access the enclosures and even photograph themselves holding the puppies, still for those of you who drool over watching a panda, it is a must stop. Keep in mind that it will mean getting up very early (since the enclosures are far away, pandas feed before 9 in the morning and then spend most of their time sleeping) and the centers usually have many visitors.
- Mount Qingcheng is also advertised as Chengdu attraction, but it is actually in a nearby town, Dujiangyan, which also has another pandas center and is known for its millenary irrigation system, still in use. It is a beautiful mountain planted with small temples that can be accessed by walking or climbing to the top by cable car.
- Here is the largest stone statue in the world, a gigantic and impressive sitting Buddha 71 meters high, carved into the rock more than 1300 years ago. Between the attractions in Sichuan, it is obviously one of the most important, and of course it is the most accessible, just an hour and a half by high-speed train from Chengdu. In the same area we can find other archaeological remains of less relevance.
- And Mount Emei. The big version of Mount Qingcheng is one of the 4 sacred mountains of Buddhism in China, important enough to be on the back of the 5 yuan banknotes. It takes three days to climb on foot from the base to the top or, what almost everyone does, to descend on foot from the top after getting there by bus and cable car, by paths surrounded by lustrous vegetation, dotted with temples where we can sleep and panoramic views in the highest areas, the sea of clouds being a frequent sight.
- Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. As can be sensed by its name, here we go even more to the countryside:
- Jiuzhaigou. The vision of mountains covered with autumnal trees next to turquoise lakes in this national park in the north of the province causes many jaws dropping. The beauty that radiates is immeasurable… or it used to be. Shaken by a strong earthquake in 2017 and floods no less considerable in the summer of 2018, Jiuzhaigou is not at its best. A train is being built, that will shorten less than half the time (currently 10 hours by bus) that it takes to get there; we hope that by the time it is finished, the park will have recovered its splendor.
- On the way and close, we can stop at Huanglong, with its more than 2000 calcareous pools of the same type as the world famous Pamukkale in Turkey. In addition there are waterfalls and hot springs.
- But if we really want to know the essence of Tibet, Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which occupies almost the entire west of the province, is our territory to explore. Its strong point are the high mountain landscapes, but above all, the Tibetan villages, whose only reason for being is the formation of thousands of Buddhist monks; they are made up of innumerable red houses surrounding temples on steep slopes. They form a striking vision and the experience of visiting them is interesting and different. Larung Gar and Garze Gompa are reputed to be the most photogenic ones.
- It is unforgivable for any traveler to know in Kyoto there is a bamboo forest, which, although certainly scenic, actually is barely 300 meters long, and that almost nobody knows of the largest bamboo forest in China. Of course, it’s also in Sichuan; the Shunan Zhuhai, called “sea of bamboo” are 120 km2 (for having a reference, double size of Manhattan) of forests with more than 30 varieties of these plants.
- And finally, highlight some of its traditional villages, most with more than 2000 years of history. In their day, several of them were important for the silk route. The best known are Langzhong, Liujiang and Lizhuang.
Unjustifiably eclipsed by modern Shanghai and Hong Kong, the Great Wall, the karstic peaks in Guilin and the Terracotta Warriors, Sichuan is to me the most complete province in China and justifies a trip to this country on its own (Mount Qingcheng and the irrigation system, the Buddha, Mount Emei, Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong are in UNESCO’s heritage list). I hope that in a few years Jiuzhaigou will recover its splendor and that the whirlwind of construction of high-speed trains has reached more places apart from Leshan and Mount Emei, but even if it is not, just for the Buddha is it worth to come here.
- LESHAN GIANT BUDDHA
- MONTE EMEI
- TIBETAN VILLAGES
- THE SEA OF BAMBOO
- TRADITIONAL VILLAGES