Ever since I watched the movie Avatar, I’d been smitten by the surreal landscape of the Hallelujah Mountain. Little did I know that the inspiration of that magical place actually came from a very real place on earth, in China to be exact.
Zhangjiajie Forest National Park, in Hunan Province, is relatively unknown to the international travelers but is extremely popular among the Chinese tourists who arrive in busloads. It is actually part of the much larger 397.5 km2 Wulingyuan Scenic Area. It was officially recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.
Pillar-like limestone karst sprung up from the earth like columns reaching for the sky. Valleys upon valleys, mountains after mountains, these gigantic rock formations can render one speechless. In essence, it’s quite similar to the famous fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, Turkey.
I was really looking forward to seeing this amazing landscape but I was worried I couldn’t find any cheap accommodation. Because it’s more popular among local Chinese who prefer staying in luxury hotels, cheap hotels are hard to come by. On the 20-hour train from Hangzhou to Zhangjiajie I met some locals. One of the guys is actually from the town closest to the National Park, he gave me the name and phone number of his friend there whom he had called to instruct to look after me. My preconceived judgement that Chinese are unfriendly just went out the window.
From Zhangjiajie train station, I had to take a bus to Wulingyuan village (the closest point to the National Park). When I arrived, Liao met me at the bus station then took me a cheap but decent hotel. Because he was local, I wasn’t cheated on the room rate. Liao told me that even if I spoke Mandarin to the people, they could tell from my accent that I wasn’t local and would ask for a higher price. I was really grateful. He even went with me to the National Park entrance the next day hoping to help me by a ticket for local, but to no avail. I had to pay 245 RMB, for a 3-day pass. And it does take that many days too see the major part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area.
There are free shuttle buses, cable-cars, world tallest elevators and taxis to help you move around in this large area. But I decided to do most of it by walking. It was May and the early morning weather was crisp and a little chilly. But the day gradually grew hotter as the sun rose. There were a lot of tour groups in all the lookout point, where the views are the most spectacular. But the experience of being in the presence of such beautiful landscapes were spoiled by the loud chatters of the tour groups. One old man even came and pushed me away, while I was taking photo, so he could have his photo taken by his wife. I was shocked by how rude they can be!
To avoid the crowd, all you have to do is walk. I hardly see another person when I was walking in the shaded paths to get from one place to another. Most tour groups get shuttled from one point to another so you can have the whole place to yourself in between these points. And those were my most memorable experience at Zhangjiajie.
Don’t be put off by the high entrance fee or the hordes of Chinese tourists. This is definitely one place not to be missed in your travel around China.