Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Zhangjiajie Forest Park

From Beijing we took an evening flight to Zhangjiajie, which is a UNESCO listed place (basically a place of outstanding beauty). The initial plan was to do both this and Guilin which looks nearby but is a 2-day flight to reach (there's no direct flight) so the plan changed to focus on Zhangjiajie only. 

Zhangjiajie has a huge forest park to the north and a rather cool mountain to the south, so the plan was to spend the first two days at the former and the final day at the mountain. In the run up to leaving I was able to squeeze in another day at a town not too far away, but more on that one later.

The forest park was busy. We'd chosen the time in the year where the Chinese people were starting their holiday and Zhangjiajie has become a very popular attraction for them. So although you're going to a remote location, don't think you've got it to yourselves; you don't. Also this place isn't Westerner-ready so unless your Chinese is very good consider getting a guide. I'd organised mine through a travel company.

That's the entrance to the Forest Park. A pretty cool gate I think you'd agree.

To get you around the Forest Park there's a number of buses that drive around a number of closed roads. Only the buses are allowed on, all other vehicles have to be parked at the main gate.

We started our little adventure with a ride through the floor of one of the main valleys....it's not a coaster!

Called "The Ten Mile Gallery" the train is a simple circular route that takes you through the valley floor.

The mountain range gave James Cameron the inspiration for the Pandora mountains in Avatar and having not seen anything like this before was completely captivated for the entire journey.

For those that don't wish to take the train you can walk along a wooden footpath that runs alongside the tracks. At some of the more congested points we did spot the odd person fall off the path into the valley, admittedly a drop of a foot or so, we are on the valley floor afterall.

The camera doesn't really do this place justice, I'm a lousy photographer at the best of times but the memories remain.

Some of the rock formations have names. These are "The 3 sisters"; one has her child on her back, one is cradling her child in her arms, and the other is pregnant. It's like the geographic equivalent of a Rorschach test.

This one is called "The crocodile eating the frog". Not really, I made that up.

The scenery was just amazing, just a shame Kat kept jumping into shot (j/k Kat ;) )

At the end of the train ride you enter a small rocky area where monkeys are running around. They're clearly wild but bold enough to come up and steal your food; just like the squirrels in St James Park in London.

I'm not quite sure what this woman thought she was doing. Does giving the "peace" sign placate a monkey?

Would you let your child get so close to a wild monkey, which in a split second could tear off their face? (Despite my best wishes, this never happened).

You can let the monkeys take food from your hands but do not tease them as they don't tolerate that at all.

Having had enough of the monkeys (but not the views) we rode the train back.

One of the rock formations has an external elevator system fitted and we'd asked our guide if we could squeeze that into the itinerary. One small snag, it looked like everyone in the park wanted to ride it at the same time. Despite his best efforts to get us to jump the queue we couldn't get through so we agreed to take an alternative route and ride the elevator down later rather than up now. Top Tip: Listen to your guide!

As well as the buses to get you around the park there are a number of cable cars, which of course we had to ride.

It takes you up to the peaks from which you can get more amazing views.

A series of forest paths at the top take you to a number of observation platforms, all of which offer amazing views. Some were more busier than others.

Waiting at one of the bus stops, I tried to get a photo of this woman's t-shirt but she was very quick trying to sell souvenirs. It starts out ok with "Never Forget" but ends with what looks like the output of someone punching the keyboard. Given all the tourism here it's not difficult to realise that there are people living up in the mountain and they're doing what they can to survive. I bought some chestnuts from a woman in the queue line. They were rank and quickly thrown away but I'd done my bit.

It was so hard to get a photo that does this place justice, but I hope you get the idea. We went over to that building the next day.

This is a small graveyard for this dude. He must be quite well known as a lot of locals were having their photo taken here.

Some photos from a couple of the vantage views.

A little over-exposed on this occasion. If only we'd had Beijing skies.

A reminder that although it looks serene and beautiful, and it is, this is what you're up against.
You find the spectacle being so overpowering that the annoyances from other people are quickly forgotten.

More photos, words aren't going to do this place any justice whatsoever

This one is probably called "The Pied Piper" or something.

That's the elevator. There has been a bit of bad PR around the construction of this as it's deemed to blight the area, but I don't think it spoils anything. There is so much stuff to see and this is only going to spoil the view if you happened to want to look at the rock wall its mounted on.

We ended day one back down at the valley floor and with a quick walk along the river. Having just shoved a child into the river, Kat is quick to deny any involvement.

Day two had us taking a slightly different route through the mountains. This guy is an artist who painted many pictures of this area and brought it to the countries attention. Ultimately this guy is as much responsible for Avatar as Cameron is.

The walk through this valley took us through monkey turf.

This rather nonchalant one needs a bow and arrow photoshopped on I think.

Mother and child.

Another cable car took us to the top for another walk up here.

More crazy rock formations. This one is called the golden turtle or something like that. He needs to sort out that growth on his head though.

Just amazing.

Some views from the top of that temple building that we saw yesterday.

Riding the cable car back down

Playing in another river, and trying to take photos of butterflies enjoying the water too.

The park caters for tourists and ninjas

I'm not sure what this symbolises.

Finishing the day with more monkeys.

The Forest Park was quite simply awesome, and as someone who hates the dilution of that word I truly mean it. I've only ever used it twice (the Grand Canyon, and the Maid of the Mist). I was totally blown away by this place, and our guide did a superb job getting us about.


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