Zhangjiajie A Trip Into The Heavens

By Siobhan Brown 2020-05-15 09:36:04

Upon arriving at Zhangjiajie Hehua International, my family was amazed at how small the airport was. Thanks in part, to the lack of crowds, we promptly made it through arrivals and were greeted by our driver who navigated dark roads towards our lodging at The Glass Cube Guest House. Once at our destination, our driver had the unfortunate task of balancing our heaviest bags on a bamboo pole while traversing the dark, steep cliffside, but he made no complaints and we gratefully tipped him.

Sunrise came early, thanks to the sound of a persistent rooster who, seemingly satisfied that his work was done, moved onto the next guest house once we rose from our beds and opened the curtains to greet him. That morning, we immediately set out to Zhangjiajie National Park, an area so immense (11,900 acres) it could easily take more than four days to cover.

We let the throng of tourists and began our hike to Yuanjiajie. After an hour and a half we arrived at the top and were greeted by spectacular views of Hallelujah Mountain and The National Bridge. Not unlike James Cameron’s movie Avatar, soaring mountain peaks jut out majestically from the countryside below. Resembling terrain one might discover on an alien planet, it quickly is commonly referred to as the ‘Avatar Mountains’. It is truly surprising to find such a setting in deep, rural China.

Concluding our hike, we took the Yangjiajie cable car back down the mountain. Upon the arrival of a group of tourists, mischievous monkeys suddenly appeared in vast numbers, who then quietly stalked us along the perimeters of the walkways. We watched on as they accosted unsuspecting tourists and unapologetically liberated them of any and all snacks they were carrying. This totally reprehensible behavior, for the most part, is completely forgiven given the fact that they are undeniably adorable. We accepted their continued presence but made our son promise not to pet one, for fear he may come out of the woods with less digits than he went in with.

The next morning, we set out with our driver for the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, known as the highest glass bridge in the world and located just 45 minutes outside of Zhangjiajie City. After crossing the bridge, we donned a pair of gloves and some heavy-duty butt padding and jumped into a stone slide that catapulted us down the mountain and into the canyon below. There we wandered through lush vegetation and along a turquoise river that sparkled like untouched sapphires in the sun, past dark caves, and under rich green vines that cascaded down the cliffs like sleepy serpents. The whole scene was like a page torn right out of the Jungle Book.

Eventually, the path ended, opening up into the mouth of Baofeng Lake where we boarded a boat that slipped silently across pristine waters, barely creating a ripple in the glass-like surface below. We sailed past waterfalls, canyons and rock faces crawling with foliage and continuously marvelled at the captivating views surrounding us.

We then travelled onto Tianzi Mountain, where we found Hom, our guide, patiently waiting for us. His knowledge of the area proved unparalleled as he introduced us to some spectacular hidden areas that even the most seasoned guides were clearly neglecting. We also had the scenic spot entirely to ourselves, making it hard not to feel like we were the only people on earth. There we watched as the sun crept across canyons, casting long shadows on the jagged cliffs above and below us and were in awe of how the green trees and shrubs stubbornly cling to the sheer rock face, determined to grow despite their precarious predicament.

After another cable car ride, we climbed to our guesthouse. Fall evenings in Zhangjiajie are nothing short of perfection, as the air is cool and crisp, with an ebony sky above blanketing you in an endless dusting of brilliant stars.

Over the course of our stay, we enjoyed dinner outdoors every night, talking with backpackers, families, and young married couples who had come from all over the world to bear witness to Zhangjiajie’s captivating beauty. It never ceases to amaze me how a shared love of travel can quickly turn complete strangers into lifelong friends, and our family was no different. Bonding with strangers through shared stories about our Zhangjiajie adventures, we all unanimously agreed that there is something truly magical about this remarkable place.

The last part of our journey took us to Tianmen Mountain, just a short one- hour drive from our guesthouse. Admittedly, I did a shocking lack of research regarding this portion of our trip, and for that I am grateful as I may not have come. We found our- selves boarding a bus that proceeded to make 99 (they have  officially been counted) death-defying turns along what must surely be one of the most twisted roads on the planet. The views took our breath away not only because they were stunning but also because these vehicles literally skim the cliffsides they bring you that much closer to the sights. Matching each other’s hair-raising speeds, oncoming buses approached with only millimeters to spare before soaring o in opposite directions, leaving you to wonder how both buses and drivers manage to remain intact without so much as a scratch.

Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, our bravery was immediately rewarded. There stood before us was one of the most celestial images I have ever seen and I fear any description I try to assign it will fail miserably. All I can say with any accuracy is that my spirit completely soared when I bore witness to the majesty of Heaven’s Door. It is truly an otherworldly experience. We then slowly walked the 999 steps leading up to the mouth of Heaven’s Door otherwise known as Tianmen Cave before stepping onto the world’s longest escalator which proceeded to take us up to the highest peak of the mountain. After what felt like an eternity spent floating upward through the belly of the rock, we disembarked into shockingly cold temperatures, howling winds, and terrifyingly high views. The sky above and below stretched into infinity, while the clouds unnervingly floated beneath our feet. My stomach lurched as I peered down at the haunting mist and noted that the canyon floor was some 5,000 feet below. On more than one occasion, my son politely requested that I stop crushing his hand before he chose to abandon me altogether and accompany his calmer and more ‘sure-footed’ father.

Tianmen Mountain features endless walkways, bridges, temples, trees and cliffs. An entire day could easily be spent here, but truthfully, I doubt my nerves could have withstood a prolonged visit. Having hiked and walked almost 20,000 steps and seeing more mind-blowing views than we could possibly capture, we le for the cable car in the hopes of beating the setting sun.

As the mountains grew darker and the magic slowly began to disappear, beckoning reality, I reflected on how fortunate my family has been to travel all over Asia and witness some of earth’s most breathtaking scenery. With Shanghai proving to be the perfect base with which to launch our adventures, Zhangjiajie provided the perfect reprieve from busy city life. Offering exceptional beauty and utterly unique experiences, Zhangjiajie will forever be remembered as one of our favourite family vacations in China.

Good to know

  • BookingFlights:SpringAirlines:https://en.ch.com

  • Recommendedplacestostay:GlassCubeHouse, Guihua Road Hostel, Easy Stay Mountain View, June Manju Hotel

  • Saveyourselfthestressoforganisingafamilytripand consider booking it with OKDealTravel who offer a range of Zhangjiajie tours. WeChat: okdealclub