Plan of the Day
The plan was to visit two scenic sights at MoNiGou (漠泥沟). The first sight was ZhaGa Falls (扎嘎瀑) and the second ErDaoHai Scenic Reserve (二道海景区) .It should take about a whole day to walk both areas.
End of the day.
We spent about two hours trekking at ZhaGa Falls (扎嘎瀑布) and about three and a hours at ErdaoHai Scenic Rerserve (二道海景区). We went prepared with packed lunch as there were no cafes or eateries in MoNiGou. We were back at Songpan Ancient Town by about 4.30 pm that was when we had an early dinner. We spent the rest of the evening strolling on the streets on the inner city which was beautifully lighted.
AJiMu Guesthouse did not cater to breakfast and the idea of waking up early and walking into town in a cold morning in search of a cafe for breakfast was just too unappealing. So this morning we cooked instant noodle in our room for breakfast. It was noodle with beef pieces (if you could find them). We had bought the two cups noodle in SongPan town the day before for RMB¥10.
If might be instant noodles, they definitely tasted better than the porridge breakfast we had the last two mornings at SeErCuo International Hotel!
Getting to MoNiGou
We met Driver Pi at the agreed carpark at 9 am and set out to MoNiGou. Some people called it MoNiGou Valley but “Gou” meant ditch/valley in Chinese, so calling it MoNiGou Valley was like saying the word “valley” twice.
Just before reaching the valley the road took us into a long mountain tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, our driver turned left to go towards Zhaga Falls, he told us that turning right would lead to ErDaoHai Scenic Reserve.
There were two ways to visit these two scenic areas from SongPan Ancient Town, by taxis/cab or horse riding. There was no public bus service from SongPan to MoNiGou. Driver Pi had quoted us RMB¥200 for his cab service to bring us to one site and an additional RBM¥40 for two sites. The cost would include him waiting for us to finish our walks and bring us back to SongPan Ancient Town.
The entrance ticket was RMB¥100 per person for both Zhaga Falls and ErDaohai Scenic Area. It would be RMB¥70 for just one area.
The tickets included the fee for the park-scenic-bus to transfer visitors from the main entrance to the falls and back. But due to low number of visitors, the park-scenic-buses were not in operation. So driver like Mr Pi had prior arrangement with the park management to drive visitors to the falls for a fee (to be paid by the park management).
Driver Pi drove us to carpark 2 which was nearer to the Falls. From the carpark we would walk to the Falls, after the Falls we should take the left turn and walk through a forest and exit at carpark 1 where Driver Pi would meet us again. The walk should be about 2 km in length.
The walk to the Falls was very straight forward, we just had to stay on a well maintained boardwalk and it would lead us to ZhaGa Falls. All along the boardwalk were signboards advising visitors not to stray onto the vegetation on both sides of the walk.
I had thought that since HuangLong and ZhaGa Falls were all about travertine falls maybe we should skip ZhaGa Falls and focus on ErDaoHai Scenic Reserve. Just to be sure that we would not be making a mistake, I asked Mr Pi about both sites and which of the two would be more beautiful and his answer was ZhaGa Falls! With that answer we just had to visit both sites.
After a short walk of about 500 meters we reached Buddhist Fan Fall. It was a falls that fanned out widely. Interesting but nothing spectacular.
Just when we were wondering where was ZhaGa Falls, we came to a set of steps. We walked up a wooden stairs that were built on an incline slope of running water, tracing the water up and up we were amazed that it connected to a gigantic falls which was the ZhaGa Falls. The steps lead us to a huge platform.
Zhaga Falls was indeed majestic, it was a complicated falls with many huge humps one on top of another. Water cascaded down over the humps all the way down to a huge deck, running under the deck and went further down and down.
Falls using fell over a cliff, but ZhaGa Falls looked like a falls that grew upward, a nature of travertine falls. Travertine was limestone created by the alkaline water when several conditions were met. It combined with impurities in the water to create this light brown slimy stuff that amassed together creating barrier in the water. Water behind the barrier pooled and when the water level reached the height of the barrier, it fell over the barrier and then a mini falls was formed. This natural phenomena repeated over and over through the centuries and the results were wonders like HuangLong and ZhaGa Falls.
From the large viewing deck at the base of ZhaGa Falls, there were steps running up the left side of the falls all the way to the top where it joined a bridge that crossed over the falls and joined another set of stairs coming down on the right side of the falls.
We went up the stairs and reached as far as a mid landing. The air was thin so we took our time going up the steps, stopping frequently to rest. At the mid landing we took a couple of photos and decided not to go up to the top anymore as we believed the view up at the top would not be nicer. Well the “not nicer view” was just an excuse, the stairs to the top just looked too high and too tiring to conquer.
After coming back down ZhaGa Falls we took the left path and walked for another kilometer before arriving at carpark 1. Along the way there were a few ponds nothing fantastic. The boardwalk was sloping gently down most of the way so it was a very easy and relaxing walk and we especially enjoyed the fresh air and all the greenery around us.
On the way out from ZhaGa Falls to ErDaoHi Scenic Area we stopped to visit a Tibetan Temple. In the compound of Muni Back Temple also called Zhari Temple were several buildings and some of them had golden roofs. The gold colour shone brightly under the sun, so lovely. We walked around the compound but did not attempt to walk into any of its prayer hall.
It was a quiet day at the temple, beside a couple of monks in red robes and us there we two other tourists roaming about. This temple was founded in 1663, it was one of the two important temples in MoNiGou.
ErDaoHai Scenic Reserve
ErDaoHai Scenic Reserve was 20 km north of ZhaGa Falls. Our cab/taxis had to go over some very bumpy roads created by a huge resort development that was still on going. Along the way we asked Mr Pi to stop at a cafe/eatery/restaurant as we would like to have some tea or coffee. He told us that there were no such establishments anywhere in MoNiGou!
