Visit the “Yellow Dragon” Park in China

Huanglong National Park - The yellow dragon's scales

Huanglong National Park – The yellow dragon’s scales

The mist on the mountain is as low as we are high. We meet in the middle and overlap, swapping places as the cloud continues to creep down and we continue to ascend. It swirls around us like an enveloping cloak, making everything mysterious, taking its time and using its power to conceal the world from us until it is right before us. We climb into the cable car and move upwards, though where we are headed is disguised in shrouds of yellow-grey shifting, seething cloud. The pull of the ropes lifts us higher at an alarming angle and all we can see are the black lines of the cables, disappearing into nowhere, coming from nothing.

Huanglong National Park - Cable cars in the mist

Huanglong National Park – Cable cars in the mist

In the dense forest at the top it has lifted slightly, but still the mist lingers between the branches, refracting shards of light and glowing with gentle luminosity. Drops of rain patter on the walkway through the pines. Umbrellas in every shade, size and pattern grace the grips of the Chinese tourists, a colourful dragon of people trudging through the mist to the summit of Huanglong national park.

We reach a viewpoint out over the valley, but all there is to see is an impenetrable whiteness. Looking out over a precipice we are greeted not with the breath-taking vistas the signs promise, but with a complete lack of vision created by the solid yet shifting barrier hanging in the air before us. A steep climb up many steps leads us higher, to the top of the famous falls. The mist lingers in the air in snaking trails but it doesn’t disguise the natural phenomenon we have come here to witness – the blue pools of running water cascading down calcified yellow terraces in the hillside. Huanglong means “yellow dragon” and it is so named because of these scales. These falls continue for the entire length of the park, the pale blue water flowing into shallow ridged pools, terrace giving way to terrace.

Huanglong National Park - Trees in the terraces

Huanglong National Park – Trees in the terraces

The water without the illuminating sunlight is not so vivid as in the souvenir postcards, and the mountain valley that usually frames these falls is still shrouded in mist. But the soft blue water and the powdery yellow ridges are gently beautiful despite this. As you descend through the falls, more and more spectacular views present themselves. The water falls but it does not rush. It lingers, filling each pool patiently, lying still and slumbering until it reaches the edge and gracefully descends into the pool below with a quiet white swirl. The blue is a pastel shade, gentle and calm like powder or the sky in the morning when the sun has just risen. There are bigger falls too, waterfalls that fulfil any desire for crashing, foaming whiteness, but it is the endless terraces of translucent, hinting blue that truly captivate. They come in every size, from football fields to paddling pools to puddles. They emerge from behind the trees, each new vista astonishing, hundreds of clear, soft pools all flowing inevitably downwards.

Huanglong National Park - Pools in the mist

Huanglong National Park – Pools in the mist

The water gently flows and the calcified shelves lie passive. The music of babbling drops and trickles accompanies our descent through the mist. The atmosphere of mystery never deserts us as we explore the shrouded walkways. Blanketed in cloud, scales steady and quietly flowing, this yellow dragon of legend lies modest and dormant today.

Words copyright of Bonnie Radcliffe.

Photographs copyright of Liam McCarthy.

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