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Published: August 11th 2015
When carrying out our research on China, we stumbled across a place called Zhangjiajie (pronounced Jang-Jyaar-Jyeh
but said quickly). We were lucky to have came across it as many westerners do not really come here (call it luck or maybe it was down to our excitement in researching every last corner of China). Across this whole site you are therefore unlikely to see another western face. When you realise this, it can be very rewarding in knowing that you are one of the few that take a plunge and succeed in doing so.
Having watched some youtube videos just to whet our appetite a little before we came out, we were sold. We didn't care how long it took us, we were going. We had to witness this amazing scenery with our own eyes.
To give you a flavour of Zhangjiajie, it is believed that James Cameron got his inspiration for Pandora in the film Avatar here. There is no real evidence for this although the likeness however is striking and if like us you get to witness this site when the fog partly obscures the sky...it becomes even more magical and mystical. It was like these tall thin
shards of rock were floating amidst the fog. Huge but thin jagged bits of rock sporadically covered in vegetation towered over us. Soaring higher than anything we have seen before, we would stand there mouths open, heads lent back, stunned that such scenery actually exists. Pandora is real!!
Pandora is real!!
We arrived in Zhangjiajie that evening at 9pm, 13 hrs after we started the journey. We were tired and still somewhat stressed from what we had just been through. Reluctantly we caught a taxi to our hostel as the buses had stopped at this late time of night. We agreed a price and the guy agreed to it. No miscommunication here, despite having the conversation in Mandarin. We checked in, purchased a map and finalised some research for our adventure in Zhangjiajie the following day. After an hour we were all ready and settled in our dorm beds. What a day!!!
Zhangjiajie National Park
We only wanted to stay in the city one night and the national park another so in the morning for a fee of 20 yuan each, our hostel sent our bags to their sister hostel where we would be staying inside the national park.
We got up early to visit Tianmen mountain first. Based in the city, with many attractions including a vertigo inducing glass skywalk and the 90 bend road on a cliffside, it certainly had its appeal. Equipped with our newly purchased raingear (umbrella and 2 ponchos) we caught the city bus to the sky train entrance but then decided to give it a miss due to thick fog. The tickets for 2 people were 245y each or £50 for us both and we did not want to throw that away if the visibility was poor.
Instead we made our way to the bus station and caught the bus to the park (10y/1hr) and paid the 245yuan each for our entrance tickets. We did again try to use our newly acquired student cards but were told the discounted fare is only for Chinese students. Oh well, worth a try.
As we got off the bus, it was impossible not to miss the huge shards of thin sandstone rocks that stood in front of us. A result of weather erosion and gravity, they tower into the sky above and beyond the trees and anything else. Like everyone else we stared
Out of this world
View from a viewing platform after climbing 1.5 hours worth of steps
up in awe of this sight and after a few obligatory selfies we started to walk further in the park.
The fog was still very thick and so even though we could see the thin rock formations that we were very close to, we could not see the beautiful cluster of pillars that lay ahead in the distance. We knew they were there but unfortunately they were hidden behind the fog.
As our bags had been sent to our hostel our first mission was to climb the many stairs to viewing platforms along the way up a mountain up to Huanshi Village. The climb was well over 2 thousand well paved steps (we lost count). It is crazy that all this effort has been made to view such amazing scenery and yet it is still very much unknown outside of China. On the way we stopped by at the various viewing platforms. At times it was a little disappointing as you only could glimpse the rocks literally in front of the viewing platform and not any of the others in the distance. However being a magical mystical place as it was sometimes the wind would move the fog
and you would get a short window for a few moments before the fog came and it was gone again.
A third of the way up to the top we met an American with his Chinese girlfriend and asked whether due to the fog we should continue climbing. He said no. He shown us a picture on his phone of what you should see at the top with all the famous formations and a photo he actually took up there. You couldn't see anything. The fog was just too thick. Either way we had made it up this far (nearing 2 hours up or so) and so decided to continue. We wish we didn't though as we had the fright of our lives.
