• Katherine Pan

Discovering Zhangjiajie, the city that inspired Avatar

While watching Avatar, were you amazed by the sights of Pandora? The floating rocks of the Hallelujah Mountains were inspired by the Tianzi Mountain, located in Zhangjiajie, China. On my trip to Zhangjiajie, I visited 3 iconic sites which I will be talking about.


Featuring the beauty of Tianzi Mountain.


Did you know?:

In China, tourism sites are ranked according to historical significance and management factors. The ranking goes from A to AAAAA, with A being the lowest rank. The sites that I will be talking about are all ranked as AAAAA attractions.


Tianmen Mountain


Tianmen mountain has an elevation of 1518.6 meters, boasting scenic and unique landforms. To reach the top of the mountain, I sat on the world's longest cable car ride. It starts from the city center and the total length of the ride was 7455 meters. The steepest gradient on the cable car ride was 37 degrees. Personally, I found the cable car ride to be very impressive, and it allows you to take in views showcasing the different landforms. As an engineering undergraduate, it was mind-boggling to think of how the entire network of the cable car system was built. It must have been a perilous job for the people that build the system on such a steep and high elevation???!!!

We were just halfway through the 40 minutes journey on the cable car when this was taken.


The view from the summit of Tianman Mountain.


Upon reaching the summit, I visited the Walk of Faith! Have you seen videos online showing a glass walkway alongside a mountain? The people that are crossing the bridge are always freaking out and probably crying. Well, the Walk of Faith is exactly that, except without people freaking out and crying. Bummer, right? Before you start crossing, you must wear a shoe guard that aids in keeping the glass clean.


Here, we can see the full shot of the glass bridge. (Image sourced from https://www.trip.com/travel-guide/zhangjiajie/tianmen-mountain-glass-walkway-20940931/)


After putting on my shoe guard, I was ready to take on this challenge! To be honest, I did not think that it was too scary to cross the Walk of Faith. It could be because I am not afraid of heights or the weather was foggy that day, which made it difficult to see through the glass bridge. After a very short 3 minutes walk, I was done! I have to say that it was disappointing, at least to me. Here is a photo of the Walk of Faith for you to judge.

The sight that greets you as you take your own first steps. (Image sourced from https://www.businessinsider.fr/us/worlds-most-terrifying-bridges-2019-3)


After the Walk of Faith, I continued my way and saw a long winding road from the top of the mountain. This road is called 99 bends because it has 99 sharp bends. Landrover had organized a challenge on this very same road in 2018. The goal was to drive towards Heaven's gate (shown later) by driving past 99 turns and 999 steps on the 45-degree steep stairway. However, 99 bends were closed when I visited during the winter hence, I could only admire the road from afar.


A shot of the 99 bends amidst the mountains (Image sourced from https://www.zhangjiajietourguide.com/photo-p268-5186-tianmen-mountain-99-bending-road.html)


99 bends as seen from another angle

Further ahead was Tianmen Cave. It is a huge water-eroded cave in the middle of two mountain spans. The cave is 131 meters in height and 30 meters wide. Below this huge hole is 999 steps that await you and being the lazy bum I was, I decided to skip it. According to a friend, there is a belief that walking down these steps will strengthen the relationships with your loved ones. Climbing the steps represents overcoming the obstacles and hardships of the relationship together. This is because steps are packed closely together, making it difficult to climb.

Both Tianman Cave and 999 steps are visible in this photo. The 999 steps are located just above the cave.

Since I opted out to climb the steps, I took the escalator instead. I must have taken over 20 escalators to get down and each escalator was at least 50 meters in length.

Tianmen cave was the last site to visit and it was time to take a rest. There were souvenir shops and food kiosks at the base of the 999 steps of stairs. I got myself a Chinese hotdog and it felt so comforting to be eating warm food amidst the 8’C degree weather.


Tianzi Mountain


Tianzi Mountain


If there is one thing everyone will associate Tianzi Mountain with, it will be the movie, Avatar! After all, it was these beautiful stone peaks that had inspired the floating rocks of the Hallelujah Mountains. Tianzi Mountain is located within the Wulingyuan Scenic Area. The mountain was named after a farmer called Xiang Dakun who was from the local ethnic group, Tujia. Xiang Dakun successfully led a local farmer's revolt and called himself "Tianzi". Tianzi means the son of Heaven and it is the traditional epithet of the Chinese emperor. There are two ways visitors could admire the mountain range, either from the base of it or by going to the summit. Fortunately, I was able to able to appreciate the mountain range from both ways!



