The opening of the high-speed train makes a visit to the Dujiangyan Irrigation System (江堰景区) a comfortable day trip from Chengdu: a ride on a fast, modern train; sightseeing and a long stroll in greenery; and dinner along the river.
The Chengdu-Qingcheng Shan train itself is a step up from the standard trains that run across China; these are part of the more upscale, high-speed fleet, the likes of which connect Guangzhou to Shenzhen; Beijing to Shanghai; and other major cities. As of this year, Sichuan is home to two of these high-speed rail connections: Chengdu and Chongqing; and Chengdu and Qingcheng Shan (青城山).
The train to Qingcheng Shan departs from the Chengdu North Train Station, and passengers wait in a hall separated from the main train-station waiting hall. The ride to Dujiangyan is approximately 30 minutes; another 10 minutes takes passengers to the terminal station, Qingcheng Shan. Currently, most of the trains also stop at Xipu (犀浦) and Pixian West (郫县西); additional stations have been constructed along the route and will be put into operation in the future.
These trains are a far cry from the hot, crowded, slow-moving hard seaters that are rites of passage for China travelers. No, aboard the "Harmony" trains, each passenger has a designated (padded and upholstered) seat; the cars are kept relatively clean; the ride is smooth and fast, and information such as speed, air temperature, minutes to destination, etc. are displayed on an electric signboard in each car. One car even holds a bar/café.
The new, shiny Dujiangyan Train Station is massive and mostly empty, apart from the white leather sofas that occupy one half of the waiting room. The station looms over the northeast edge of the city; from here a taxi will take you to the city's main (perhaps only?) attraction, the official UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, located in the "Dujiangyan Scenic Area" (都江堰景区/Dūjiāngyàn jǐngqū), for no more than RMB15. The city of Dujiangyan was one of the large urban areas to be hit hard by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, and the path from the train station to the irrigation project is lined with mostly brand-new buildings.
Also along the way are freshly installed bicycle-rental stations, outfitted with thousands of orange Forever bicycles that are available to the public for by-the-hour or by-the-day rental. The bike-rental system extends to Qingcheng Shan, so visitors can elect to rent a bicycle to ride to the nearby mountain. Call the hotline 4008201898 if you can't locate the rental station 4008201898.
Dujiangyan Scenic Area
The scenic area itself covers a broad swath of land and water, and visitors would be well-advised to allot four or five hours if they wish to trek the entire grounds. Statues and ornate carvings line the entry walkway that leads to the first of many temple buildings; in this one is a hall dedicated to the important visitors who have inspected Dujiangyan over the past half-century, both Chinese (including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, several times, Zhou Enlai, and Jiang Zemin) and international (DPRK president Kim Il Sung, Congo president Mobutu, Venezuelan president Chavez, U.S. president Carter). A photograph of each is framed and dated and proudly hung on the walls for public inspection.
Behind this structure, parts of the more-than-2,000-year-old irrigation system are visible—the Flying Sand Weir, which safeguards against floods. Green-covered cliffs rise up steeply from the banks of the river, dotted with tiny structures. From this point visitors can walk or take a tram (RMB10 one way/15 roundtrip) to view the Fish Mouth Levee, the likeness of which is the image of the Dujiang Irrigation System. It is this structure that, with its fish-head shape, first channels the thundering Min River into inner and outer streams, starting the process that has prevented floods and irrigated the Chengdu plain for thousands of years—a process that is often cited as the very reason for the city's slow-paced, relaxed lifestyle.
But that interesting and influential part of history aside, the scene is not particularly stunning, nor the view particularly breathtaking, unless one is contemplating the myriad ways he or she could accidentally or purposely descend into the no doubt deep and rough waters below.
What this section of the scenic area lacks in excitement, the next area makes up for in serene, green walking space. And strangely, it seems, most tourists choose not to make the trek, opting instead to hop back on the tram to the entrance gate. But if you still have a couple hours to spare before darkness falls (and closing time threatens to lock you inside the park), we would recommend crossing the scary, shaky Anlan Bridge (one of the five ancient bridges in China—don't worry, too much—it's been rebuilt several times, most recently in the 1970s) and following the path along those stunning green cliffs. At the foot of this hike is the 10,000-square-meter Er Wang Temple, home to the well-known statue of Dujiangyan engineer Li Bing and his son—but it's currently undergoing quake-related repairs and is closed to the public. Buy a bottle of water here as it'll be your last chance before the exit, and the hike is, ironically, not a walk in the park.
The rest of the trek, mostly uphill at low grade, is enveloped in foliage and mist and takes visitors to a handful of small temples, each with signage in Chinese, English, and German explaining its history. Parts of the path here are quite slippery, and the air is very humid. Those planning to make the hike should wear comfortable walking shoes with good tread and light, breathable clothing. The path meanders around the park, eventually ending at the side gate.
Just outside the park are the usual restaurants, tchochkes shops, and map hawkers catering to the influx of tourists in the vicinity. After a visit to the scenic area, visitors can eat or drink at one of these numerous restaurants along the river, overlooking the bustling activity on the lighted bridge and watching the rushing water spray into the air, creating a mysterious fog that hangs low in the air and rolls out as secretly as it appears.
D6132——no stop——————11:16 ———11:48
D6134——no stop——————16:50 ———17:17
Tickets for the Chengdu-Qingcheng Shan line seem to be in high demand at any given time; at least one day advance booking is recommended, train tickets are RMB15 either way (but add another RMB5 each ticket if you don't buy the train tickets at the train station directly).
Alternatively buses from Chadianzi Bus Station are RMB9.5 and take about 2 hours.
Entrance to the Dujiangyan Scenic Area park is RMB80. The official Dujiangyan-Qingcheng Shan Tourism Web site in English offers little information of any use, other than a phone number for "Complaints for Recreation Pricing".
This article was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 35 ("transportation").
Photos by Michal Pachniewski.