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Discover the Majestic Medog Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon Conservation Area, Nyingchi

A Gem in Tibet’s Crown

Nestled in the southeastern part of Tibet, within the Medog County, lies the breathtaking Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon Conservation Area. Established in 1984 and significantly expanded in 2000 with the approval of the State Council, this area was renamed from the “Medog National Nature Reserve.” It has been hailed as the most beautiful among China’s “Top Ten Canyons” by experts from China National Geography.

On December 6, 2010, a landmark event took place: the unveiling of the “Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon National Park,” marking Tibet’s first foray into the realm of national parks. This significant step symbolizes the successful integration of the world’s most advanced national park management practices into Tibet’s tourism sector. A national park, as defined, is a vast area established and managed by the central government, safeguarding its natural resources and ecological evolution through legislative means.

A Sanctuary of Biodiversity

Spanning an area of 9,168 square kilometers and ranging from 750 to 4,800 meters in altitude, the conservation area is a veritable natural museum of Tibet. Its primary mission is to protect the vertical landscape of mountain forests and a plethora of rare fauna and flora. The area boasts 3,768 species of vascular plants, 512 moss species, 686 large fungi, and 209 rust fungi; 63 mammal species, 232 bird species, 25 reptile species, 19 amphibian species, and over 2,000 insect species, earning it the nickname “Tibet’s Natural Zoological and Botanical Museum.”

The Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon Conservation Area is not only a natural wonder but also a cultural treasure. It is home to the Menba and Luoba peoples, who have preserved their unique languages, attire, religious beliefs, and ancient customs, including totem worship, shamanism, divination, and animal sacrifice. These practices make the area a living fossil for anthropological research.

Medog Nature Reserve: A Brief Overview

The Medog Nature Reserve, approved by the State Council in July 1986, covers an area of 62,620 hectares. It encompasses the Niela Zangbo River Basin Nature Reserve, the Bujun Lake Scenic Area, and the Deyang Gully Takin Protection Site, collectively known as “two reserves and one site.” This reserve features an exceptionally complex ecosystem with the most complete and typical vertical natural zones, representing a microcosm of vegetation types from the Arctic to Hainan Island. It’s considered a rare natural museum of the northern tropics.

Dubbed “Tibet’s Xishuangbanna,” the Medog Nature Reserve is rich in biodiversity, home to over 3,000 species of higher plants, more than 80 species of Orchidaceae, and over 1,000 insect species. It also protects 17 species of rare plants and 42 species of rare animals designated as national key protected species.

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The Medog Nature Reserve: A Pristine “Green Gene Bank”


Unique Fauna and Flora

Nestled in the heart of the Medog Nature Reserve, a myriad of unique animal species thrive, including the long-tailed macaque, Bengal tiger, takin, red goral, king cobra, hornbill, sunbird, and the pheasant, along with the living fossil insect, the “Medog wingless beetle.” The flora is equally impressive, with rare and valuable plants such as tree ferns, Medog orchids, Medog phoebe, oil fruit, thick shell wood, Himalayan yew, firs, Podocarpaceae, Medog spruce, Medog rhodiola, wild peony, Tibetan bamboo, apple fig, palms, and Medog azaleas enriching the biodiversity of this area.

A Natural “Green Gene Bank”

The Medog Nature Reserve is a natural repository of green genes, where below 1,000 meters, the climate is quasi-tropical. The summer and autumn seasons are hot and humid, while winters are warm, with annual rainfall exceeding 2,000 millimeters. The sides of the grand canyon are clad in complex tropical primal forests, with tree crowns creating a undulating sea of green.

Among the most notable are the “forest giants,” the Tetrameles nudiflora, soaring over 60 meters high, followed by rare species like the thousand-fruit olive tree, small fruit Lagerstroemia, winged trees, gibbons delight, Garcinia, and many more. These trees, with their smooth, thick, and straight trunks, pierce the sky, supporting canopies like celestial domes.

