A Day in Dujiangyan: Exploring the Irrigation System & Mount Qingcheng

In Chengdu longer than planned, we looked for more day trips as we’d seen what we wanted of the city. Sarah’s panda obsession continued and she opted to visit the more remote Bifengxia Panda Reserve 2 hours away. Meanwhile, I followed my passion for irrigation (not really my passion) and headed to the Dujiangyan Irrigation System. Only about an hour out of Chengdu, the subway to high-speed train to local bus journey wound up taking over 2 hours when all was said and done. It wasn’t confusing, but kind of a pain. Again, I was the only western tourist in sight.

The Dujiangyan Irrigation System

Dujiangyan is the location of the oldest non-dam irrigation system in the world and quite a marvel. It diverts water and controls river flows (as most irrigation systems do!) serving an essential function. It also simply “looks cool,” with water that’s almost-green and moving at a rapid speed. The Dujiangyan Irrigation System is responsible for ending devastating flooding as far back as 2,200, when city official Li Bing worked with his son to build it (see – I read the park signs!). It still saves Chengdu and surrounding areas from flooding today. The city of Dujiangyan itself also has lots to offer and a day was easily spent here. I set out to explore…[irrigation] system]atically.

Red rope bridge over green water at the dujiangyan irrigation system.

Upon arrival I immediately got distracted and bypassed the ticket window, heading right to a beautiful bridge over the bright blue-green waters flowing fast. The bridge leads to an ancient street – cobblestones up a small hill, lined with traditional architecture and shops for snacks and goods. The feel of the street reminded me much of the small water villages located outside Shanghai. 

It was raining (because when I sight see it’s always raining), so it was mostly empty and nice to wander without hoards. Off the alley is a similar but wider ancient street network – Xingfu Road and Yangliuhe Street as main cross-streets – lined with more upscale shops and food and an on-so-green river.

Temples & Taoism on Mount Qingcheng

Glimpsing a well-decorated gate at left of the street I followed it, and suddenly found myself hiking a steep path of slick steps straight up the mountain. A few free pagodas and many lush trees later, I was stopped to pay to continue which I did, whipping out my expired student ID for ½ off (again, yes!). I ascended steep steps to the peak where a pavilion stands, with panoramic views and glimpses of the waterways below. Inside, steep narrow marble stairs to climb to the very top. Unexpectedly, I arrived at the sister tourist attraction — I think! Mount Qingcheng is a famous mountain known as the birthplace of Taoism.

A vendor at the pavilion selling photos thrust one at me yelling “no money”; I don’t think he had the translation right. After this I continued hiking aggressively up and down the mountain through temples, pagodas and beautiful sights for miles. A few tour groups bustled past, but for the most part it was not crowded. I ended in an amazing music hall and Taoist temple, displaying large yellow banners with the ying and yang symbol.

Meandering on the Mountain

4 hours later I was still on the mountain, but determined to go back and see what I’d come for. I circled back down to the irrigation project entrance and bought my ticket, shortly thereafter realizing I could have used the same one (huge mistake!). This UNESCO park is comprised of lush plants and a massive rope bridge (An Lan Cable Bridge) over the flowing water, flanked with red ribbons and an incessant pre-recorded speaker voice yelling things in Chinese. This bridge was started in 920! My feet were burning but the sightseeing bus was obviously not in budget, so I walked it to the end – where I realized I could have walked about 5 minutes from the music hall/temple rather than backtracking 5+ miles in a huge loop.

Tired of public transit, I purchased a ticket on the Hi Panda! bus directly back to Chengdu. And by that I do mean a lady had to purchase the ticket for me online (no wi-fi), I paid her cash, then took a photo of the ticket to board the bus.

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