Mr Pi drove us right up to ErDaoHai Scenic Reserve entrance and informed us that the road stopped at the entrance and we would have to go on foot from there on.
We presented to the park staff our earlier bought tickets and passed though the arc doorway. Immediately behind the door way was a long boardwalk that stretches into the vast park. The “Hai” of ErDaoHai meant “sea” in Chinese, which in this case would mean lakes or ponds. But from the entrance looking inward into the park area we could not see any “water bodies”, it looked like a long walk in.
The greenery at ErDaoHai had not changed into its autumn colors yet, it looked like we were a week or two too early. After a short walk on the boardwalk we came to a split with a signboard. The left branch was for going into the valley and the right for coming out of the valley.
The instruction on the signboard was misleading it said left was a path to the top and right was a path to the foot, it gave the impression of two separate routes when in actual fact it was one big loop route.
We took the left branch and after about 500 metres we reached the first lake of ErDaoHai Scenic Reserve, Emerald Lake. The lake was very still and the water mirrored the surrounding almost flawlessly. Unfortunately the sky was not blue enough and the trees were not in their best autumn colors yet or this place would surely be stunning.
Soon after Emerald Lake was Jade Lake. We took our time walking round the lake. There was a section where the depth was shallow and the water was particularly clear, there we could see many sunken tree trunks at the bottom of the lake.
After Jade Lake the next lake was TouDaoHai (头道海), another green, clear and reflective lake. We had been walking for about an hour and we had yet to reach lake ErDaoHai. This reserve was name after lake ErDaoHai so it must be the most beautiful lake in this whole area. But how much longer must we walk!!
Lake TouDaoHai(头道海) and Lake ErDaoHai(二道海) were named probably in the order of their positions on the route/walk. “Tou” (头) meant “first” and Er(二) meant “second”. The signage in the park was not very friendly. It did not had an overall map of all the lakes, each sign only showed a section of the park.
The sign at TouDaoHai showed our current position an attraction ahead and one that we had passed earlier.
Unfortunately there was no indication as to how far we would have to walk to reach the star attraction of this park, Lake ErDaoHai (二道海). Several visitors decided to turn back probably because they ran out of time or found the scenery repetitive (lake after lake). After TouDaoHai there was a Singing Spring Pool followed by a long stretched of up slope walking though a forest.
The elevation of ErDaoHai Scenic Reserve was between 3,290m to 3,417m, in such high altitude places where the air was thin, going up the stairs was really no fun. Sometimes in our enthusiasm to reach the top we forgot to pace our strides and ended breathless midway up the stairs. Finally after 30 minutes of walking from TouDaoHai we reached ErDaoHai!
Lake ErDaoHai was indeed beautiful but not to an extent that it overshadowed all the other lakes. This year, autumn arrived late so the foliage surrounding the lake was still green and not the yellow/red/orange colors that I had seen in pictures on the internet.
The walking path did not end at ErDaoHai, there were still many few lakes further inward. There was Panax Lake, Luoyu Lake , Mirror Lake, Serene Lake, Willow Lake etc etc. Since we had came so far we decided to walk on, we reached as far as Willow Lake before we decided to turn back.
The walk back to the main entrance took only about 50 minutes, a third of the time walking in. Walking out was easier (more downhill steps) and faster as we did not have to stop to take photo. At about 4 pm, three and a half hours since we entered the park, we exited the ErDaoHai Scenic Park entrance and found Driver Pi in his car watching a drama on his mobile phone.
SongPan Ancient Town
On the way back to the town Driver Pi pointed out the South Gate of SongPan ancient town to us. From a higher ground we could see the thick ancient wall that went round the town. At the top of the wall was huge pathway which could easily hold many soldiers in the ancient days.
We also found out from Driver Pi that the huge fortress on the hill which we saw from the window of our hotel room was actually the East City Gate. Looking carefully we could see the city wall that ran up the slope all the way to the East City Gate. It would be amazing to go up to the East City Gate and looked down at the ancient town unfortunately we were tired out and wanted a less strenuous activity like eating and drinking.
We got Driver Pi to stop us at Emma’s Kitchen where we planned to have our meal. It was goodbye time so we took a photo with Driver Pi for remembrance.
Dinner at Emma’s Kitchen
We had walked and drove past Emma’s Kitchen a few times since arriving at SongPan. Outside the restaurant was a huge sign that stated this kitchen served fish & chips, pizza and other western food. After four days of eating local Chinese food we were yearning for some familiar taste. So at about 4.30 pm we walked into Emma’s Kitchen for a very early dinner. Our order was a huge tuna pizza, brownie desert and a cup of cafe latte to share between us.
Our meal came up to RMB¥240 which was rather pricey for a meal in SongPan. We would not mind spending the money if the food turned up as nice at it looked. It was a mistake to expect the food to be of the same standard as that at home.
Night Light at the Ancient Town
We stayed at Emma’s Kitchen till about 6.30 pm before we left for a stroll in the inner town of SongPan Ancient Town. At about 7 pm the decoration lights came on and the atmosphere of the town changed!
Tonight the weather was not as cold as the night before. The inner city with its “no cars/truck” streets was easy to walk. The ancient bridge that spanned River Min was so stunning and different from its “day” look. It would be a shame to leave this ancient town without seeing its “lighted” look!
We walked from the southern city gate all the way to the northern city gate. Though the lighted city gate was pretty, the lighted decoration made the ancient gate appeared less authentic. Lantern lights would go well with an ancient wall but not modern days electric light bulbs.