Wulingyuan Scenic Area situated in Hunan Province comprises 4 scenic zones. They are Tianzi(Son of Heaven) Mountain Nature Reserve, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the Suoxiyu Natural Resource Reserve and the Yangjiajie Scenic Area.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is a unique forest park located in Hunan Province within the Wulingyuan Scenic Area. In 1992, Wulingyuan Scenic Area was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Zhangjiajie Sandstone Peak Forest National Geopark was subsquently listed a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2004. Zhangjiajie’s popularity as a tourism hotspot has grown leaps and bounds; in part thanks to James Cameron for his US$2 billion grossing film, ‘Avatar’ released in 2009.
One of the most notable geographical feature is the pillar-like formations which is seen throughout the park. This is the result of erosion over many years, caused by ice expansion in winter and vegetation growth. There are over 3100 sandstone pillars of varying heights and mass in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
The Bailong elevator took us very close to the top of the peaks at about 326m where a path is cut into the cliffs. On the thrilling 2 minutes ascend, the fantastical mountains suddenly burst into view much to everyone’s delight. The view up here is spectacular and it takes about 2 hours of leisurely walking to complete the route.
The weather is moist throughout the year and it is very conducive for vegetation. Rain, dews, clouds and fog seem to converge here giving the whole landscape a surreal and celestial atmosphere. It is quiet and peaceful and the air pristine; it soothes both the body and soul.
Certain sections of the mountains are covered in dense foliage and for the nature lovers amongst us, it is such a joy to be this close to appreciate the myriad shades of green, the different shapes and sizes of pine and fir cones and also flowering trees. Can’t help but marvel at Mother Nature’s handiwork and the trees that cling so tenaciously to the nooks and crannies in survival. Perhaps that is something humankind can learn and emulate.
Saw this sign just before crossing the bridge and it somehow tickles my funny bone.
As we get to the midpoint of Lian Xin Bridge, a pleasant surprise awaits us. We see one of the park’s most prominent quartz sandstone pillar standing at 1,080m above sea level and rising over 150m in height, namely the Southern Sky Column.
Park Officials say that photographs of Zhangjiajie inspired the film director and production designers when they created ‘Hallelujah Mountain’ and the floating rocks on the Planet of Pandora, a fictional earth-like moon in the film ‘Avatar’. Though I have not watched the movie, I must say the semblance of the mountain in the promotional advert was uncanny.
Considered one of the wonders in Zhangjiajie, this sky bridge stretches across 2 mountain peaks which was originally one same mountain. It spans over 25m with a vertical height of 357m and this natural phenomenon is the result of erosion from the elements of wind and water.
Tianzi(Son of Heaven) Mountain Nature Reserve is one of the 4 scenic spots in Wulingyuan. It covers an area of about 67 sq km and the highest peak stands at 1,262m above sea level. It is crowned the ‘Monarch of the Peak Forest’ because of its astounding beauty in different seasons: The Sea of Clouds, The Radiance of Moonlight, Rays of Sunshine and the Snow in Winter are some picturesque descriptions conjured. The average temperature here is about 12 deg centigrade and it as cold and overcast when I was there, so be prepared by layering your clothes so that you can conveniently remove them when it is warmer in other parts of Wulingyuan.
The Golden Whip Stream flows between 2 steep mountains and luxuriant trees. This meandering stream, clear waterfalls, exotic flora and fauna co-exist in this natural ecological park. It requires 3 to 4 hours to do this walk to see the major scenic spots which include Rock of Welcoming Guests, Golden Whip Rock, Reunion Rock and the Purple Grass Pond.
Golden Whip Stream is about 5.7km long and you have to walk 300m from the entrance of the park to where it actually begins. Though the walk is long, the scenery here is enchanting and it is definitely worth your while.
It was starting to drizzle and it was now both cold and wet but I enjoy looking at the low hanging clouds that seem to sit snuggly on the mountain peaks like a crown.
There is a unique species endemic in Zhangjiajie called the ‘Lobster Flower’ which thrives in humid and shady places. They are in full bloom especially along Golden Whip Stream in Summer and Autumn, so keep a lookout for them. They come in different colours like purple, yellow, pink, white and red and bear shrimp-shaped petals that can change colours several times a day.
Within the Suoxiyu Natural Resoures Reserve is Ten Mile Natural Gallery situated at Gan Xi Gou. This 5km scenic road is where impressive peaks depict vivid pictures which I find requires a little stretching of the imagination to visualize.
I spotted this peak quite easily as it does justice to the description given. The shape of an old man in a long gown with a kerchief over his head carrying a basket on his back full of herbs and with a small tree growing out, giving the image of a hoe.
This is indeed the kind of landscape Chinese painters usually depict in their paintings and poetry. The rail ride was interesting as the Ten Mile Gallery was like a scroll that was gradually and carefully unfolded before one’s eyes. Zhangjiajie is truly a fairyland of stone pillars and the unique landscape is unexpected and fascinating. You have to experience it for yourself to believe it.