ZhangJiaJie (張家界) is famous for inspiring director James Cameron in filming Avatar. Ever since the release of Avatar, ZhangJiaJie became known to international travelers, and also to professional photographers who want to capture the beauty of the mountains. The mountains in ZhangJiaJie are famous for their narrow shape and precarious peaks.
What does ZhangJiaJie mean?
First and foremost, ZhangJiaJie in Chinese literally means the land or house of the Zhangs. Indeed, ZhangJiaJie has a population of 1.6 million people and half of the people (around 800,000) bear the last name “Zhang”. This city is situated in the province of Hunan (湖南) and has now become the wealthiest city of the province. This is of course thanks to heavy tourism.
The province of Hunan is also known for a few things in the nation of China. For example: Hunan is known for having the best entertainment in China. Thanks to the famous Hunan TV, their game shows and dramas are considered among the best in China. Program such as “I am Singer” (我是歌手) has increased the profile of Hunan TV. Another thing that is known for in Hunan is its quality of foot massage. ZhangJiaJie is considered to be the nation’s capital of foot massage (腳都).
In ZhangJiaJie, people strive for the best and are proud of their own achievements. For example: ZhangJiaJie has the longest glass bridge, tallest elevator and the longest cable car. You will see from the images below.
Where can I see the mountains?
A lot of the heavy tourist attractions are located in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源). This is about 1.5 hour away from the airport.
Interestingly, a Feng Shui master advised the city not to build structures taller than the iconic temple of the city – Wuling Temple Tower (武陵塔), the picture above. Other than Feng Shui, it also makes sense to construct buildings at a lower height in order not to obstruct the view of the mountains. As such, even international hotels such as Pullman are built at a low height.
How to get to the Pillar Mountains?
You can get a good view of all the mountains by arriving at Tianzi Mountain (天子山). You have to, of course, pay for park admission and then you take the world’s tallest elevator, called Bailong Elevator (百龍梯) to reach the top. Alternatively, you can take a cable car that goes straight up the mountain. If you are lucky, you will be able to catch a glimpse of the marvelous mountain peaks submerged under mysterious clouds (that’s what happened to me). After a couple of steps, you’ll see the unreal landscape of ZhangJiaJie.
Below is world's tallest elevator - the Bailong Elevator.
So why are the mountains in ZhangJiaJie pillars rather than pyramids?
As you know, mountains are in pyramid shapes because of the collision of tectonic plates, which cause the land to collide and pushing the ground upward, thus forming the mountains that we know. However, this is not the case for ZhangJiaJie. The formation of these pillar-like mountains is due to years of physical erosion. The erosion is a result of expanding ice in the winter and the plants that grow on the mountains. The weathered material is carried away primarily by streams. You can even see the markings on the mountain pillars that evidenced the slow recession of water.
The most famous of all the mountain pillars (towers) is called “Southern Sky Column” (南天一柱). It was later officially renamed as “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” in honour of the inspiration and creation of the movie, Avatar. Anyhow, this pillar is around 1,080 metre high and is an icon of the ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park.
You'll even see Avatar icons in the national park.
What else is there in ZhangJiaJie?
Close to Tianzi Mountain is the world’s longest glass bridge, the ZhangJiaJie Glass Bridge, that connected two mountain cliffs in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. It is 430 metres long and 6 metres in breadth. It is designed to carry up to 800 visitors at a time, but you are not allowed to carry your camera (though GoPro and cellphones are allowed). This bridge was opened fairly recently at the end of 2016. If you are brave, I challenge you to walk across the bridge! Have fun!
An hour and a half away from the ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park is Tianmen Mountain (天門山), which is close to the airport. Tianmen Mountain is a National Forest Park where you can ride the world’s longest passenger cableway across 7,455metres of distance (which takes 30 minutes) to reach the top.
The mountain is about 1,500 metres high. The most spectacular thing about Tianmen Mountain is a large hole called the Tianmen Cave (天門洞). This hole attracted hundreds of daredevils who participated in a wingsuit competition to glide through the 30m-wide hole. Eventually and due to is increased porilfe, ZhangJiaJie has been hosting the first and second World Wingsuit League Championships.
On the same mountain, the city built a see-through glass plank road suspended from the Tianmen Mountain cliff. Again, if you are brave, go for it!