“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” – Chinese Proverb
Zhangjiajie is located in the west of Hunnan Province, 330 kilometers from Changsha, the capital of Hunnan Province, over 1,000 kilometres from both Shanghai and Beijing.
Over the last several decades the area has become a well-known tourist destination, perhaps not so much for international tourists but definitely for Chinese who see this trip as a pilgrimage to some of China’s most beautiful landscapes.
Zhangjiajie was made known to foreigner after the movie Avatar. The Hallelujah Mountains in Avatar were inspired by Heavenly Pillar in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
When I first saw the famous peaks I was absolutely amazed. They are simply quite stunning and I have never seen anything as unique and magical. When I looked upon the landscape of these interesting pillar like formations, I often found myself asking if they were really real. They are a natural wonder of the world and UNESCO has awarded the peaks World Heritage Status (rightly so).
Zhangjiajie is famous for its precarious peaks, limpid streams, dense forests, and large karst caves. In 1982, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park became China’s first National Forest Park.
Over the next several posts I will share with you my impressions of the park and other points of interests in Zhangjiajie. For now, I will return to my story!
I have been anticipating this trip for a almost half a year so arriving in Zhangjiajie made me feel different emotions – happiness for making it this far, excitement for what was about to come, and exhaustion from a long train ride.
It’s 6:30am and I’m being directed and instructed to go onto a bus. I have no idea what the accommodation was going to be like, but I knew it was in Wuligyuan which is the small town beside Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. The main city of Zhangjiajie (where the railway station and airport are located) is about 40 minutes away from Wuligyuan.
The sun is fully out and we all feel the heat rising being stuffed in this small shuttle bus. We all get off the bus with our luggage and start walking around the small town trying to find our hotel. After 20 minutes of wandering we enter a narrow alley, on one side there is a man cutting huge slabs of meat, on my other side there are old ladies selling fruit from their carts, there is honking from all sides and motorcycles are zipping around us. Where in the world is our hotel?!
We continue walking into the street and several minutes later we are welcomed into the hotel by an elder couple, this hotel seems to be a family business and at least three generations of people who are part of this family are lying on the couches, eating or playing mahjong. Since it’s still only 7:30am we are told that we will not have rooms until noon.
With the several hours we had until our rooms would be ready, my roommate and I decided that the most incredible thing to do would be to go for a swim where we could bathe in cold water, be freed from our sweat and to feel clean again! Two others joined us and we began to ask around for recommendations. We were informed of a place that only locals go to, so we immediately hopped on a taxi and drove several kilometres out of town.
The further away we were from town, the more rural it looked around us. I was beginning to feel doubtful of this “local gem” where they claimed that the water was pure and even drinkable. We were dropped off in a spot where there was nothing but dry dirt and trees, but we were told to follow this little stream on our right that would lead us to the pool of water.
We walked for several minutes and then suddenly we all saw it! Crystal clear waters! It was a gorge nestled between two flat faces of the mountains, surrounding us was forests small waterfalls. Off to the side was a man grilling meats and preparing to serve lunch to locals that came for a swim. It was a dream and we were the only ones there! Without a moments hesitation I dipped, jumped, splashed, swam and felt so free.
We arrive back to the hotel by asking locals on their motorcycles if they could give us a ride back into town, I guess you can call it hitch hiking. Day 1 (and each moment so far) has been nothing short of an adventure!