Archive for the ‘Xichang’ Category

Most Beautiful Sky Road in China

Friday, October 30th, 2015
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Ya’an (雅安) is our transit springboard to further explore the West Sichuan. Our today’s destination is Hailuogou Glacier Park ( 海螺沟冰川森林公园). We are supposed to reach Moxi Town (磨西镇) from Ya’an by noon, an approx. 300 km drive and then start up our visit to Hailuogou Glacier on the same day. Moxi Old Town is the gateway to Hailuogou Glacier and Mount Gongga (贡嘎山). Moxi is a town in Luding County in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan.

Before setting off for Moxi Town,  I stride to a viewing spot protruding a bit into the wide Qingyi River (青衣江) where I snap a clear picture of the huge covered bridge not far from our ibis downtown hotel Ya’an. It is a wide bridge topped by 2-3 storey buildings with typical roof tile eaves of Chinese traditional architectural style, a seemingly busy city hub for dining, shopping and recreation.

Ya'an Covered Bridge

Ya’an Covered Bridge

Still intoxicated by the beauty of the bridge and the layers of buildings cascading down the hillsides on both sides of the river valley, I hear Mr. Chen calling my name urging me to get on and go.

Mr. Chen takes most of the driving  on our West Sichuan trip. He tells me that today we”ll drive along Yaxi Expressway (雅西高速) which is lauded as the most beautiful “Sky Road” in China! Really? Why “Sky Road”? Feeling I’m still skeptical of the “Sky Road”, he suggests me searching online for Yaxi Expressway.

Oh, my God! A good amount of information on “China Sky Road” instantly appears before eyes. Yaxi Expressway starts from Ya’an and ends at Xichang (西昌),  a section of Beijing-Kunming highway, 240km long and a ladderlike road “leading to the sky”.  The “leading to the sky” here has two meanings – 1) The 240km expressway is made of 270 viaducts,  an elevated roadway that stretches 240 kilometers, designed to minimize impact on the environment and driving on the numerous viaducts makes people feel like driving in the air; 2) For driving each kilometer, we ascends by 7.5 meters along the expressway. There are also 25 spiral tunnels used to reduce the effect on mountains. The construction of Yaxi Expressway took 5 years and opened to traffic in April 2012.

The “Sky Road” is really a boon on a seemingly monotonous drive from Ya’an to Moxi Old Town.  We don’t drive the whole Yaxi Expressway and we will get off  Yaxi expressway at Shimian (石棉县), then turn to the north along the provincial highway S211 to the direction of Moxi Town.

Drive from Ya'an to Shimian

Drive from Ya’an to Shimian

While still overjoyed at the timely blessing, I’m kindly advised by Mr. Chen to the effect that among the 300km drive, for the first 200km, we have the luck to experience the so-called most beautiful “Sky Road” in China, but for the rest of the 100 km, we”ll face the tough challenge driving past narrow mountainous roads sided by risky and steep cliffs with the possible falling stones and rocks. It looks like both a gift and ordeal from God to test us. So let’s go!

Overcast, we have a gloomy morning, without white clouds and azure sky, but not too bad, it allows us to have the effect of viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.

viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.

Viewing Chinese paintings in black and white framed on route.

Driving along the elevated highways high above the valleys and through the tunnels, we are excited and thrilled at the pristine beauty of the scenes flying past. The famous Dadu River (大渡河) accompanies us snaking parallel to the highway for most of the drive trip.

Yaxi Highway

Drive on the elevated highway

Nearly all Chinese know about Dadu River due to the famous heroic legend “Seizing of the Luding Bridge” in the course of the Long March in May 1935 and we will talk about it later. Dadu River is 1062 km long, the large tributary of Min River (岷江) which is in turn the largest tributary of Yangzte River. Within Dadu River basin, there are rich tourist resources including the historical site of “Seizing of the Luding Bridge”, Mt. Emei, Hailuogou Glacier and Mount Gongga.

Dadu River

Dadu River (大渡河) accompanies us snaking parallel to the highway

The 25 tunnels on Yaxi Expressway have greatly shortned the drive distance in the mountainous areas. The tunnels are deep and long. For example, Nibashan tunnel has a depth of 1,650 meters and a length of 9,962 meters on the left line and 10,007 on the right line, lit brightly and driving safe.

Yaxi Expressway Tunnels

The 25 tunnels on Yaxi Expressway have greatly shortned the drive distance

The relaxing and leisure 2-hour drive ends at Shimian Service Area (石棉服务区).  We take a short break in the service stop, relaxed and recharged, ready for next leg of the mountainous trip – Driving along S211 and getting to our destination today – Moxi Old Town ( Hailuogou Glacier ). So we get off Yaxi Expressway and enter S211 ( a provincial road ) leading to Moxi Old Town.

Shimian Service Area

Shimian Service Area

Any questions on ” Sky Road”, just drop  a line.