If you get out of the polluted cities of China, unique and beautiful landscapes await you. Jiuzhaigou National Park has to be one the of most captivating and enchanting places I have ever been in my life. Despite the 10-hour bus ride and the most “challenging” bathrooms I have every experienced (mind you, I skipped out on the floor canals with no stalls, but I’m sure that’s next on my list), Jiuzhaigou was every bit worth the journey. Of course, I had seen pictures of this fairytale-looking place, but I figured it was just really good photography. When I was able to finally see the clear, un-smoggy skies and the incredible hues of aqua, blues, and greens of the water, I knew that I had arrived in a place that I would never forget. The only thing that kept my awareness of the realness of this place was the throngs (by throngs I mean thousands) of tourists and their selfie sticks surrounding me. I was disappointed that I hardly saw any wildlife, with the exception of fish, two ducks, and a chipmunk that was far too human-friendly, most likely a result of being constantly fed by tourists.
With every astounding and beautiful piece of nature comes tourists, of course. We had learned of the history of Jiuzhaigou before we went and of how in just the last few years, the place has become one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Who knew about this place before it gained worldwide recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Jiuzhigou means “Valley of Nine Fortified Villages” and lies in the Min Mountain range on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The native Tibetans that have lived here for centuries have since experienced a drastic change that will impact them forever. While some may think that they are lucky to suddenly have
so much more money since Jiuzhaigou became a tourist destination, the changes that have taken place have also brought about many negative consequences. With tourism comes 5-star hotels, more businesses, more people…and essentially more waste and pollution. The native to this area have become exploited because of their unique culture and religion. You can see tourists paying non-Tibetans to dress up in traditional garments for pictures while those who call Jiuzhaigou home are selling fruit on the side of the road.
Despite the massive crowds of tourists that visit Jiuzhaigou every day, the government has managed to keep the lakes and streams clean and somewhat unpolluted (or so it appears). However, the fancy hotels and tourist venues continue to produce mass amounts of waste. Things that had never before entered the native Tibetan’s culture, such as drugs and prostitutes, are now a common part of their lives. While on the bus ride back to Chengdu, we drove through beautiful mountains carpeted in the lush green flora of western Sichuan and I thought of how sad it was that such beautiful places, people, and cultures can be so quickly and easily destroyed and exploited. As we passed the villages and hills strewn with the colorful Tibetan prayer flags, I wondered how those people were feeling as they continue to cling to their cultural beliefs and land that is now so sought after. I know I am guilty of being one of those tourists who flock to see the beautiful landscapes of places such as Jiuzhaigou. The only thing that I can think to do personally is to be respectful and mindful of such sacred places and the people who live there. Awareness of the impact of tourism and mass development is crucial to preserving the beauty of the land and those who dwell there.