Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve.


Arghh!! I saw nothing but cloudy skies when I threw open the curtain windows in our room.  I scanned the skies looking for a glimpse of blue sky and saw none.  I had so hoped for a sunny day.  Yim is going to be so disappointed :-( 

So I finally did a bit of reading last night and while I had thought we were going back to Zhangjiajie National Park today, I was wrong.

Zhangjiajie National Park is one of four scenic areas located within the boundaries of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area.   Today, we visited Tianzi (Son of Heaven) Mountain Nature Reserve.  The entry ticket that Lee bought for each of us yesterday is good for 4 days and covers all of Wulingyuan Scenic Area.


It appears that even though there are roads running through all of Wulingyuan Scenic Area, visitors typically take shuttle buses to move around.  It was drizzling lightly as we waited to board our bus which would take us to a cable car station.



I snapped this photo of a woman carrying her child.  Imagine having to tote your toddler around in a bamboo chair!

We took the cable car to the top of the mountain.


The views on the way  up were spectacular!




At the top, we exited the station on to a large platform with wonderful views of the surrounding landscape. 



It was here that I really got to take in the unique rock formations that were formed as a result of millenia of water erosion.  The free standing obelisk like formations are particularly interesting to look at.  Also, because the sandstone bedrock that makes up most of the nature reserve was created by a long process of stratification, it appears in distinct layers, each layer slightly different in coloration than the contiguous layers. Due to this layering, the bedrock is subject to erosion that constantly whittles away at the outer edges of exposed rock, leaving an uneven vertical surface.


Looking back at the cable car that we rode up to get to the top of the mountain.

Erosion also created rock ledges which provide ideal conditions for the accumulation of soil, which in turn can nurture flowers, grasses, shrubs and even trees.



I never expected to see a McDonald's here but sadly there was one.  Amusingly enough, there was a giant plastic display promoting Mickey D's latest menu item - a bowl of steamed rice topped with lettuce, a fried chicken filet and some type of, presumably, secret sauce.  It's China's version of a Crispy Chicken Sandwich :-)


A row of souvenir shops lines the walkway leading to Tianzi Pavilion.


We entered the pavilion and took the stairs up.


From the first level, we had a nice panoramic view of the mountains as well as of more souvenir shops below.


I think it was from this spot that I got the nicest close up shots of the rock pillars.  The more I looked at them, the more I started to appreciate their beauty.


On the top floor of the pavilion was a small temple.  All around the balcony, red ribbons were tied to every surface.



By the time I made it up to the top floor, Sal and Yim were already in the process of sticking joss sticks in the sand and praying.  I had thought that since we were inside a park that you could just light up a joss stick for free but this was actually a separate temple and they were asking for donations.


In addition to joss sticks, your donation also gave you a red ribbon.  That explains why the ribbons were there.  Yim found a spot to tie hers.  I hope that whatever she wished for comes true.


Back at ground level, we passed the souvenir stands.


But I had to stop at the steamed bun vendor.  How often do you see a steamed bun vendor.....in a national reserve?  I had no idea what any of the buns were so in my typical "I must try it" mode, I opted to go for the most unusual looking one.


That turned out to be this thing which was basically a dough made of sticky rice filled with sweet bean paste.  The filled ball of dough was cradled inside what looked and felt like a tree leaf and then steamed.  The warm bun tasted quite good and I was hungry enough that I could've easily devoured a second one.


Next, we took a stroll on a path that wound its way between the mountains.  I thought Zhangjiajie National Park was crowded with tourists.  That turned out to be nothing compared to the veritable mob here.  Yikes!  There were so many people here that at times, I literally was stopped in my tracks!!  Worse yet was that some of the larger groups were led by a guide who was speaking through a microphone.  There was absolutely no peace and tranquility!  I thought it was crazy but according to Lee, what we think is a crowd is nothing.  It's even worse at the height of summer when it's high tourist season!  Lee says that during that time, she actually takes off work to avoid the hordes of tourists. 


Red ribbons filled a short section of the walkway.  I nicknamed it Red Ribbon Forest.  :-)


Excuse me, excuse me, dui bu xi, excuse me....if only I had asked Lee how to say "excuse me" in Mandarin.












A small footbridge led us across to an area where we could see the reserve's most famous peak.....


....Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. Originally named "Southern Sky Column", the the 1,080 meter (3,540 feet) tall quartz standstone pillar was renamed in honor of the eponymous film in January 2010.  There was a viewing platform in front of the pillar as well as another of those resin sculptures of a character from the film.  For a fee, you could have your photo taken with the sculpture and the mountain in the background.  Very cheesy.  I opted to just take a photo of the pillar.  Annoyingly, there was also someone flying a drone around the mountain.  When I was planning my Madagascar trip, I had convinced my friend George to buy one for his GoPro but having experienced the noise they make, I have decided they are more of a nuisance than a useful wonder.  I am happy to just take photos with my hands on the camera and not from a machine hovering above.  The incessant buzzing sound can really ruin the park experience!

The one and only Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.




From the spot where we looked over at Avatar Hallelujah Mountain, the trail path led us to a most unusual elevator.



The Bailong Elevator hugs the vertical surface of one of the mountains.  It is quite the experience to literally vertically descend down from a mountain.  It's not a fast ride - takes about a minute and half to get down to the base of the mountain.  For at least half of the ride down, you can see out to the mountains.  After that, the elevator disappears down into a shaft and you are in complete darkness for a few seconds.



The Bailong Elevator as seen from the base of the mountain looking up.


We had left the hotel at 9a and it was almost 2:30p when Lee and our driver dropped us off in downtown Zhangjiajie.  We were on our own for the rest of the day and we decided we might as well explore the city itself.

So, I arrived into Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve with very little appreciation of the unique mountain landscape but I left loving it.  I can see why the Chinese are so captivated by it!