12 October 2009

Spruce Meadow

As the three week's tour of China drew to a close we had one final excursion to an area of natural beauty and it was the one that I liked the most.

On the slopes of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, not far from Li Jiang, there are a few meadows where you can follow wooden walkways to explore the flora and fauna.

But first you have to get to the mountain and then up to the meadows.

There is a large coach park at the bottom of the mountain where you decamp from one coach to another as only these official coaches are allowed in the park.

The final section of the journey to the meadow is by cable car. As everywhere else in China, the cable car station is in the middle of a shop to provide another Intensive Retail Experience (as our tour group called them) but we had the good fortune to be there late in the day when the shopkeepers had departed leaving us to walk along eerily deserted isles.

This good fortune extended when we got to the meadow itself as there was only one other tour group there with us and they were leaving as we were arriving.

The walk of almost an hour was peaceful, refreshing and awe inspiring as it circumvented the meadow.

The path is made of well worn wood, laid there to keep you on the prescribed path and so protect the meadow which had many delicate flowers among the grass.

The path weaves its way in a combination of twists, turns, dips and rises so that the next step is always something of a mystery.

For most of the route the path had the meadow on one side and the spruce forest on the other offering constantly changing and constantly inspiring views.

For most of the way around the meadow the delightfully awkward spruce trees conspired to hide Jade Dragon Snow Mountain but the rules of geometry are rules and so as we crossed to the other side of the meadow the snow-capped mountain came imperiously in to view.

But the mountain may be disappointed to hear that while it was clearly grand and important it was also distant and the meadow was more compelling as the walkway continued to take us on our wondrous journey.

All too soon the hour the tour guide allowed us for free exploration (something we got too little of on the tour overall) and we made the best of the scenery and fresh air as we trudged reluctantly back to the cable car that was waiting to take us back down the mountain.

The mountain range had a final treat for us before the coach came to take us away thanks to the glacial waters flowing from it.

These waters and the unusual geology combined to make a series of curved terraced waterfalls.

Earlier in the day yaks tolerated tourists on their backs as they shambled in the water but they too had gone home so we were spared the temptation to be uncultured tourists.

Having negotiated the waterfalls the river pauses for breath in a small lake that more geology has turned a deep clear blue in a Photoshop sort of way.

All good things must come to an end and the blue pool marked the end of our day in the mountains. All that left of our holiday was the town of Li Jiang itself. And little did we know just how good that was going to be.

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