Potatso National Park (香格里拉国家公园—普达措, Pudacuo National Park) is the first national park in mainland China and was inaugurated on June 21, 2007.

Pudacuo National Park is located in the central zone of the World Natural Heritage, Three Parrel Rivers in the northwest of Yunnan, being composed of two parts: international important wetland—Bitahai Nature Reserve (Bita lake) and Shudu Lake Scenic Spot in the Hongshan Section of the World Natural Heritage—Three Parrel Rivers. It is 22 kilometers away from Shangri-la County Town and covers an area of 300 square kilometers. The park lies in the Sub-frigid coniferous forest zone being divided into 7 function area. On its north is Shudu Lake and on its south is Bitahai Lake, between two lakes, is Luorong Minorities Ecological and Cultural Tour Village and Mili Tangya Mountainous Pasture. Here there are clean lakes, blue sky, twittering birds and fragrant flowers. To take a stroll here, you will feel free of mind so as not to go home.

Potatso National Park map

Basic Information

Geographic location: 22 kilometers east of Shangri-La County
Scenic status: the first national park in the mainland of China and 4A national tourist attraction
Tour time: 4 – 6 hours

Travel Tips

  1. The park stays open from 8:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m.
  2. The ticket system of the park: the Full-price ticket is 190 yuan per person. The ticket covers Potatso National Park, Xiagei Tibetan Cultural Ecological Village, and shuttle bus fare, but insurance is not included. Discount ticket is offered to students, soldiers and the disabled at 135 yuan per person. Children under 1-meter-tall, senior people above 70-year-old are exempt from tickets.
  3. The altitude is above 3,000 meters. Tourists are prone to altitude reaction due to the lack of oxygen. It is advised that tourists should slow down their pace while touring around and avoid strenuous exercise.
  4. The road condition is quite good here, but there is no regular bus from Shangri-La County to Potatso National Park. Tourists are suggested to take a taxi or rent a car. When taking a taxi, it is better for tourists to ask the phone number of the driver in case it is difficult to get one when they return.

Recommended Tour Route

The Xiagei Village (the entrance) → the Shudu Lake →Luorong Village →the Militang Meadow→ the Bita Lake

Key Points

The Shudu Lake, the Militang Meadow, Luorong Village, the Bita Lake

Potatso National Park (普达措国家公园, Pudacuo National Park)

In 1872, America set up the Yellow Stone National Park, the first national park in the world, as a way of ensuring the preservation of the region’s spectacular natural beauty. Since then, over 9,800 national parks have been set up in more than 200 countries. Today’s national parks are built not only for the protection of the integrity of eco-system, but also for sightseeing, research, education and entertainment. In other words, they balance the relationship between environmental protection and the development of tourist resources, serving as an effective way for the economic growth as well as for the benefits of local communities.

Potatso National Park is the first national park in mainland China and was inaugurated on June 21, 2007. “Potatso” is a transliteration of Sanscrit and Tibetan language. “Pota” means “sacred land of the Goddess of Mercy” in Buddhism, while Cuo means “lake”. “Potatso” means “ferry living beings across the sea of suffering and reach Nirvana”. It is recorded in Tibetan history that the water in “Potatso” has “eight merits”, including being sweet, cool, soft, light, pure, clean and healthy to the throat and stomach. It is also said that there is a pearl-like islet in Potatso, resembling the “sacred land” of Buddhism. The study reveals that the Potatso recorded in history turns out to be today’s Bita Lake. Therefore, when the Bita Lake and the Shudu Lake were incorporated as parts of the national park, the best name for the park is “Potatso”, as this had been the name used in history.

The park is 22 kilometers east of Shangri-La County, with a total area of 1,000 square kilometers. It locates in the central part of the Three Parallel River World Heritage Zone. The highest point is at the northern peak of the Melitang Meadow, which is 4,159 meters high, while the lowest place is to the east of the Bita Lake, which is 3,200 meters high.

Potatso National Park

The park abounds in both natural and ethnic cultural resources. In terms of natural resources, the park is characterized by biological diversity, complex biological structure, and splendid scenery. Here tourists can find mirror-like alpine lakes, marsh with blooming flowers, dense forests, cliff, brooks, valley and rare plants and animals. The abundant rainfall also makes it possible for the growth of a variety of species. In addition, the park also provides a glimpse of Tibetan culture, including the local religion, agriculture, animal husbandry, folklore, and architecture. Therefore, the park is of great biological significance and tourist value.

