The story appears on

Page B4 , B5

October 31, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Sitting on a mountain perch

HIKING among the karst peaks of Wulingyuan Scenic Area in Hunan Province is a breathtaking experience. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has everything from deep valleys and majestic mountains to an underground waterfall and numerous legends about how some of these peaks formed, writes Hu Min.

The closest place on earth to the mysterious wonderland of Pandora in the Hollywood blockbuster film "Avatar" is Zhangjiajie in central China's Hunan Province.

The area boasts the scenery that inspired the movie's Hallelujah Mountains.

I was so obsessed with the dreamlike setting of the movie and the intriguing depictions of the area by Chinese poets that I finally gave up a planned trip to Jiuzhaigou Valley in Sichuan Province and decided to venture into the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, which includes Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

I arrived at Zhangjiajie on an overcast morning after an overnight train. From the train, a landscape of endless mountains, narrow pathways and tidy residential houses reminded me that my destination was near.

Zhangjiajie was known as Qingyan Mountain in ancient times. Legend has it that Zhang Liang (about 250-186 BC), a famed strategist of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), lived here after leaving the imperial court. He lived in fear he would be killed by Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty who had ordered some of his subjects executed out of suspicion they might rebel against him.

Zhang found Qingyan Mountain an ideal refuge due to its haunting beauty and tranquility. He became a hermit. It is said he planted seven gingko trees here. Zhang's descendants also are believed to have lived here, which is how the name Zhangjiajie originated. Zhang refers to Zhang Liang's surname, while Jia means family and Jie represents homeland or border.

But back in the present, the extremely fresh air at Wulingyuan pushed my fatigue away. I felt refreshed and energized immediately.

The immortal mountains bestow a sense of humility where inner peace comes from.

Wulingyuan is famed for its approximately 3,100 quartzite sandstone pillars, some of which are over 800 meters in height and are a type of karst formation. These craggy and peculiar pillars have different shapes. They are the result of erosion over thousands of years and are covered with trees and other plants. Beautiful valleys and mysterious caves are also a big drawing card for Wulingyuan.

The area comprises Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Tianzi mountain range and Suoxi Valley. In 1992, Wulingyuan was officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our first stop is Huangshizhai, a scenic spot at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. The mountains have an altitude of about 1,200 meters. There is a saying here that goes "Without ascending Huangshizhai, you waste your trip to Zhangjiajie."

Here I felt like roaming through magical grotesque peaks clustered together. The unpredictable and peculiar peaks create a paradise far from the urban treadmill.

Southern Sky Pillar at Huangshizhai is incredibly similar to Hallelujah Mountain in "Avatar." It is a single formation with an altitude of about 1,000 meters. There are bushes and trees growing on it.

The local government renamed the formation "Avatar Hallelujah Mountain" to cash in on the film's success.

You can appreciate these wonderfully weird peaks from different angles at different observation platforms. There are peaks resembling a couple who are whispering their eternal love and fidelity toward each other.

Legend goes that the interlocking peaks are the incarnation of a flower fairy and a beekeeper who married. The fairy was punished and turned to stone as she broke the rule that a celestial can't marry a human. The man cried every day at the mountain and his tears moved the queen mother in heaven. She turned the man into a peak alongside his lover to accompany her. It is said that a couple will never separate if they worship the peaks.

Liuqige Pavilion at the top of Huangshizhai is the best observation platform. The three-story structure features exquisite cornices and delicate carved stone patterns. It was built in 1991.

Visitors will be "greeted" by swarms of macaques looking for food in some areas at Huangshizhai. Some of the monkeys hide in the jungle and some sit on the roads, waiting for visitors to give them food. Many are not afraid of people. But guides warn tourists not to feed the monkeys because they may hurt someone as they vie with one another for food.

Jinbianxi (Golden Whip Brook) at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has been crowned the most beautiful canyon in the world. Its name originated from a 380-meter sandstone pillar that looks like a whip, which is shrouded in brilliant golden light when the sun shines on it.

It takes about two hours to walk through Jinbianxi, which is 5.7 kilometers long.

The area is shrouded in greenery and surrounded by mountains. A brook winds its way to deep secluded spots. Crystal clean water gurgles, birds sing, gentle breezes blow, fish swim friskily and cobblestones shine. I couldn't help losing myself in the dazzling beauty and tranquility. It was just like walking into a picture.

At Jinbianxi, there are more strangely shaped peaks. One takes the shape of an eagle protecting the whip, another looks like two turtles. Even the face of Chinese literary giant Lu Xun is "visible" on one peak. His eyebrow, eyes, nose and lip can be made out on the peak.

Sometimes a little imagination is required to figure out the exact shape of the peaks. But no matter what you think they resemble, they are incredible.

If you are exhausted by the trek, you can choose to sit on a sedan chair and let two men carry you back to the terminal. It costs 300 yuan (US$46).

Tianzi mountain range is named after farmer Xiang Dakun of the Tujia ethnic group, who led a revolt and called himself tianzi, the traditional epithet of the Chinese emperor meaning "son of heaven." The mountains were Xiang's stronghold. Xiang committed suicide by jumping off one mountain after being besieged by the troops of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang.

Tianzi's Kunlun Peak has an altitude of 1,262 meters.

Here the peaks resemble everything from a Chinese writing brush and penholder to a female celestial with a floral basket on "her" hand. It is said that when azaleas are in full bloom, it looks like "she" will scatter the flowers everywhere.

A bridge measuring 26 meters links two cliffs. Looking down, you will see a bottomless chasm. Off in the distance, mountains are shrouded in mist and cloud, presenting a fairyland. There is a sea of craggy peaks.

There are cable cars transporting visitors to the top of Tianzi mountain. A round trip ticket costs 104 yuan.

Baofeng Lake is within Suoxi Valley. It is 72 meters deep. The beautiful reflection of islands and mountains and waterfalls present a picturesque view. The cast of the 1986 "Journey to the West" TV series once shot scenes here.

Huanglong Cave is known for many natural rock formations and its underground waterfall. The cave is nicknamed the "underground haunted palace."

Young women of the Tujia ethnic minority living in the neighborhood have many interesting traditions such as crying before they get married to express their gratitude to their family and sadness for leaving them. They start crying three to five days before the wedding and often sing songs accompanied with their tears.

Be careful not to step on the toes of Tujia girls, which means you have fallen in love with them and hope to date them. If they accept the love, they will step on your toes in return.

After the trip to Wulingyuan, I took a five-hour bus ride to Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province, which boasts the renowned Yuelu Academy.

The academy is on the east side of Yuelu Mountain. It was founded in 976 during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The celebrated Confucian scholar Zhu Xi once taught at the academy. It was destroyed by the Mongols but was restored in the late 15th century during the Ming Dynasty. The modern day Hunan University has links to the academy.

The academy features an extremely tranquil environment and beautiful landscapes with pavilions and lush greenery. Here, I can imagine students in ancient times leaning on the wood, reading books and drawing inspiration from poems.

Changsha is home to a variety of delicious snacks like stinky tofu and jiemei tuanzi (one sweet and one salty dumpling with jujube paste and either osmanthus sugar or pork as a filling). The stinky tofu here is black as it is dipped in brine mixed with soybeans and fermented black bean.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend