Derong is the name of a county, in local Tibetan lips, it means “the area of grand valleies and canyons”.
Sun Canyon is in the south of Derong County of the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. It is situated at the southwestern tip of Sichuan, bordering on Yunnan Province to the south and the Tibet Autonomous Region to the west, and is 1030 kilometers southwest of Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital. From Chengdu to Derong, you can first fly direct to Zhongdian in Yunnan, then take a bus to Derong which is only a distance of 144 km. However, if you're not in a hurry and ready to take your time to admire the highland sceneries, you could drive from Chengdu, across the western Sichuan plains, through the long, narrow tunnel of Erlang Mountain, past the Dadu River and Kangding city, and after scaling several high mountains 4,000 metres above sea level, you will find Sun Canyon within sight. Why is it called by that name? The answer lies in an old legend which says that many, many years ago, Bodhisattva Samantabhadra's White Elephant living on Mt. Ermei in Sichuan Province felt very homesick. One day, it stealthily left Mt. Ermei and flew south towards the land he came from. But before reaching his destination, he was suddenly surrounded by clouds and lost his way. At that moment, a golden beam pierced through the clouds and he saw down below a green canyon bathed in sunshine. Here was a land of peace and harmony. Greatly rejoiced, the elephant descended from the sky. No longer feeling lonesome, he forgot all his worries and made this valley his home for all the years to come. As the Khampa people, a Tibetan branch living in this area, hold the sun in reverence, they named this place which the White Elephant chose to make his home "Zhaxi Niming Longba", meaning "The Auspicious Sun Canyon". The southern part of Derong County is shaped very much like a peninsula penetrating into Yunnan Province, with Zhongdian County to its east and Deqen County to its west. Along with Xiangcheng and Batang north of the County and Daocheng in the northeast, Derong sits right in the middle of what is now commonly referred to as the Sichuan - Yunnan Shangri - La. The complex geological formations of the Hengduan Mountain Range and of the plateau have given the area its unique geographical features, characterized by range upon range of tall mountains and deep valleys, and numerous crisscrossing rivers. While it is low in altitude, it is very high in altitude. This, plus the terrain's sharp rises and falls in elevation, have resulted in Derong's diversified climates. Thus we can find in Derong not only environmental conditions and biological resources typical of regions ranging from sub-tropical to frigid, but scenery which is rarely found elsewhere. "Derong" is the Tibetan for gorge or canyon. The Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Tibet, the Colorado Grand Canyon in the US, the Three Yangtse River Gorges in China are all famous for their spectacular landscapes. In Derong, within an area of less than 3000 square kilometres, there are several rivers-the Jinsha, Dingqu, Suoqu, Mayi and Gangqu and each of these river gorges presents a scene totally different from the others, yet attractive in its own way. Heading north from the Derong county seat and after travelling for more than 10 km along the Dingqu River, you will arrive at the Flying Birds Gorge. Here in this deep valley, as the fast rushing waters dash against the giant rocks standing mid-stream, splashing water and foam, it creates a deafening roar. The river is flanked by sharp cliffs of ochre - red, so tall that only the wild pigeons and crag swallows who make their nests in the precipices can fly over them. As the Dinqu River flows southward through the entire length of the county, it collects the waters of Mayi and Suoqu before emptying into the Jinsha River. Where the two rivers meet, one witnesses the magnificent sight of a "three - pronged fork" with three mountains flanking two rivers. From here the Jinsha River's flow becomes more abundant and the valley more expansive. Just before it leaves the area, as if to relax a bit after a long journey, it slows down its pace and makes a horse-shoe curve - around the pyramid - like Peak of Rizhui. This seemingly casual stroke created one of the 40 natural wonders of China - what is known as the No. One Bend of the Jinsha River. Viewing the scene from the mountain's summit, one cannot but marvel at Nature's creation. As you enter the Mayi River Gorge, a totally different picture unfolds before your eyes. Unlike the Jinsha, Dinqu and Suoqu River gorges which one might describe as being bold and wild, Mayi River valley is charming and graceful. No highway reaches the area. Mules and horses are the only means of transportation. In the quiet, winding valley, trees grow in abundance, shielding the land from the sun. Crystal-clear springs, softly singing, collect their waters to form pools and ponds, while nearby, waterfalls cascade down the mountainside. Strolling along the valley, one begins to wonder: Is this not the lower Yangtse River valley? The Mayi River has a tributary which the locals call Momu Ravine. What is most attractive, about this ravine is its topography - a combination of gorge terrain and Karst formations, a very rare phenomenon. All along this more than 30 km long ravine, the dried-up riverbed is paved with white pebbles washed and sunned over God knows how many years, giving the impression of a silver dragon meandering through the valley floor. Lining the ravine are virgin forests and groves of slender bamboo, forming a green corridor, above which rise gray cliffs with fantastic rocks and peaks. The scene calls to mind a piece of potted landscape-bonsai-complete with miniature mountain and river, rocks and trees, giving one a painting. What a remarkable work of Nature! And so meticulously designed! But there is more to Sun Canyon than the gorges and ravines. As you leave them behind, you will find yourself in the scenic surroundings of an alpine ecological zone - the Rizugong Pasture, the highest in altitude in Derong County. Also, the vast Dinggong Grassland reaching far into the horizon; the Sacred Land of Wengjia, long famous for its soaring, hazardous peaks; the Xiayong Ecological Nature Reserve, the largest of such reserves in the region; and last but not least, the Gajin Snow Mountain. Rising to a height of 4926 metres above sea level, Mt. Ga]in is one of Derong's main forest areas, with shrubs, conifers and broadleaf trees growing side by side, and large patches of fir, spruce, oak, larch, masson pine and giant azaleas, separated here and there only by picturesque meadows. Totally clothed in white in winter, in Spring the forest area transforms into a garden blooming with flowers of all colors. Comes summer, it is covered with lush green foliage while autumn turns it into a world of 901d. And there in the distance, you can clearly see the snow -- capped mountain range extending for dozens of kilometers like a giant dragon frolicking on the horizon. The impact of such a breath-taking sight is overwhelming . The Xiayong Nature Reserve, on the other hand, presents quite a different picture. It is almost like entering a fairyland or looking through a kaleidoscope, with scenes constantly changing from snowy mountains to grassy marshlands, to forests, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers. More than ten lakes dot the area, the largest of which is Ciren Co (Lake of Longevity and Sweet Dew). Over 1000 m. long and several hundred meters wide, the lake's water is crystal clear. Trees line the lakeshore. A little beyond, it is surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks piercing into the deep blue sky, stone forests with rocks of fantastic shapes and sizes and lush green pastures.