Beneath them grow Castanopsis, figs, gourd wood, Acer oblongum, Hainan thick shell wood, ebony, Cassia, longan, and various others including banana plants, tiger flowers, mountain ginger, and families like Araliaceae, Rutaceae, Araceae, and ferns, creating a rich tapestry of “emerald jade, with towering trees and low grasses in thousands of layers.”

Elevational Climate Zones


1,000 to 2,400 Meters: Subtropical Mountain Climate

This elevation enjoys a rich rainfall, supporting evergreen broadleaf forests, deciduous broadleaf forests, and a small amount of coniferous forests. The forest’s canopy, spherical and umbrella-shaped, is dense and orderly, with layers of light and dark foliage.

The forest is home to species like Cyclobalanopsis, oaks, camphor, cinnamon, phoebe, magnolia, Michelia, and many others, including rare and Tibet-specific species. Delving into the forest, one encounters a dim, moist environment where tree branches are covered with thick moss, earning it the nickname “moss forest.” The giant plant, Alsophila, with its pinnate compound leaves reaching over 10 meters and purple fruits resembling duck eggs, presents a spectacular sight with fruit clusters weighing over 50 kilograms, sometimes up to 500 kilograms.

2,400 to 3,000 Meters: Temperate Mountain Climate

At this elevation, summers are cool with dense clouds and abundant rainfall, supporting various coniferous forests with trees like fir, spruce, and silver fir. The forest is moist and dim, fostering growth of rhododendrons, honeysuckles, maples, cherries, and various ferns and mosses. The majestic fir trees, straight and tall, reaching over 50 meters, form natural “wooden houses” with their tree holes. The mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest changes colors with the seasons, from green patches in spring and summer to a mosaic of red, yellow, and green in autumn and winter, rightfully earning the nickname “five-colored forest.”

The Medog Nature Reserve, with its unique biodiversity and climatic zones, stands as a testament to the richness of Tibet’s natural heritage, offering a sanctuary for rare and endemic species while acting as a crucial “green gene bank” for future generations.

Beyond 3,000 Meters: The Subalpine Cold Temperate Zone of Medog


A Northern Vista at High Altitudes

Above 3,000 meters, the landscape of the Medog Nature Reserve dramatically transitions into a subalpine cold temperate zone, showcasing scenery reminiscent of northern landscapes. From November to May, the forest floor is blanketed with over a meter of snow and ice, simplifying the variety of plant life. The dominant tree species in this area is the Medog fir, which is tall, sturdy, and stands majestic with its multi-layered, tower-like canopy.

A Riot of Colors Amidst the Snow

From June to October, the forest bursts into life as various plants compete for growth, showcasing a vibrant display of rhododendrons in white, yellow, pink, red, and purple. These colorful blooms create a striking contrast against the lingering snow and ice beneath. Along the valley streams, the landscape is adorned with the elegant silhouette of the gentian, clusters of primroses, and the dazzling glory of the slipper orchids, presenting a kaleidoscopic array of flora. Stepping into these woods is a refreshing escape that captivates and leaves visitors in awe.

The Forest: Cradle of Life and Biodiversity

The forest is not only humanity’s cradle but also the mother of all economic plants, medicinal plants, and various animal species. Key economic plants readily found include wild bananas, wild pineapples, wild lemons, wild oranges, along with countless wood ear mushrooms, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, Sichuan peppers, star anise, and others. Plants with high oil content such as the oil fruit, horse egg fruit, and Tibetan melon, alongside plants reaching lengths of over 100 meters like the white rattan and others, are crucial to the local ecosystem. Additionally, the “tsampa tree,” used in brewing barley wine, underscores the reserve’s rich botanical diversity.

A Treasure Trove of Medicinal Plants

With over a thousand types of medicinal plants, the reserve is a vital source of traditional remedies. Common medicinal plants include the five-leaf gynostemma for heart diseases, Hainan thick shell wood for cancer, San Tai flower for malaria prevention, and many others like the highly valued Tibetan herbs such as sour date, Gou Teng, and Shi Hu. Precious medicinal materials like Gastrodia elata, Panax notoginseng, Schisandra chinensis, and others highlight the area’s importance in traditional medicine.

