The visitor center for the Zhang Jia Jie park is built like an ancient pavilion. It stands tall against the lush hillsides surrounding it. The expansive hall of the Zhang Jia Jie visitor center is highlighted by beautiful chandeliers and a big screen TV showing video of sights from the mountains. We enter the tourist crush in line to take a bus to the park entrance. Security to get into Zhang Jia Jie seems a lot stricter than that at the airports.
Eventually, we board a tour bus to go up a mountain road to get to the first stage of the park. The view upwards from the valley floor is the classic Zhang Jia Jie postcard image of gnarled mountains with trees and shrubs growing every which way on all the craggy parts of them.
We got our ticket to the remarkable 326 meter high Bailong elevator that takes you up the side of one of the many enormous cliffs in Zhang Jia Jie. But before we can ride the elevator, there’s more security to go through.
We finally arrive at the entrance to the elevators. Bailong Tian Ti means “hundreds of dragons elevator to the sky”. This name of the elevator is carved into the stone outcroppings nearby. This spectacular 325 meter high elevator starts running from a cavern through the mountain base rock, then it rises outside, clinging to the side of the cliff, and continuing up to the summit. It is the highest and heaviest outdoor elevator in the world. The trip takes about 180 seconds and moves pretty fast. The views are spectacular, despite the fog. The elevator is very controversial, especially among conservationists because it’s construction and operation has caused much damage to the mountain and surrounding wilderness. At the top, you can gaze upon all those wonderful craggy cliffs that make this region famous.
A peacock marks the beginning of our walking trail through the park. There are several suspended walking bridges that cross between the cliffs along our walking path.
For the Chinese a lock symbolizes eternal love for another. Along the walking trail, there are merchants selling heart-shaped locks which lovers can clip on to the railings along the mountain trails. We found dozens of them scattered along the way.
An amusing sign near a stone outcropping says you can’t kiss here. It is probably designed to warn people to avoid hitting their heads on the rocks, but we wonder if there might be other warnings implied by its message.
At the top of this particular crag is a pavilion of merchants that’s decorated with paper lanterns made out of thousands of business cards probably from visitors from all over the world.
A stone lion roaring greets visitors to the beautiful Tujia village of Yuanjiazhai which means ‘village of the hanging rice’. In fact at the doors there are numerous dried cobs of corn hanging around the entrance. The traditional long house has been fully restored in Yuanjiazhai. It serves as a cultural museum for the village. There are many live demonstrations in the building as well as locals selling spices and vegetables. The trickling waterfall at the end of an irrigation channel in Yuanjiazhai holds the key to all life that emanates from it. Tiny streams of water are pushed down this old aqueduct from higher in the village at the source of the stream. The water is used to irrigate the vegetable crops. A contemporary wooden waterwheel stands in a field just outside the main long house building. It turns slowly with the passing of the stream underneath it. Large totems represent the gods which protect Yuanjiazhai and make it’s people prosper. The totem was a central part of a performance stage on which ethnic dances are performed on a regular basis. Like the bows of a fleet of ancient sailing ships, the row of roof supports on the long house stands in contrast to the bleak and featureless foggy sky.
After our visit to Yuanjiazhai, we board another tour bus that will take us to one of the highest peaks in the park. At the top, we encounter two stone plaques. The writing on these plaques says that the spirit of General Helong will live forever. This was written by a famous governor who once visited this spot. An enormous stone statue of General Helong stands stoically gazing forever at the natural beauty of the mountains.
We join a lot of other tourists to take a cable car ride down the mountain to a base camp in the valley.
At the bottom we find an old tree that has been ravaged by the passage of time and the effects of man. Even now it stands juxtaposed against a distant peak, with the shackles of man still hanging around it.
Another short bus ride takes us to the entrance of the 10 mile nature gallery. This valley is lush and features a walking trail and a small railway that takes you on a scenic journey past mountain streams and craggy cliffs. We board a small train that runs about 2 miles on valley floor next to a walking trail. We decided to take the train after a day of walking and some tired feet. The view from the train windows is spectacular. Our train ride ends at the beginning of another section of the walking trail along the beautiful nature gallery. This section of the gallery features some unique walking stones that test your balance and coordination.
Some trail workers are gathering stones and mud. They were working on extending the mountain trail farther down the valley floor. Those pans they carry on their shoulders are heavy and you can see it in their faces. Numerous bridges cross the mountain stream on the valley floor. They offer a chance to rest tired feet and take in all the beauty of this place. These mountain streams are cold and clear and teaming with tiny fish.
One path through the trees on the valley floor of Zhang Jia Jie looks as though it is floating above the ground. The planks are actually molded concrete stained and textured to look like wood. The heavy rope that holds up a walking bridge across the Zhang Jia Jie valley floor was woven by hand. The rope reminds us that we are all connected by the fibers of life. Many locals believe that the mountain streams here are magical and they often toss coins in for good luck.
The rock formations of Zhang Jia Jie are so interesting to look at close up. They were formed by the cooling and cracking apart of molten lava millions of years ago.
Apparently according to the signs there are wild monkeys here, but we never saw any.
Along the trail is this marker stone and a small spring where you can drink the water of immortality. Legend has it that if you drink this water you will have increased longevity.
We come upon some workers building some sort of conveyor from the stream up to the trail.
A sign warns us that it’s time for some more interesting and unique trail stones ahead. This trail section has walking stones that resemble giant sized Chinese coins. A section of trail at Zhang Jia Jie branches into two paths, and then returns to one. You have a choice: take the normal path, or take the experimental path. By experimental I mean you can discover your skill level at maneuvering obstacles and walking on posts. There are bouncing bridges, posts, obstacles, and more along the experimental path. We had much fun trying our skill at it.
After our mountain hike, It’s time for a little shopping and my wife is searching for an authentic Zhang Jia Jie rucksack that she can use to carry water and other snacks on the trail.
We see a large stone marker that provides a brief introduction to the history of Zhang Jia Jie.
We take a cable car up to another high peak in the park called Xianshan Huangshizhai. At the top, an enormous stone marker proclaims this area as a fairyland. The natural beauty of this spot was certainly magical. On the top of Huangshizhai this great foggy cathedral of trees makes this mountain the most magical mountain of all of Zhang Jia Jie. When we were there, even though there were many others around us, all we could hear was the silence of the trees.
Our visit to Zhang Jia Jie is at an end. We will never forget the natural beauty and the awesome majesty of this special place in China.