Where the Han began

Updated: 2013-04-12 07:41

(China Daily)

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 Where the Han began

Baoxie Plank Road in Hanzhong. Photos provided to China Daily

 Where the Han began

An endangered white-crowned long-tailed pheasant at Foping National Nature Reserve. Photos provided to China Daily

Birthplace of a dynasty, today Hanzhong draws visitors for flowers, nature reserve and pandas

In the spring the hills and valleys around Hanzhong, in Shaanxi Province, are a sea of yellow rape flowers.

It's a sight that draws Chinese tourists to the city, which sits in the Hanzhong Basin, to the south of the Qinling Mountain range, China's major geographical north south divide, and to the north of the Daba Mountains.

Hanzhong is at the upper reaches of the Han River, one of the many tributaries of the Yangtze River. Water supplies for the South-to-North Water Diversion Project, which aims to help ease water shortages in northern China, come mainly from this area.

Hanzhong was established 2,400 years ago in the Qin Kingdom, during the Warring States Period (476BC-221BC), taking its name from the river along which it stands.

It is the birthplace of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), where the Han people, who make up the vast majority of Chinese, get their name.

The best spot for watching the profusion of rape flowers is Lijiazui, a village near Yanghe Town in Xixiang county, where the sea of flowers covers 70,000 hectares. Their bright yellow is a stark contrast with the green forests and hills around them.

Besides gazing at the dramatic views, many visitors like to walk among the flowers taking in the scent of spring.

Here are some of Hanzhong's main attractions:

1. Ancient Plank Road

Where the Han began

As early as the Warring States Period, the Chinese built plank roads along embedded wooden beams with wooden railings along their side in particularly treacherous areas to help people traverse difficult terrain.

According to a Chinese saying, "The way to Sichuan is harder than climbing to the sky".

In ancient China the Qinling Mountain range, north of Hanzhong, acted as a natural barrier between Shaanxi and Sichuan.

So it is little surprise that about 90 percent of these roads were in the mountainous regions around Hanzhong, where the 470-kilometer-long Baoxie Plank Road is the best known.

Like most of these plank roads the original structure was destroyed, leaving only holes in the mountain where it had been, but along its path remain engravings by poets and scholars who traveled along it.

In 1996, the Hanzhong local government restored 600 meters of plank road connecting several new tourist sites including Fengyu Pavilion, Cuiyun Pavilion and Mountain Gate.

2. Foping National Nature Reserve

Located in the south of Foping County, northeast of Hanzhong, this nature reserve is home to many rare plants, 10 of which are listed as endangered.

It is also home to Luban Peak, which rises majestically into the clouds and the Niangniangtan pool formed by a large waterfall.

The park is home to around 200 giant pandas. They are shy animals and most easily spotted in the winter. At other times of the year they move to high ground or into central areas of the forest where tourists are forbidden from going.

From December to April, when the forest is covered with snow, giant pandas move to lower areas to look for bamboo.

In order to protect the pandas' environment, numbers of visitors are limited.

3. South Lake

Southwest of Hanzhong is South Lake, spread out across 73.9 hectares. The lake is a unique eco-environment with clean water surrounded by green mountains.

The lake's surroundings are typical of southern China and home to a wide variety of plants.

The lake is said to be a miniature of all the best elements of Hanzhong, combining wild forest with manicured traditional Chinese gardens.

The area is also home to a museum built in memory of Lu You, a Song Dynasty (960-1276) poet whose famous patriotic poems still strike a chord with many Chinese.

China Daily

(China Daily 04/12/2013 page22)