Compared with Ciren Co, Lake Yongni Co is more like a dainty maiden, though no less beautiful. Furthermore, it gets its life and vitality from the fish in the waters and the birds in the forests. But what it really takes pride in is its closeness to the majestic Meili Snow Mountain. On a fine day, when the clouds and mists have dispersed, the pure white form of Taizi Peak is clearly reflected in the lake's limpid waters, nestling in its breast. Another place of attraction where visitors love to linger is the limestone caverns. The interior of one such cavern is as high as a multi-storied building. Visitors can now climb as far up as the third story which is filled with countless stalactites and stalagmites. It is said that there are more than ten levels in this cavern. Should this be true, it would be an ideal spot for explorers. So it is no exaggeration to say that Nature has bestowed on Sun Canyon all the aesthetic elements. It is at once grand, singular, elegant, hazardous, serene, unfathomable, vast and wild. But more than that, this piece of ancient and beautiful land has nurtured a rich culture that is deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Khampa people. Like with many famous mountains and rivers, the Sacred Mountain of Wengjia boasts not only attractive scenery. It is revered as a holy place in Tibetan Buddhism. Legend has it that here lies the golden key which can open the gates of 108 holy shrines in the Tibetan - inhabited areas. Only when one possesses this key can his or her prayer, at whichever shrine it's made, be answered. No wonder the endless line of pilgrims who come chanting their prayers as they tread round and round the mountain. Wengjia Monastery is built against a limestone cavern half way up the mountain slope, probably the only temple architecture of such design. There is a spring in the cavern gushing what is believed to be sacred water. Pilgrims drink and wash with this water in the hope of gaining good fortune. The place simply abounds with legends about the Holy Mountain, another reason for its fame and sacredness. The largest monastery in Derong County is the Longrong, one of the 13 major monasteries of the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the Kang Area. It occupies about 10 hectares of land and houses 500 monks and 10,000 volumes of Buddhist scriptures. Its followers can be found in all the 12 townships of Derong. Each year, during the Tibetan New Year, the monastery holds the Sorcerers' Dance ceremony to drive away evil spirits, eliminate disasters and pray for good fortune. Tens of thousands of people from around come to attend the ceremony which goes on for three days and nights. While daytime is devoted to watching the sorcerers' dance, the nights are turned into gala parties with singing and dancing and lots of drinking of wine and buttered tea. Speaking of song and dance, it is something the people of Derong are known for since it is here several popular Tibetan song - and - dance forms originated - Xuanzi in the north, Xueqiang in the south, the robust Nine-Step Guozhuang, the Reba, Zanie..., all full of life and typically Tibetan. Indeed, song and dance are as indispensable to the people of Derong as rain and sunshine are to the earth. These songs are passed down from generation to generation. Here is one, for instance, which dates back to the 7th or 8th century and is still sung today. It is said the song was composed by some anonymous folk singer to welcome the arrival of the Tang Dynasty Princess Wencheng on her long journey to Tibet to marry the Tibetan King, Songtsan Gampo. Some of the lyrics go like this: Oh, golden tree, let your flowers blossom forth;
Oh, silver tree, play your touching tune;
Oh, jade tree, do not shed your jade - green leaves;
Oh, guest from afar, please do not refuse to stay for a while.
As you make your way through Sun Canyon, taking in its mountains and rivers with the lovely strains of music still ringing in your ears, everything before you will be imbued with life and spirit. Suddenly, all seems to come to a standstill, frozen into eternity. Only when you immerse yourself in it heart and soul will you fully appreciate its infinite charm. Here you will embrace Nature, primitive and free of worldliness. Here you will find man and Nature in perfect harmony and mutually dependent. And here you will witness the humanity of the Tibetans, their dignity and tenacity, tempered in a tough environment... When all this reveals itself to you in the purest and most unadorned form, surely it will shake your soul and will remain in your memory forever.
Sun Canyon, a place full of fascination, where the dream you set out to pursue does come true.