Friday, September 30, 2016

Tianmen Mountain. Natural Arch and 99 Bends.

View of the natural arch and the stairway leading to it.

Typically, I am a half glass full person but as I took the photos in this posting, I was a glass half empty person - bemoaning the fact that in a few short hours, I would be saying goodbye to everyone and boarding a plane that would eventually take me to Beijing.  Tomorrow, I fly back to the US.  Even though I had shoved all these thoughts to the back of my head, I was still already feeling so bittersweet that I really don't think I enjoyed the last bit of my visit to Tianmen Mountain.

From the tower at the summit of the mountain, we rejoined another section of the Coiling Dragon walkway that took us to really nice view point.



Diverting off the main path, a separate path led down a set of wide steps.


All along the way, it was wonderful views of the mountains and ravines below and beyond to the city.



It really has been a shame that we've not had a single sunny day since we've been here.  At first I feared the skies were gray because of smog but the occasional raindrop confirmed it was just dreary weather.  The path deadended after a short distance so we had to double back to continue on our walk through the park.

What was clear to see was Tongtian Avenue aka the 11 kilometer (6.9 mile) long road with 99 bends that takes visitors all the way up to the top of the mountain with a stop part way at Tianmen Cave aka the natural arch.   Some of those turns in the road do look really sharp!!



From the walkway, we also caught glimpse of Tianmen Cave (Gateway to Heaven), a natural hole in the mountain of that is about of 131.5 meters (431 feet) tall.  Situated at an elevation of 1520 meters (4988 feet), the arch is supposedly the highest elevation natural arch in the world.

A set of 999 steps leads from the base of the arch to a large platform area below.


From where we were on the Dragon Coiling walkway, we had to take an escalator to get part way down the mountain.


I had to take this photo of Lee from behind.  Her typical hairdo includes a very cute ponytail.  When she came to the hotel to pick us up yesterday morning, her hair was down and she just did not look the same until  later in the morning when she put it up.  You can tell, without even knowing her, that she's a tomboy....a very sweet tomboy :-)







The Coiling Dragon walkway continued at the bottom of the escalators.


Next thing you know, we are passing the arch from inside Tianmen Cave.


Like many other caves, this one was just a large opening in the side of the mountain.  Displayed inside was this large metal medallion.  Visitors have turned it into a display of wish ribbons and locks.




Turning around, I realized we were at the spot where the steps begin.  It's a long way down!  Lee gave us a choice - take the steps or continue with the escalators.  I was the only one that opted for the escalators and Lee would join me as I am sure she has been down those steps many times.  Thankfully, we didn't have to come up the steps.


Mal!!  I'm over here!

So while the gals made their way down on foot, Lee and I walked over to the escalator entrance and headed down.  I don't remember how many escalators we took but it was a lot!  It seemed like an eternity before I got to the bottom.


No surprise that I arrived at the bottom before the others.  That gave me some time to walk around and take some photos.






That's Mal and Sal nearing the bottomg.


The steps leading from the arch end in a large platform area with views of the city beyond.  To one side there is the bus stand for visitors wanting to catch a shuttle bus that takes you back down, via the road with the 99 bends, to the cable car station in Zhangjiajie.





When we were all ready to leave, we followed Lee to the bus stand and we got in line.




Though we were at the front of the line to board the bus, I stupidly headed for the seats towards the back of the bus rather than heading for the seats up by the driver so  I was only able to shoot a video of the ride from the side window.  It would've been so much better had I been riding next to the driver.   Lesson learned. Never rush to get on board the bus.  Think through the strategy first :-)

Nonetheless, here's a 3 minute snippet of our ride down the road.  Thankfully, I do not suffer from motion sickness but I would definitely caution anyone who is from taking this ride. 



At one point, we drove by a complex of some sort.  The natural arch caught my eye and luckily, I was able to take this photo before the bus whizzed by.


Mal was in for one last selfie but first I had to take a photo.  If she ever sees this, she will be mad at me because her hair....well, it's not looking good :-)



The shuttle bus took us back to exactly where we had started today - the Tianmen Mountain Cablecar Station.  From here, we walked a short distance to a row of restaurants where we had our lunch. house.


I have to say, it was a very nice restaurant - brand new but designed to look and feel like an old Chinese farm house.



It was a simple lunch and even though I wasn't hungry at the moment, I knew I had a very long day yet ahead of me so I packed my tummy extra full.

Braised tofu.

Braised pork with chili.

Braised eggplant with Chinese long bean.

Our rice, topped with bits of caramelized shallot, was served in cute enamel cuts.

After lunch, it was off to another hotel in Zhangjiajie.  The girls were relocating as this hotel is closer to the airport so easier for them to leave tomorrow.  My plan had been to spend my remaining time with them in their room but that plan got completely derailed.  I had asked Lee if she would call the airport hotel in Beijing for me to tell them that I would be arriving sometime around midnight.  As she spoke with them, she relayed the message back to me that I had to pay for my room in advance to secure my late arrival.  Unfortunately, they would not take a US credit card so Lee kindly offered to have them charge against her card and I paid her back in cash.  Luckily, I had just enough yuan to cover.

In any case, by the time it was said and done, I did have some time to spend with the gals but that would have meant that Lee and the driver would have to sit around the lobby for a couple of hours waiting for me to take me to the airport.  I decided that was not necessary especially considering the huge favor that Lee had just done for me so I offered to leave early.

That meant, there was no time left to spend with the girls. I headed up to their room and got my suitcase.  They accompanied me back down and we said our goodbyes outside the front entrance.  I gave each of them a really big hug.  I was so, so, so very sad to be leaving them.  Before I got in the van with the driver and Lee, Mal and I held on for one last hug.  I know I will see her again in the future but we've grown so incredibly close on this trip, it was the hardest saying goodbye to her.
My flight left Zhangjiajie on time but there was a delay leaving Xi'an which meant that my flight did not land until almost midnight.  I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel and my room was waiting for me.  I have no idea if I really needed to pay in advance but I'm just glad I have the room.

It's almost 2a now and I am tired.  Luckily, I can sleep in tomorrow.  Smartly, I paid for two nights so I can stay past checkout time.

In any case, it's my last night in China.  I've had an incredible trip - seen some incredible sights, had more than enough taste of Chinese Muslim food, and crossed paths with some very nice people.  Most importantly, I got the opportunity to spend time and reconnect with a very special person - my cousin Yim.  I'm so very glad we were able to come on this trip together.  I leave with a treasure trove of photos and videos and a lifetime of priceless memories.

Goodnight and goodbye from Beijing!!