At present, the touring area of the Potatso National Park is composed of four parts: the Shudu Lake in the north, and the Bita Lake in the south, and in between them the Militang Meadow and Luorong Ethnic Cultural Village. The four parts are linked by a 69-kilometer circle road and the shuttle buses in the park can drive tourists around in the clockwise direction (because this is the direction that the Tibetan people turn the wheel of scripture), with several stops on the way.

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The gate of the Potatso National Park is at Xiagei Village, where people can find various workshops of Tibetan handicrafts, including pottery, wooden utensils, silver, horn-carving, housing, and so on.

The Shudu Lake is an important international marsh located at 14 kilometers north of the gate and it takes around 20 minutes to arrive there by a shuttle bus. The lake has an area of 120 hectares, with a length of 2.8 kilometers and a width of 0.7 kilometers. It is a typical alpine lake surrounded by meadow. “Shudu” means “cheese as solid as stone” in the Tibetan language. As a matter of fact, the grass is short but nutritious, and the milk produced by the cattle here can be made into quality cheese. As a result, the place played an important role in Tibetan people’s nomadic life because of the availability of fresh water and nutritious grass.

Along the lake is a plank road of 2.7 kilometers, which takes about 45 minutes by walking. Taking this plank road, tourists can enjoy the most beautiful scenery, the reflection of the landscape in water, which resembles an oil painting. The pure water, fresh air, water and sky merging in one color, and the giggling streams, the birds’ singing and the fragrant flowers seem to take tourists into a fairyland.

The Shudu Lake has an outlet, which is named “dangquka”, meaning “to fish with sticks”. Since the Tibetan people never eat fish, there were plenty here so that people could simply catch them with sticks. But with the immigration of fish-eating nationalities and the construction of the hydro-electric plants, local species can hardly be seen.

So far, the Shudu Lake area has not suffered from human’s activities. It has a complete vegetation of frigid-temperate primitive coniferous plants, subalpine meadow, marsh meadow and lacustrine plants. The broadleaf forest here includes evergreen broadleaf and deciduous broadleaf. The subalpine Delavay Fir forest near the sight-seeing platform on the southern bank of the Shudu Lake is also kept in a good condition. As a major area for vegetation in Potatso National Park, the forest has four major conifer species, including spruce, Delavay fir, redwood and alpine pine. In the forest also hang a lot of silk-like plants, some as long as one meter. They are called sunglo, a lower plant belonging to lichen family. As a traditional Tibetan herbal medicine, it has high economic value, serving to cure rheumatism, trauma, and cough, and to extract the essence. On the whole, the area highlights the features of typical marsh landscape, biological diversity, and rarity of species.
A few minutes’ ride on the shuttle bus across the primitive forests will take tourists to Militang, which means “Buddha’s eye grassland” in the Tibetan language. It is the renowned highland pasture in Shangri-La. The pasture has an area of 240 hectares, with a length of 4.5 kilometers and width of 0.5 kilometers.

Standing on the sight-seeing platform and looking afar, people will definitely feel relaxed and intoxicated. Every spring, when flowers are in blossom, the place is like a natural painting scroll with blue sky, cloud, snow mountains, meadow, Tibetan houses, cattle, goats, and shepherds. In summer, the pasture is as smooth as a green satin, on which cows and sheep are dotted like pearls. Not far away shed, which offer shelter for shepherds. In winter, however, the sheds are left idle because people will take their flocks to places of low altitude. The place then becomes the paradise for cranes, wild gooses, and rare birds, as they are free from human beings’ interruption.

The third stop is Luorong Ethnic Cultural Village. “Luorong” means “good path or land” in Tibetan language and “small valley” in Naxi language. Whatever the meaning, this reflects the close relationship between the Naxi and Tibetan people. Luorong Village consists of three natural villages, known as the upper, central and lower village. They are half hidden in the valley, forming a perfect picture of “man and nature in harmony”. Here tourists can have a glimpse of Tibetan people’s way of life, in which yaks, mastiffs, and matsuake are of great importance. The functions of yaks are obvious, for the milk they produce, for the amount goods that they can carry and for the food resources they provide for the local people. Shepherding Tibetan mastiffs play an equally important role because they are regarded as the guardians of Tibetan people. Bravery and alert, a single mastiff can take care of over 200 goats or 100 cattle.

