China’s vast and diverse territory endows the country with some of the most beautiful natural scenery on earth. In August of 2015 I was able to witness and be among the giants — the karst peaks that tower in Zhangjiajie. Between the peaks lie ravines, gorges, streams, pools, waterfalls, caves and natural bridges.
This is a journey I will never forget. The awestruck feelings I experienced on this trip has compelled me to share this story. While travelling in Zhangjiajie I have gained a new appreciation for China’s unique sights, both natural and man made.
This is the last post of my blogging mini-series (‘Travelogue: Journey in Zhangjiajie’). Thank you for reading along and giving me the opportunity to reflect and share my photos and stories. This is truly the joys of blogging!
My roommate and I embarked on a memorable, “one of a life time”, “when we look back at this day, we’ll realize we did something quite crazy” kind of day. We knew our destination was Tianzi Mountains, a continuation of the beautiful pillars that we saw in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, but what we didn’t know was how to get there.
We took a bus that was packed with people and what we thought might be a 40 minute bus ride turned out to be closer to an hour an half. It was bumpy, hot, sticky and personal space was practically non-existent. We passed some amazing views of rice paddy’s along the way and I had absolutely no idea where we were going.
We were dropped off at a small town that was supposedly the entrance of Tianzi Mountain. But there weren’t very many tourists and most of the people around the streets were residents and owners of shops and restaurants. We decided to get ice cream and go from there.
“How do we get to Tianzi Mountain?” we asked some of the staff who were working at the park entrance and they pointed ‘up’. Up… up… how does one go up?! Maybe it was the heat or long bus ride that made us think that we could walk ‘up’. We told ourselves we would pick up our feet and keep walking until we found the viewing platform of Tianzi Mountains.
So the journey of walking began in a leisure pace, stopping for photos along the way. We noticed many cars passing us and they were probably thinking “crazy foreigners”. Some cars slowed down to see if we were willing to pay to go up the mountain. We told the drivers no and told them that they were charging us way to much. So annoyed drivers continued to drive and we continued to walk. Then another car slowed down and asked us if we wanted a ride…. wait a second. He looks familiar. My roommate and I look at each other thinking how, who, what?! In a blur of seconds he was thinking the same things about us, how, who, what?!
We realized that only several days ago we helped this taxi driver translate and communicate with a couple who didn’t speak Chinese. We mitigated what looked like a not-so-nice Chinese taxi driver try to cheat the foreigners, unfortunately this isn’t a rare site, but we realized that this situation was just miscommunication. The taxi driver and the couple left seemingly content.
At the same time we put the pieces together, the gears in his head were turning and he too recognized us. Before any of us could process the whole situation, my roommate and I found ourselves inside the taxi drivers car, catching a ride for free! He kept saying that meeting us again was “fate” or “destiny”. In Chinese, Yuan (缘) or Yuanfen (缘分), literally translate to “the turn of events in life”.
He was so kind and we learned a lot about how Zhangjiajie has changed in the past several decades. As he drove up the mountain, he pointed out his home. He shared with us the nature, stories of the mountain community and how tourism has impacted the people and area. We finally reached the mountain (seriously, we were crazy to think we could get here ourselves) but when we arrived we departed from our new friend we thanked yuanfen for giving us a ride.
Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve, like Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, is characterized by pillars of old and weathered sandstone and mountain-peak remnants. They are the result of many, many years of erosion. The moist weather allows for dense foliage to flourish among them.
Reaching the mountains was a moving experience, one that will forever be one of my favourite travel moments.
Tianmen Shan Mountain
This was a new day. Today the group of students enjoyed a day off to explore Tianmen Shan Mountain. The topography of Tianmen Mountain is different than that of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Although I encounter similar eroded-peaks, here the landscape is characterized by mountain tablelands with sheer cliffs. The world’s longest cable car ride was the start of a full and memorable journey.
Cliff-hanging walkway and glass bridges make the experience feel surreal. The cablecar transported us to another world, one that seems so inaccessible to people was suddenly within arms reach.
Travellers and those on a pilgrimage from around the world gather to toss their red ribbons onto a wishing tree — everyone hope that the red ribbons will remain and their wish will come true for good fortune.
After climbing 999 steps, I found myself knocking on Heaven’s Door
Tianmen Cave known as Gateway to Heaven is a natural arch and is the highest elevation (1520 metres) natural arch in the world. According to locals, it used to be a cave until a collapse of the face of the cliff face change the cave into an arch (circa 263). “Tianmen” translated means “Heaven’s Door” in Chinese. After climbing 999 steps, I arrived at an opening in the mountain. The number 9 was selected as the lucky number symbolizing eternal in Mandarin.
That is the end, or the end of what I will share. It was a learning curve, it was a challenge, it was a moment in my life I will hold very near to my heart.