Somewhere near the top, we are not sure what led to this, but a group macaque monkeys seemed to have felt threatened and a horrible scene unfolded right before us. As we rounded a bend we could see a Chinese family a few yards up the hill on a parallel set of steps. The group of monkeys were riled for some reason and were making a lot of noise moving quickly. The father of the
We were lucky to get such a clear 2nd day
Chinese family instinctively tried to scare them away from his family that were screaming as the monkeys closed on them. Backing off momentarily a large macaque flew up a tree trunk so it was nose to nose with the father and growled at him, teeth exposed and as scary as hell. This made the man scream and stumble back. The family clearly terrified were on their backs trying to climb backwards up some stairs.
The 2 of us plus a young Chinese couple were all panicking on the stairs further down unsure of what to do. We didn't want endanger ourselves trying to help. Without a second more to think a group of adult monkeys spotted us and came charging at us too. Chris went to pick up some stones to protect us although P stated that this may only escalate things if they felt attacked, even if we were only defending ourselves. Fight mode switched off and flight mode kicked in as we rushed down the winding stone wet steps. The monkeys however cut between the greenery which kept us all moving very quickly as they caught up with us on every bend. Growling at us shaking the
trees all teeth exposed. We all kept moving panicked, shaken and terrified. They followed us for a good 5 minutes until they sat at a balcony area and watched us descend. They clearly wanted us to keep our distance from their family. After-all this was their home and for whatever reason they felt the need to defend themselves as they felt threatened. We just hoped that family up top were okay and hoped the young Chinese couple that said something to some workers at a food shack on the way down could explain what had happened to ensure the safety of that family.
We however were now safe with some distance between us and the monkeys. After another 30 minutes we had made it back down the mountain. We encountered no other monkeys during our descent and we were pretty glad. Our whole bodies were shaking from the experience. What we heard, saw and experienced was terrifying. P compared the experience to the film 'Planet of the Apes' whereby the apes felt threatened and grouped together to attack.
From here we followed the Golden Whip Steam trail for around 1.5 hours. This stream is meant to have inspired
many poems due to its magical poetic nature. Chris said it was like any other stream we had seen but P emotional, fell for its beauty. Misty mountain rocks in the distance with the nearby rock formations less obscure it was difficult to not to stop at every opportunity to take more pictures. P put this place right up there as the best scenery she had encountered on this trip or ever for that matter, but Chris still held onto Mount Bromo. After a couple of hours we tried asking one of the park attendants where our hostel was. Unfortunately he didn't understand us and we didn't understand him but luckily a young Chinese girl came to our rescue to translate. However we did not like what she said...to get there we needed to go up the mountain via the rainforest again via a staircase that would take over 2 hours to climb. Once at the top we had to walk to the first bridge where we could catch a bus. It was around 16:30. We were starting to lose daylight and the rainforest was limited in light as it was. Plus as we entered there was a sign saying: "Beware wild monkeys. Monkey infestation area"
P pleaded with Chris saying we shouldn't go up and that it was too dangerous. But unfortunately, this was our only choice. There was an overpriced elevator (built on the face of a mountain) around 1.5hrs walk away but this would be closed by the time we got there. Scared but knowing we had no time to waste we agreed to stay at each others side whilst walking up, staying near the locals on the path where we could just in case we had any unwanted encounters with these wild monkeys. Going up we encountered a few tourists; young Chinese couples making the climb and a few locals that lived in the park making their ascent up too. The climb was tough. Our legs ached and burned but we had to resist the urge to stop and rest. We were breathless and could hear ourselves panting heavily. One shirtless local passed us quickly so we decided to keep up with his pace. He seemed tough enough to defend himself (and us) from monkeys. haha. This gave us a focus but was by far the most difficult thing we had ever done. It
Natural mountain bridge.
we walked across it and never realised.
took us just under 2 hours to reach the top and when we did we wanted to cry relief and felt completely sapped of energy.
Out of the forest the mountain top was completed shrouded in fog and we could barely see much further than our hands held our in front of us. This kept us on our toes as to either side of the road was more rainforest. No need to be afraid of what you can't see right. From looking at our offline map it was 2 miles to our hostel following the main paved road. We walked by a few locals resting their hands on their heads, which we think was a way of asking if we needed a place to stay but we confirmed we had a booked a hostel and kept on walking.
After walking maybe 40 minutes, still foggy but also dark, a shuttle bus stopped next to us and took us the through the final leg of our journey to our hostel. We would have made it ourselves if we had not caught it (with another 30 minutes to walk) but believe us this was a blessing. We had spent the
whole day walking through the park and we were cold, wet and exhausted.