Matsuake is also considered important as a local specialty and a source of income. It is a famous fungus containing a number of amino acids which are indispensable for the human body. In addition to its delicious taste, it is of great medicinal value, especially to cancer patients. However, it is difficult to grow mastsuake artificially and the Japanese have tried artificial plantation for nearly one hundred years but in vain. Therefore, matsuake appears to be increasingly precious and expensive. The Potatso National Park is a major matsuake production area and it exports up to 800 tons every year.

Bita Lake, Deqen county
Bita Lake, Deqen county

The last stop on the environmental travel route is the Bita Lake, which locates in the south of the park. It is the key scenic spot of this park and has been developed as a tourist resource as early as in 1993 and was listed as 3A scenic spot by Yunnan Provincial Tourism Administration in 2005. The altitude of the lake surface is 3,539 meters above sea level. It is rich in biological vegetations. There is marsh vegetation, highland water plant groups as well as pastures. Therefore, the lake is renowned as a “highland pearl”.

Here, tourists can enjoy the beautiful scenery and an enchanting “Fish drunk on azalea petals”, the best-known scene of Bita Lake. The Bita Lake is fringed with various azaleas, which adds to the beauty of the lake. Around mid-May according to Chinese lunar calendar (June and July) is a time when azalea bloom. Upon this time, a special “thick lip fish” often swim to this lake and swallow petals of the azaleas on the lake surface. When passing fish eat these petals (which are slightly poisonous) they can be seen floating on their backs with their white bellies exposed amongst the petals as if they are drunk. It is also said that bears are likely to haunt this area to catch the “drunken fish” at night.

There are two options when touring around the lake. One is to walk on the 4.2-kilometer plank road, which takes more than one hour. This option offers a chance to visit the Pilgrim Platform, Miaoyin Pond, Sea-watching Pavilion, and Lotus Spring. On the Sea-watching Pavilion, one can have a panoramic view of the lake. From this perspective, the Bita Lake looks like a green gem inlaid in verdant forests. Another route is to take a cruise from the lake pier and take a circle ride in the lake. People can closely observe the islet in the middle of the lake, on which are dense spruces, firs, and azaleas. With sky-rocketing trees, the pearl-shaped islet resembles a green pagoda. That is why the lake is named “Bita” (meaning “Green Pagoda”). Moreover, on the islet is the relic of the villa built by Chieftain Mu in the Ming Dynasty.

The Bita Lake also has religious significance among Tibetan people, as the landscape here presents the “eight lucky symbols” of the Tibetan Buddhism. The symbols are known as the wheel of scripture, white snail, umbrella, stone pillar with scriptures, lotus, sacred vase, holy fish and lucky knots. With some imagination, it is not very difficult for people to find out the “eight symbols” implied in the patterns of the islet, lake, mountains, trees, spring, fish and intertwining brooks. This adds to the cultural attractiveness of Potatso National Park.

In Potatso National Park, people can enjoy the different scenery in the four seasons. In spring, one is intoxicated in blossoming flowers on alpine meadows. In summer, boundless green makes it cool and comfortable to stay. In autumn, the forests are decorated with richest colors in the world. While in winter, the land looks mysterious with the barren land covered by snow.

With crystal-clear water and fresh air, blue sky, dense forests and singing birds, it’s no wonder that the Potatso National Park is compared to a fairyland free from pollution.

Words and Expressions

national park 国家公园
altitude reaction 高原反应
ecosystem n. 生态系统
sacred adj. 神的, 宗教的, 庄严的, 神圣的
marsh n. 湿地, 沼泽, 沼泽地
alpine adj. 高山的, 阿尔卑斯山的
biological diversity 生物多样性
meadow n. 牧场
coniferous adj. 松类的, 结球果的
lacustrine adj. 湖泊的, 湖上的
Delavay Fir n. [植]冷杉
conifer n. [植]松类, 针叶树
spruce n. [植]云杉
redwood n. [植]红杉
sunglow n. 松萝
rheumatism n. 风湿, 风湿病
lichen n. [植] 地衣
mastiff n. [动] 獒 (大型猛犬之一种)
Matsuake n. 松茸
lunar calendar 阴历
petal n.花瓣
fir n. [植]冷杉
azalea ‘n. [植]杜鹃花

Images: Oliver Huang, Baidu

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