ZHANGJIAJIE (CHINA PART 3)
Updated: Apr 2, 2019
In Avatar the Na'vi have an affectionate greeting of endearment to one another, which in their native tongue they affirm "I see you". This means I see your heart, your should, I see your fear, your emotions and I accept you for who you are... I love you... for your goodness and for your struggles. To strengthen your relationship with those that surround you , learn to "see" them, you maybe seeing them for the first time.
Though Asia is larger than the United States, it is still hard to believe that there are portions of the country that were just "discovered" within the last 35 years. Sure people lived in this amazing mountain nirvana for thousands of years, but beyond it's farming inhabitants, none outside of this area were aware of the wonder that was hidden beneath clouds and down huge valleys.
I remember seeing pictures in National Geographic when I was a kid and being memorized by this land. It was hard to believe something so perfect was real. Like a paradise for birds, it seemed to be a place meant for soaring. It didn't surprise me when James Cameron selected it as the backdrop for Avatar.
Seeing it in person made me realize as spectacular as the movie was, it truly didn't do justice to the feeling of experiencing this Zion in person.
Zhangjiajie (pronounced Jang - jaw- jee ... in a horrible American accent) used to be at the bottom of a shallow sea a million years ago. Deposits from that sea floor, and water cutting channels through these deposits as the continent slowly rose over time, left behind these 1,400 fingers of land. They reach up towards the stars, moldy with vegetation that stretches to the tip of their majestic peaks.
For thousands of years the people that lived here were mountain people, known for being able to climb these spires in search of rare mushrooms and edible flora. So protective of their land, and not very nomadic, they weren't discovered until the early 80's by a painter. When his artwork became famous, people were of course interested in this stunning landscape.
UNAVCO stepped in quickly and a few years later the whole region was declared a national park for it's protection. Though locals would stroll along walkways slowly being built, it wasn't until James Cameron made this area famous to the world that the multitude of tourist areas were opened up. In true China fashion it's only been five years since the first hotels showed up in the region, but now they line the crystal stream waiting for all who plan to see it for themselves.
It's hard not to feel like you truly see beauty when you are surrounded by it.
Lanterns hang across the backstreets of newly formed villages of restaurants and tea shops. Tiny bridges cover small tributaries that pass right down the middle of the street, nature taking precedence over people. It's an outdoor lovers dream. Foodies are not left out, dishes from the area play on all that this lush landscape has to offer.
Large chunks of seaweed float in boiling hot pots, freshly pulled from the river only that morning. You can see the diligent farmers gather it early in the morning, wading up to their waste in the fresh - unpolluted - stream. They use large nets and floating buckets to gather their crops. It adds so much flavor to the soup, bursting in the mouth once bitten, it's warm and crisp on the tongue.
The smell of Matcha drifts from steeping teapots. It promises warmth, a balance to the cooler mountain air.
The park pass allows people in for three days, which is hardly enough time to take in all that it has to offer. Busses leave from a central location, the only transportation on wheels allowed in order to keep everything as pristine as possible. They crawl like busy ants, black spots winding up narrow roads. Though they speed along with eagerly awaiting passengers, the truly epic way to climb towards the sky is via gondola. It's the closest thing to flying through this landscape built for birds.
The cabs soar past these natural skyscrapers, pulling eagerly waiting passengers towards the playground in the sky. Walkways, made to look like tree branches, cling to cliff sides in monkey nesting areas. The signs here, translated so poorly - or so literally- they seem less cautionary and more like life lessons or jokes.
Saying things like: "Thunderbolt striking area" (apparently this is the house of Thor) or "Monkeys are wild, don't tease feeding" (now this I understand, either feed them or don't ... no one needs to be teased about food te-he-he) and "You are obligated to cherish the grass". Some make me stop and pause, playing over in my mind how zen a simple warning can sound.
But it's not just the areal view that is amazing. Taking a glass elevator down the side of one of the spires, people are deposited below the towering giants where walkways galore offer pleasant strolls for as long as your feet will carry you.
It's lush, peaceful, and home to some of the most rare species of insects in the world. This untouched paradise, never dozed down to make houses, has trapped a piece of the past amongst it's leaves and clear waters. Local artists dress up and play traditional music on authentic Chinese instruments and it almost feels like a scene at a Disney park. Local lovers stroll hand in hand, kids play in the sunshine, it is an amazing place to find your center again and be grateful for all the good qualities you have.
Though you can walk for days the national park doesn't end with Avatar land. Amazingly China has it's very own grand canyon. Maybe it isn't the size of the one in the US, but this 1100 ft valley houses something so unique it's almost impossible to explain without experiencing it.
It's hard to know what to expect when you hear the words "Glass Extension Bridge Over A Grand Canyon". It's even more surprising to learn that these large transparent pieces are so sensitive they won't let you bring anything heavy (no water bottles... and I certainly wasn't allowed to bring my good camera- hence the cell phone photos below) and they make you wear booties so you don't scratch the surface.
It's even more mind boggling to believe what you are seeing when you actually stand on this fairly new structure (it's a baby, only 1 year old). People dot the landscape below, looking so small it's would be hard to tell they are anything but rocks except for the fact that they are moving. Asians cling to the metal frame, some women crying as their boyfriends protectively drag them along as fast as they can manage. Most lay down for the "perfect selfie", or shuffle along with shaking legs, booties keeping everyone on the edge of slipping.
The bridge is only the start of a long journey down to the valley floor below where waiting waterfalls, and more twisted tree walkways greet you. A Turquoise river snakes it's way between the hills on either side adding a tranquil trickle for ambiance. More dragon boats wait at it's mouth, like a cherry on top of a perfect sundae, caping a long day with a smile on everyone's faces.
Who doesn't love a slow boat ride through Asian bliss?
It's hard to leave Zhangjiajie. Somehow the city gets in your bones and becomes part of your marrow making it feel as though an important piece of you is left behind when you leave. The last day with feet dragging I did my best to beat the clock and slow time. I think everywhere I've ever visited has taken a little piece of me. Sometimes they are pieces I never miss and other times it feels as though a small chunk of heart stays, Zhangjiajie for sure has a small bit of my heart.
The X-games park sits just outside the airport on and around the Tianman mountain (known as gate to heaven for the large arch in it's center). Every two years sports stars from all disciplines, wing suit specialists, sports car racers, parquet experts, compete in various activities either down the famous 999 steps at the base of the arch, jumping from the 4,000 ft peaks above, or speeding along the 99 curves on the narrow road leading to the foot of the mountains. It's an adrenaline junkies dream, and was the most awesome way to say goodbye to such a wonderful place.
Noticing a pattern with numbers here? You should, the emperors believed that 10, 100, or 1000, were the numbers for heaven, so they made everything they touched just one number below (9, 99, 999) so they could show they were just 1 under those in heaven.
Our bus driver must have wanted to be in nascar because he cornered our vehicle it like it was on rails, whipping us around hairpin turns and under small ledges. Everyone cheered or sucked in their breath as busses passed us with less than an inch of space, our crazy driver never slowing. Looking down at the twisted road I worried I'd be sick on the ride, but luckily - due to summer heat- the windows in the bus opened and I sat in the back, hanging out the window for pictures (having to quickly pull myself back in so I wouldn't be creamed by busses as we passed reminded me of a close call on an Alaskan train ride), with my hair in the wind and a grin plastered on my face.
I loved every minute of it.
If you ever get to China, first ... take me with you =) ... second, make sure you check out this beautiful area of the country, you won't be disappointed.