We quickly ordered some food and coffee, showered and went to bed in the cold musty dorm. There were only 2 other non chinese staying here, one american living in China and a Brazilian solo traveller. We did get talking to them a little in the evening, the American guy reassured us that on previous days visibility was good so we should get some good views over the next upcoming days. I think they thought we were strange, as P kept repeatedly asking about the monkeys. The response was - the monkeys are fine, you can get really close and take pictures. Hmmm. Maybe we were unlucky, or more so that family but these are wild monkeys afterall. Day 2
Chris got up early and made his way down the 10 minute trail at the back of the hostel to get to a viewpoint and assess the visibility. It was good we were in luck. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to witness such amazing ariel views we were back out of the hostel in 15 minutes. First we stopped by the cluster of
viewpoints, namely The Worlds First Natural Bridge, Avatar/Hallelujah Mountain and the Lock and Key mountain. Unlike the formations we had seen yesterday these were less of the stand alone rock formations and more joined clusters of rocks. Next, we caught the free national park bus to the Grand Sightseeing platform and the One Dangerous Step viewing point. Both viewpoints required a 20+ minute descent down stone steps to get to, which meant a 40 minute ascent back to the top. After what we did yesterday it is fair to say our legs were numb. Forgetting how we felt, we especially liked the One Dangerous Step platform that was a criss crossed iron bridge platform connecting 2 tall mountain rocks. It was terrifying going across this bridge as you could look down at the sheer drop between them. Going across was only a few steps but had our legs shaking, turning into jelly. Our final cluster of viewpoints we wanted to visit were around Tianzi mountain. We hopped back on the free park bus and made our way there. Sitting on the bus provided a much needed rest.
Arriving at the top of Tianzi mountain we were surprised to see
a McDonald's. No way was this for real. In a place yet to be discovered by international tourism (although established domestically) what on earth was a McDonald's doing here. Either way after visiting the nearby viewpoints we shamefully purchased a Oreo McFlurry to cool down. The viewpoints here, especially the Tianzi sightseeing platform among the others next to it were our favourites. Providing an ariel view of many scattered sandstone pillars all standing tall at different heights with different formations. We commented that we were lucky to have better visibility today although we wished we had a touch of fog to create that mystical mountain impression we had yesterday. You can't have it all though.
Annoyingly we took too many pictures on our phone and not enough on our bridge camera, so the clarity of our photos didnt do the views justice (we think). You get the idea though. Shattered again we arrived back at our hostel at 4pm and decided we would leave the park today. We had two options. Catch 2 buses to the Bailong elevator to get back down the mountain or walk down the thousands of steps we climbed to get to the Golden Whip
Stream Trail and then walk an hour to the entrance.
Despite yesterdays 'excitement', we chose the latter option, down the mountain with the thousands of steps to the stream then along the paved trail to the entrance. It was difficult descending as the forest was wet and there are no railings to hold onto most of the time. This 2 hour trail was with our backpacks on and all our gear. Our calves burned and we can honestly say China and especially Zhangjiajie has made us reach our utmost fitness levels. After the pain subsided we were sure we could run a Marathon. The pain was awful, as we never carry our backpacks on for this long or climb/descend steps with it on. We took a risk too with the sign about monkeys but as we never saw any on this trail the day before, we took our chances. Luck was upon us!!.
Although we share our experiences of getting here with that agressive taxi man and the riled monkeys, our intention is not to put people off from coming here. We're just telling the tales of our adventures and experience, so please do not be put off.
The top of the first mountain we climbed (Huanshi mountain), where a lot of the monkeys reside can be reached by a cablecar ride and 2.5 hours hours along the stream is a huge cliff hugging lift (Bailong elevator) to the top of the other area of the park (with the impressive views). So it is all acessible without going deep into the forest.
From there you can catch the free shuttle bus at the top which takes you to different viewing platforms. Particuly the cluster of viewponts around the natural bridge, the avatar viewpoint and also the other cluster around Tianzi sightseeing platform. The views were spectacular. We would come here again in a heartbeat to experience the latter half again. Plus we missed the popular Tianmen mountain that is not in the national park but in town.
We have to come back someday.
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