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Jiuzhaigou Natural Reserve

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Overview
Jiuzhaigou is a nature reserve and national park located in the north of Sichuan Province in the southwestern region of China. A long valley running north to south, Jiuzhaigou was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1992 and a World Biosphere Reserve in 1997. It belongs to the category V (Protected Landscape) in the IUCN system of protected area categorization.

The Jiuzhaigou valley is part of the Min Mountains on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and stretches over 72,000 hectares (180,000 acres). It is known for its many multi-level waterfalls, colorful lakes, and snow-capped peaks. Its elevation ranges from 2,000 to 4,500 metres (6,600 to 14,800 ft).

Information
Coordinates: 33°13′N 103°55′E

Country: China

Mayor: Yang Hongtao

Population: 62,000

Currency: Yuan (Renminbi)

Language: Sichuan Dialect 

Time Zone: China Standard Time (UTC+8)

Area: 5,290 square kilometers

Administrative Divisions: 17 towns

Altitude: 1405-4000m

Main Rivers: Bai River

GDP: Total – CNY58.03

History & Background
Jiuzhaigou takes its name from the nine Tibetan villages along its length.

The remote region was inhabited by various Tibetan and Qiang peoples for centuries. Until 1975 this inaccessible area was little known. Extensive logging took place until 1979, when the Chinese government banned such activity and made the area a national park in 1982. An Administration Bureau was established and the site officially opened to tourism in 1984; layout of facilities and regulations were completed in 1987.

The site was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1992 and a World Biosphere Reserve in 1997. The tourism area is classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.

Since opening, tourist activity has increased every year: from 5,000 in 1984 to 170,000 in 1991, 160,000 in 1995, to 200,000 in 1997, including about 3,000 foreigners. Visitors numbered 1,190,000 in 2002. As of 2004, the site averages 7,000 visits per day, with a quota of 12,000 being reportedly enforced during high season. The Town of Zhangzha at the exit of the valley and the nearby Songpan County feature an ever-increasing number of hotels, including several luxury five-stars, such as Sheraton.

Developments related to mass tourism in the region have caused concerns about the impact on the environment around the park.

Geography and climate
Jiuzhaigou lies at the southern end of the Minshan mountain range, 330 km (205 mi) north of the provincial capital of Chengdu. It is part of the Jiuzhaigou County (formerly Nanping County) in the Aba Tibetan Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of northwestern Sichuan province, near the Gansu border.

The valley covers 720 km2 (278 sq mi), with buffer zones covering an additional 600 km2 (232 sq mi). Its elevation, depending on the area considered, ranges from 1,998 to 2,140 m (at the mouth of Shuzheng Gully) to 4,558-4,764 m (on Mount Ganzigonggai at the top of Zechawa Gully).

The climate is subtropical to temperate monsoon with a mean annual temperature of 7.8 °C, with means of −3.7 °C in January and 16.8 °C in July. Total annual rainfall is 761 mm but in the cloud forest it is at least 1,000 mm. 80% of rainfall occurs between May and October.

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Population
Seven of the nine Tibetan villages are still populated today. The main agglomerations that are readily accessible to tourists are Heye, Shuzheng and Zechawa along the main paths that cater to tourists, selling various handicrafts, souvenirs and snacks. There is also Rexi in the smaller Zaru Valley and behind Heye village are Jianpan, Panya and Yana villages. Guodu and Hejiao villages are no longer populated.

Penbu, Panxing and Yongzhu villages lie along the road that passes through the town of Jiuzhaigou/Zhangza outside the valley.

In 2003, the permanent population of the valley was about 1,000 comprising 112 families, and due to the protected nature of the park, agriculture is no longer permitted so the locals now rely on tourism and local government subsidies to make a living.

Tourism
The Zharu Valley (扎如沟) runs southeast from the main Shuzheng gully and is rarely visited by tourists. The valley begins at the Zharu Buddhist monastery and ends at the Red, Black, and Daling lakes.

Zharu Valley is the home of tourism in Jiuzhaigou. The valley has recently been opened to a small number of tourists wishing to go hiking and camping off the beaten track. Visitors can choose from day walks and multiple day hikes, depending on their time availability. Knowledgeable guides accompany tourists through the valley, sharing their knowledge about the unique biodiversity and local culture of the national park. The Zharu Valley has 40% of all the plant species that exist in China and it is the best place to spot wildlife inside the national park.

The main hike follows the pilgrimage of the local Benbo Buddhists circumnavigating the sacred 4,528 m Zha Yi Zha Ga Mountain.

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