West Sichuan | Exploring the Homeland of the Qiang Pt. 2

Bipeng Valley Scenic Area ( 毕棚沟) is a beautiful mountainous nature reserve with snow capped peaks, glaciers, deep valleys and alpine lakes in Lixian County. It has more than 40 peaks over 5000m in elevation and some that climb to 6000. Often described as a mini JiuZhai Valley, it is one of the many ticketed, constructed Natural Tourist Zones of Aba Prefecture. These can be met with some frustration and confusion from Western guests, due to their stark contrast from other countries’ National Parks systems. We prefer Bipeng Valley to JiuZhai, because it is more accessible and relatively less busy. It is one of the closest and most convenient places to experience the staggering mountains and unique flora of the region, and is filled with incredible natural landscapes, even if the experience is controlled.

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Fall colors and a glacier above the lake

For some, the most difficult part about this trip is resigning yourself to the more controlled nature of the natural experience. For others the convenience makes it that much better. Upon entering a huge parking lot, filled with buses you will purchase an entrance ticket, and a required bus ticket (changes seasonally, but usually 80RMB and 60RMB respectively). You will board a park bus with other tourists and be driven deep into the valley and up to a plateau some 3600m above sea level. But don’t let this put you off – this journey allows you to experience a part of the mountain range that without tourist infrastructure would otherwise be inaccessible. It also controls and contains the significant flow of tourists to specific areas of the park so as to protect the remainder of the park from the (potentially huge) environmental footprint tourism can cause. With an area of over 600 square kilometers the park stretches south-west to the Four Sisters Mountains (Siguniang Mountains). In fact 2-day camping hikes can be organized through the valley and out the other side. Protection of this area is all the more an important focus since it lies in the original habitat of the Panda (though don’t expect to see any wild ones).

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A view from the other side – 4 Sisters Mountains

Once you get off the bus, you are more free to explore the valleys, alpine lakes, and waterfalls on your own. Hiking to the lake, which usually represents the end point, takes around 2 hours but can be longer depending on how many side paths one takes. There is also the option to take an electric cart to the lake and/or back (20RMB each way…), which can be a good option for those with mobility issues. The majority of domestic tourists also take these carts which leaves the hiking paths much more open for exploration.

The park is starkly different in each season, with flowers blooming in the spring, lush vegetation in the summer, hills of yellow and red from changing leaves in the fall, and frozen waterfalls and a thick layer of snow all winter. It is a lush and diverse area which boasts (on its own website) to being home to over 3000 plant species, and 600 animal species. While the flora is impressive we are yet to see much in the way of wildlife beyond birds.

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Winter scenery at Bipeng Valley

The high elevation – over 3000m (10,000 ft) for the majority of the hiking section – makes the air very thin and the sun intense. Prepare properly for the elements, and don’t underestimate the possible effects of the altitude on your ability to hike. What makes the area so beautiful makes it also potentially dangerous in this respect, and many will in the end be thankful for the transportation provided.

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A moss covered pine

Bipeng Valley is truly a beautiful place and allows access to a remote, mountainous areas that would only be available to an adventurous elite without the current tourist infrastructure. We recommend budgeting at least a half day’s time to fully explore the park. Bring a picnic (and lots of water), and find a quiet space to yourself to get the most out of the day.

If you are prepared to pay the ticket price, this is a great way to acquaint yourself with the mountainous scenery of west Sichuan. Just under 200km from Chengdu, it can easily be done as a weekend trip and combined with stops in Qiang villages also located in the area.

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About the Author: Jordan Porter is founder and Chief Experience Officer at Chengdu Food Tours where he shares the splendors of Sichuan Cuisine with visitors and locals alike. He strives to continually learn about food and food sources and spends his time traveling in the countryside around Chengdu learning about foraging, cooking with fire and making ingredients.

 

About Jordan @ Chengdu Food Tours

I run Chengdu Food Tours as a way to help people experience the amazing city and culinary scene I have got to know since moving here in 2010. I spend my free time exploring the mountains and countryside of Sichuan looking for adventure and stories about the origins of our (incredible) food.