Category of site: Natural site
Situated in the mountainous north-west of Yunnan province in China, the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is a natural serial property consisting of 15 protected areas, grouped into eight clusters. It consists of eight geographical clusters of protected areas within the boundaries of the upper reaches of three great rivers: Jinsha River, Nujiang River and Lancang River. They all originate from the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. These three rivers run roughly parallel, north to south, through steep gorges which are up to 3,000 meters deep and are bordered by glacial peaks more than 6,000 meters high. In terms of biodiversity, the site is an epicenter of Chinese biodiversity. It is also one of the richest temperate regions of the world.
In 1985, a UNESCO official discovered this world wonder from among satellite scanning images. In 1988, the Three Parallel Rivers area was designated as a state-level scenic attraction with the approval of the State Council.
On July 2, 2003, the site was inscribed on the World Heritage List as a natural property at the 27th session of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.
The deep, parallel gorges of the Jinsha River, Lancang River and Nujiang River are the outstanding natural features of the property. While large sections lie just outside the property boundaries, the river gorges are nevertheless the dominant scenic elements in the area. The property contains an outstanding diversity of landscapes, such as deep-incised river gorges, luxuriant forests, towering snow-clad mountains, glaciers, and alpine karst, reddish sandstone landforms (danxia), lakes and meadows over vast vistas.
High mountains are everywhere, with the glaciated peaks of the Meili, Baima and Haba Snow Mountains providing a spectacular scenic skyline. The Mingyongqia Glacier is a notable natural phenomenon, descending 2700 meters from Kawagebo Peak (6740 m). It is claimed to be the glacier descending to the lowest altitude at such a low latitude (28° N) in the northern hemisphere. Other outstanding scenic landforms can be found here including the alpine karst (especially the “stone moon” in the Moon Mountain Scenic Area above the Nujiang Gorge) and the “tortoise shell” weathering of the alpine danxia.
The dramatic expression of ecological processes in the Three Parallel Rivers area has resulted from a mix of geological, climatic and topographical effects. First, the location of the area within an active orographic belt has resulted in a wide range of rock substrates from igneous through to various sedimentary types including limestone, sandstone and conglomerates. An exceptional range of topographical features from gorges to karst and glaciated peaks, is associated with the site being at a “collision point” of tectonic plates. Added to the fact that the area was a Pleistocene refuge and is located at a bio-geographical convergence zone and the physical foundations for evolution of its high biodiversity are all present. Along with the landscape diversity with a steep gradient of almost 6000 meters, a monsoon climate affects most of the area and provides another favorable ecological stimulus that has allowed the full range of temperate palearctic biomes to develop.
Every year when spring returns, the region becomes a sea of flowers. There are 200 kinds of azaleas, nearly 100 kinds of gentian and primroses, scrophylariaceae, cypripedium and lilies.
The region is inhabited by 16 ethnic groups, one of the few areas in the world where different kinds of people, language, religious beliefs and customs live in harmony.