Topping Mount Niutou and Crossing Jianmen Pass--Journey along the Jianzhao Road
Over two millennia, the rising and falling of the Ba and Shu districts in southwest China are closely tied to the development of a major artery called Taurus Road that connects the north and the south. Along this strategic passage, talented Shu people who gained official ranks made their way to the capital; business and trade thrived; Buddhism and Taoism were spread and well turned poems and essays were composed. The continuous and steep barriers along the road safeguard the inland area of Shu. About 100 kilometers to the west, a famous route, Huhuanyong Line, parallels the road. Between the two routes, profound changes have taken place, including the elevation, landform, ecological environment, city scales and ethnic cultures. While Huhuanyong is popular among tourists, Taurus Road seems be a legend dating back to the Qing dynasty. An ancient Chinese poet Li Bai once wrote, ‘The road to Shu, so steep, steeper than Heaven.’ Enchanted by its mystery, we decided to unveil its secrets in person by cycling along the way.
The middle reaches of Jialing River starts from Zhaohua where torrents slow down, rivers courses widen, valleys and mountains descend and branches flourish. Zhaohua sits on the convex bank and was called Jiameng Pass which served as a hub of transport to Chongqing and Sichuan Province. When Liu Bei, the emperor of Shu reached Jiameng Pass, he explored its geographical features with a map. Two rivers meet here and run eastward with Taurus Road crossing through, Jianmen Pass standing by, and Jubo ferry-place guarding here. Such a tiny pass with strategic significance became a military base of Liu’s army for further occupation of Yizhou. Dubbed “The first county and the second capital of Shu”, it also witnessed military dispatch toward Mount Qi led by Zhuge Liang and carried goods for battles in middle China. The fight between Zhang Fei and Ma Chao in Romance of the Three Kingdoms took place near the Jiameng Pass.
Leaving Zhaohua, we headed toward Mount Niutou, the strategic importance of which was emphasized in ancient poems and essays.
The mountain looms as a lonely peak to the west of Zhaohua. Pines grow wildly and slopes are steep. As we panted for breath, we were amazed by its huge capacity and difficulty to occupy it. An hour later, we topped it and enjoyed a superb panorama. Zhaohua lies in the east, Guangyuan the northeast with airplanes taking off and landing and Jianmen Pass the southwest. Such broad view would be crucial to observe troops of enemies. Thus, Tianxiong Pass was built here as the first guardian. Jiangwei also fought against thousands of armies of Wei with the help of the Pass.
In the mountain sets a Jiang Wei Well, which was said to be dug by Jiang’s army when they were trapped in the mountain. The water in it was clear and sufficient. Over a millennium, the well has never flooded nor dried off and the watercolor changes with that in the Jialing River. The well lies on the syncline where groundwater gathers. The thick wood serves as the keeper and regulator of water so that the water level levels off. There’s not much link between the shallow groundwater feeding the well and the Jialing River as the drop height is large. The watercolor changing is not a wonder as it is simply a change of the whole water system.
Then we approached another important passageway, the Jianmen Pass. It was renovated after the big earthquake in 2008. Ancient poems described the pass as “two cliffs penetrate into the clouds where birds can’t reach”. In late Jurassic period and the Cretaceous period, the Mount Longmen in northwest Sichuan ascended. Following it were process of erosion, transportation and accumulation of water and mud. Pluvial areas were therefore formed at the mountain foot. After the formation of rocks, crustal vertical movement and water erosion, the Pass was finally shaped. Characterized by “gentle slopes at foot, steep cliffs and uneven tops”, one side of the cliff is eroded by water flowing in two groups of conjugated and crossed cracks and becomes uneven, ditched and broken. One group of cracks runs northwest and keeps vertical to the ground. The dense crowd of cracks in small size erodes and cuts the cliffs and shapes distinctive views.
In the period of Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Liang took advantage of the steep north cliffs and gentle south slopes, built barriers in the junction and blocked the only breach of the pass, defending the Wei army at the front. Since the back side is difficult to enter, the pass remains a unbreakable shield. During China’s War of Liberation, the pass was conquered only from the backside by circumvention.
In the old days, wherever people were heading toward, Jianmen Pass as the hub in north Sichuan was inevitable. With the help of local people, we arrived at Liujia Bao of Zhigong village where we could have an overall view of the majestic landform of Jianmen Pass. Mount Dajian with a shape of sword points to the coming enemies. In the near fields, the silhouette of Shu army seems to linger.
As clouds rolled by, we hurried up to get down the Pass and diverted to Cuiyun Corridor. Pines grew along sides. Clouds dispersed. Sunset showered through branches. Our journey still lied ahead.