The Ten Miles Gallery Tram


At the foot of the mountain, I took a tram named the Ten Miles Gallery. It was a 15 minutes ride allowing visitors to take in the view of the mountain range. Speakers on the tram explained the various features present. Most explanations were regarding how the different landforms on the range resemble certain images such as an old man gathering herbs and a mouse looking into the sky. My tour guide did mention that admiring a mountain range requires 30% of sight and 70% of your imagination. Yet to be honest, I could not see the images on the range even after trying to visualize it. The tram ride ends at an area that allows visitors to take photographs of the mountainous range.

Try and see if you are able to figure out the different images based on the mountain shapes


As it was getting late, I visited the summit of Tianzi Mountain the following day. To get to the summit, I took the Bai Long elevator. Now, this elevator is not just your typical everyday elevator. The Bai Long Elevator is a glass elevator that is built onto the side of a cliff. Standing at a height of 326 meters, it holds the Guinness World Record for being the tallest outdoor elevator. In the elevator, I was able to witness the astounding view of the famous mountain peaks as it ascended into the sky. Everyone in the elevator had let out a collective "WOW!" when we saw the peaks that inspired the floating rocks of the Hallelujah Mountains.


Bailong elevator. (Image sourced from https://wonderfulengineering.com/the-worlds-tallest-outdoor-elevator-runs-along-the-length-of-a-cliff-in-china/)


Close-up of the elevator. (Image sourced from https://www.chinadiscovery.com/hunan/zhangjiajie/yuanjiajie/bailong-elevator.html)


At the summit, there were numerous viewing platforms for visitors to admire the peaks. I think there were over 20 viewing platforms, allowing one to take photos from every single angle. I spent an hour strolling and admiring the unparalleled charm of what mother nature had achieved. It was a soothing and relaxing stroll that helped to clear my mind from the stress of everyday life. It was also a treat for my senses that were usually overworked from the daily hustle. I will let the photos showcase the beauty of Tianzi Mountain.



Tianzi Mountain and its numerous mountain peaks


Shot of a single peak.


The peaks as seen from bottom.



Monkeys are just some of the residents residing on Tianzi Mountain.


Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge


Overview of the bridge. (Image sourced from https://www.chinadiscovery.com/hunan/zhangjiajie/zhangjiajie-glass-bridge.html)

Another must-visit attraction in Zhangjiajie is its Glass Bridge. Did you know that the Zhangjiajie glass bridge is one of the longest and highest in the world? Now, this is just one of the many famous glass bridges that are circulating on the internet. This may sound extreme, but China is home to over 2300 glass bridges. These glass bridges are often built alongside a mountain, across canyons and valleys. You might be wondering if these glasses bridges are structurally safe. Well, deaths and injuries of tourists have been recorded from visiting these bridges. The bridges have also been closed in 2019 to undergo comprehensive safety assessments.

How about the Zhangjiajie glass bridge that I visited? Is it structurally safe? When the bridge was first opened, events were held to prove its strength and safety. Cars filled with passengers drove across the glass and the BBC was invited to try smashing the glass panels with a sledgehammer. There are also restrictions by the authorities on the number of tourists allowed to be on the bridge. When I visited the Zhangjiajie glass bridge in December 2019, I felt that the bridge was structurally safe. However, I am no expert and do not quote me on this.

The Zhangjiajie glass bridge is located within the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Remember Tianmen Mountain? It is also located in the same park.

After getting my ticket and queuing, it was time to enter the attraction. Just like before, I had to wear shoe covers to protect the glass. According to my tour guide, selfie sticks and umbrellas are not allowed on the bridge and I presumed that it is for safety purposes.

Upon entering the attraction, I was amazed by the sheer size of the bridge. The bridge is 430 meters in length, 14 meters wide and it is 360 meters above the ground. It spans the canyon between two mountain cliffs in the Zhangjiajie National Park. Visitors may also take part in the world's highest bungee jump at 260 meters on the bridge. Well, I am not much a thrill seeker so I gave the bungee jump a pass. After all, I hate extreme or high-risk activities.


As it was a glass-bottomed bridge, I could see the foliage beneath my feet. It made my first few steps onto the bridge extremely daunting because I was so high up in the air! Knowing that the bridge was structurally safe put my mind at ease and I gradually stopped looking down. I was able to appreciate the awe-inspiring and scenic mountain range as I walked along the glass bridge.


One can admire this view while crossing the glass bridge.

Looking through the glass bottomed floor.


The entire grandeur of the glass bridge can be admired from this shot


Conclusion

All in all, I felt that Zhangjiajie had a lot of breath-taking and impressive natural scenery to offer. The scenery is unique and I have not seen anything like it on all my travels. I prefer my travels to include a mixture of cultural heritage, natural beauty, and shopping. Hence if you are a fan of natural scenery and beauty, Zhangjiajie is your wet dream come true.

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