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November 8, 2010

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Where to catch colors of autumn

RED is an auspicious color, and China blazes red and gold in autumn as nature puts on her last show before winter. Chen Ye tells you where to find the scarlet leaves.

As the temperature drops and autumn days get shorter, many trees put on their spectacular displays of reds, oranges, yellows and purples, sometimes against sapphire skies.

Viewing the autumn foliage is popular in regions where the temperature drops and leaves of deciduous trees change color. The chlorophyll, which makes the leaves green, breaks down and reveals the rich colors of the season.

Late October and November, and in some places December, are the best months for appreciating foliage. For Shanghai residents, Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province and Qixia Mountain in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, are easily accessible.

China has many regions where nature puts on spectacular shows, equal to those in Canada or the United States, and the trees include red maples and other varieties, beech, poplar, gingko, persimmon, smoke trees, torch trees, dogwood and many other species.

Here are some places to appreciate the colors of fall around China.

Fragrant Hills


Fragrant Hills, or Xiang Shan, in Beijing is famous for its fiery red leaves, which can be appreciated through the middle of this month.

The hills are now a public park at the foot of the Western Mountains in Haidian District, northwest Beijing.

Covered with a natural pine-cypress forest, maple trees, smoke trees and persimmon trees, the whole area turns golden and scarlet.

Smoke trees, sometimes confused with maple, shake in the wind so whole hillsides move in waves of color. The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall also offers spectacular views.

How to get there: The high-speed train from Shanghai to Beijing now takes only 10 hours. Within Beijing, there are Metro lines that can reach the Fragrant Hills.


Sichuan Province

Miyaluo, which means "funny dam" in the Tibetan language, is China's biggest red leaf attraction, covering around 3,690 square kilometers. It's 263 kilometers northwest to Chengdu, the provincial capital.

The scenic area is 180 times larger than the Fragrant Hills in Beijing.

Mountains are decorated with maples, choke berry trees, mountain ash, silver birth, red birth and other trees.

The mountainous area is also home to the hospitable Qiang ethnic minority who build their houses of stone and invite visitors to join their campfire parties.

How to get there: Fly from Shanghai to Chengdu, which takes about two hours. From the provincial capital, a long-distance bus will take you to the scenic area in about three hours.

Xiling Snow Mountain

Sichuan Province

About 120 kilometers from Chengdu, Xiling Snow Mountain, whose high peak stands more than 5,000 meters above sea level, is another vast site of virgin woodlands, steep cliffs and rock formations, unusual plants and rare birds.

The mountain is dubbed "The Oriental Alps."

The foliage appreciation season runs through mid-November.

How to get there: Take a Shanghai-Chengdu flight and another two-hour bus ride will take you from the capital city to Dayi County where the mountain is situated.

Kanas Lake

Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region

Another leaf-viewing destination is Kanas, in the far northwest of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Meaning "beautiful, rich and mysterious" in Mongolian, Kanas features mountains, rivers and a lake that reflects the vivid foliage in a palette of reds, oranges, golds, ambers and green.

The lake looks milky white in the daytime because mountain streams pour powdery moraine material into the water; at night, it's dark blue.

Living in the remote area are the mysterious Tuwa ethnic group that numbers fewer than 2,000 people that live by hunting and herding. They live in virtual isolation and their homes are covered by heavy snow for even months of the year.

How to get there: Fly from Shanghai to Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital city, which takes around five and a half hours. From Urumqi, there's one flight to Kanas every day in peak season (June to August). Special buses serve passengers from the airport to the lake area in around one hour. The flight is quite unreliable in the low season. A better option is to take a flight from Urumqi to Altay first (1 hour) and then take a bus from Altay to Burqin for 1.5 hours where you take another bus to Kanas Lake.

Qixia Mountain

Jiangsu Province

Shanghai people can find splendid red foliage not far from home at Qixia Mountain in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province.

The spectacular foliage can be seen through mid-December; the leaves are now changing color.

The area, about 22 kilometers northeast of Nanjing, covers around 750 hectares and contains red maples, silver maples and plum maples.

How to get there: A high-speed train from Shanghai to Nanjing takes around three hours.


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