A Sanctuary for Wildlife

The reserve provides a haven for nationally protected animals, including the long-tailed macaque, clouded leopard, tiger, snow leopard, black muntjac, takin, and many more, with some species listed as Class I protected animals. Class II and III protected species, such as the bear monkey, sun bear, red panda, lynx, deer, musk deer, vultures, and parrots, add to the reserve’s biodiversity. Notably, 42 species are under national protection, accounting for over a quarter of all protected animals in the country.

The Rare White Monkey

Among the reserve’s unique inhabitants is the rare white monkey, referred to by the Menba people as “Sala Jiang Cuozaga,” meaning the intelligent white monkey. Characterized by its pure white fur, occasionally with black rings around its eyes, a human-like face, shorter legs compared to other monkeys, and a two-foot-long tail, it mainly dwells in ancient trees, feeding on seeds, fruits, and roots.

The Medog Nature Reserve, with its distinct climatic zones and rich biodiversity, stands as a testament to the unique ecological and cultural heritage of Tibet. Its preservation is crucial for sustaining the intricate web of life that it supports, serving as a beacon of biodiversity conservation for the world.

Must-See Highlights of Medog’s Unique Botanical Wonders


1. The Luminescent Tree: A Nighttime Marvel

Known to the Menba people as “Bina Maixin,” this extraordinary tree resembles any other by day but transforms as night falls. Its leaves, slightly smaller than a palm, glow from the underside like fireflies, shimmering and flickering in the darkness, becoming brighter as the night deepens. Each leaf has about eight or nine bright spots, and despite their bitter, sweet, and sour taste, the fruits of this tree, as recorded in the “Classic of Mountains and Seas,” possess medicinal properties believed to grant longevity.

2. The Forest Dominator: The Strangler Fig

In the grand canyon, a certain plant reigns supreme by “strangling” tall trees and taking their place. Birds eat the seeds of fig trees, which are then deposited onto branches or tree trunk crevices through their droppings. The seeds sprout aerial roots that wrap tightly around the host tree like a net. As these roots grow, they encase the trunk, suffocating it in a manner reminiscent of a python’s embrace, leading to the tree’s eventual death. Thus, fig trees have earned the moniker “Forest Dominator.”

3. Sky-High Gardens: The Epiphytic Wonderland

Some epiphytic plants live their entire lifecycle atop trees, never touching the ground. These plants create “sky-high gardens” on the branches of tall trees or oil palms, showcasing a dazzling array of orchids like the hanging lobelia and mistletoe, in shades of white, purple, red, and yellow. Their beauty and fragrance turn the treetops into a lush, fragrant paradise.

4. Fruiting Old Stems: The Apple Fig Phenomenon

The apple fig, a unique fruit tree that can grow over 10 meters tall with a trunk diameter of more than 20 centimeters, has an interesting feature: its fruit clusters grow directly from the old stems of the tree. The fruits, ranging from 4 to 6 centimeters in diameter, turn from green to yellow as they ripen, and finally to a deep purple-red, resembling a squashed top. This fascinating occurrence is known as “fruiting old stems.”

5. The Forest’s Oil King: The Oil Fruit Vine

The oil fruit, a large woody vine, climbs on large trees and is dioecious, with male and female plants separate. The fruits are yellow-green, flattened spheres about 20 centimeters in diameter, weighing around 1 kilogram. With a hard, milky-white flesh containing seeds that have an oil content of over 71%, reaching up to 77% in some cases, the oil is fragrant, sweet, and transparent. Not only is the fruit edible and highly nutritious, but its roots are also used medicinally for treating chronic diseases, sterilization, inducing vomiting, and preventing malaria.

6. Nature’s Water Bottle: The Water-Storing Vine

A large, woody climbing plant acts as a natural water reservoir, aptly named the “water bottle vine.” When travelers in the forest feel parched, the kind people of Medog use a long knife to slice open one of these vines, releasing a fountain of sweet, refreshing water to quench thirst and relieve dryness.

These botanical marvels are just a glimpse into the rich biodiversity of Medog, showcasing the unique and fascinating ways in which plants adapt and thrive in their environment. Each highlights the intricate balance of nature and the wonders waiting to be discovered in the heart of the forest.

Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon: The World’s Largest Canyon

In 1994, Chinese scientists determined that the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon is the largest canyon in the world. Cradling the high mountains and ridges of the Namjagbarwa region, its icy and snowy landscapes slice through the mountain barrier facilitating the exchange of moisture between the Tibetan Plateau and the Indian Ocean. Like a long, moist tongue, it continuously feeds vapor into the interior of the plateau, turning southeastern Tibet into a verdant world.

Majestic Measurements

The Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon stretches over 494.3 kilometers, with its narrowest point at just 35 meters and the widest reaching up to 2,000 meters. Its deepest point measures a staggering 5,382 meters, presenting a deeply incised meandering course with “U” shaped upper sections and asymmetric “V” shaped lower sections, creating a breathtaking spectacle. The river descends 2,300 meters from Milin County at an elevation of 2,800 meters to Medog County at just 500 meters, with an average slope of 10.3‰ and a maximum slope of 62‰, flowing at speeds of up to 8 meters per second, with local speeds reaching 16 meters per second. This makes it the largest canyon on Earth in terms of both length and depth.

The Canyon’s Core: Humanity’s Last Secret

The most treacherous and core section of the Yarlung Zangbo Canyon spans nearly 100 kilometers downstream from Baima. Deep and with roaring rapids, it remains impassable to this day, earning the title of “the last secret of humanity.” Its most peculiar feature lies in its sudden southward turn at the eastern end of the Himalayas, carving its path down the southern slopes and into the Indian Ocean, creating the world’s most unique horseshoe-shaped bend. This remarkable geographical feature makes the canyon the only one in the world that acts as a channel for water vapor, fostering a unique forest ecosystem along the southeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

Tips for Visitors at Medog Yarlung Tsangpo Grand canyon


Accommodations:

There are family hotels near the scenic area or options in Milin County. Every October, the grand “Yarlung Tsangbo Grand Canyon Culture and Tourism Festival” is held, showcasing the largest scale event of its kind.

Transportation:

Special buses are available from Linzhi to the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, but SUVs are recommended for those driving themselves due to steep mountain roads and narrow sections. Drivers should be cautious, especially on curves, to avoid accidents.

Best Season for Trekking:

The ideal time for trekking the canyon is from early June to October when it is least dangerous. Trekkers should equip themselves with liberation shoes, waterproof backpacks, waterproof jackets, gaiters, high-power binoculars, outdoor stoves, tents, sleeping bags, moisture-proof pads, sun hats, walking sticks, raincoats, water bottles, flashlights, sunglasses, sunscreen, cameras, notebooks (packed in waterproof bags), medicine, lighters, and more.

Boat Tours:

The canyon’s boat tour is Tibet’s first water tourism route. The cruise starts from the central wharf in the Milin Meri scenic area to Milin County, covering 120 kilometers round trip in 2 hours, costing 580 RMB per person. With seven boats available, visitors can admire the majestic Namjagbarwa Peak, Benri Mountain, and pristine forests along the river, enjoying stunning views.

Photography Seasons:

April to June is the best time to capture spring scenery with blooming peach and golden rapeseed flowers. From August to October, the monsoon from the Indian Ocean creates a rare water vapor channel, offering the best autumn scenes with fog and intricate patterns in the riverbanks.

Recognition:

In July 2013, the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon’s pristine forest was awarded the title of “China’s Most Beautiful Forest” by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing Forestry University, and the State Forestry Administration, highlighting its unparalleled natural beauty and significance.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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