As if the cable car ride up the mountain was not thrilling enough, once we reached the top of Tianmen mountain, we were led around a cement trail atop the circumference of the mountain. No picture is enough to capture what was magnificent and completely mind-blowing at the same time. Looking off into the haze of clouds that swirled beneath us, I felt like I was looking out of the window of an airplane…but yet I was standing with a hand touching the face of a mountain on my other side.
I don’t know if you’ve ever walked around a mountain.…but it was my first time.
Sections of glass-bottomed paths provided a truly exhilarating experience. Seriously, where else on the earth can you walk out on an I-beam supported glass walkway to what seems like.…nowhere?
Only, this one’s not stopping anytime soon. Everytime we peaked over the crest of one mountain, more clouds enveloped our view and more mountains appeared, looming in the distance.
Supposedly the longest cable car in the world (though there hasn’t been any fact checking post-trip), 15 minutes into the ride, I started believing that fact to be true.
And then finally, Tianmen (天门; Heaven’s Gate) Mountain.
Seriously though, are we there yet?
On our way to an early morning hike in Zhangjiajie National Park, we passed by a string of local restaurants, open to their clientele for a hearty breakfast.
The local breakfast seemed to be based around noodles, boiled fresh to order and paired with your selection from a variety of spicy broths. Other options included steamed dumplings (饺子；jiaozi) or simple rice porridge with toppings such as salted peanuts, marinated cucumbers, and preserved vegetables.
Not a bad way to start the day, if you ask me. (Although, those spicy broths could be potentially dangerous)
A long day ends perfectly with sitting outside a local restaurant and enjoying a good local beer.
The minority group of the region call themselves tu jia (土家), which roughly translates into earth familiy. Looking at the menu, the locals prefer meat-based foods with lots of preserved and wild mountain vegetables. Also lots of spice, and as our (mediocre) dinner proved that night, very salty.
My favorite part of any trip is the chance to get chummy with the locals. Which is why it’s nice to travel with the DiploMan, who is just so good at making friends with them. I suppose it’s his “Arab” good looks or perhaps his “exceptional business skills” or his “amazing Chinese”, all of which were presumed that evening.
Don’t think we were getting wasted over the cluster of beers on the table, either– each of those light and tasty local beers were 2.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) per bottle.
All guidebooks and park services referred to these gondolas as “cable cars”. Which, I suppose makes enough sense. They were labeled as an alternative for hiking up the mountain, but really, not taking these cable cars would have been a shame. The views were spectacular, and never have I been so thrilled and petrified and in such awe at the same time (although Space Mountain does come close).
It happens in any city. Every city. We become so consumed in our daily lives and become so cynical about people, pollution, politics, whatever. But you know what? Recharging is easy. I learned this past weekend that all it takes is a train ride (and a bottle of Makers’ Mark mint julep) to get from this:
Boom. Instant recharge.
Zhangjiajie (张家界) is a small city in the Hunan province of China, an easy 14-hour night train ride from my GZ home. Our first destination off the train was a fun, “fantastic” (as described by the tour company who we contacted), rafting trip down the MaoYan river.
I don’t have the pictures to prove it, but our raft was two banana boats tied together. Yep, I rode that river straddling an over-inflated tube. Oh, and instead of paddling downriver as I had naturally assumed a rafting trip would require, we were provided with an old weathered Hunanese man who, upon review of Barrett’s photos, was wearing an old brown sport coat, and sat at the back of the double banana boat guiding us down with a motor strapped to the back.
Despite this comical outdoor adventure, and the constant, shrill roar of the motor, the scenery was indeed fantastic, and there were several tiny rapids that got us wet enough to call it an adventure.
After refueling with a late lunch, we tackled the mountain. We decided to conquer Huangshizhai (黄石寨; yellow stone mountain village), perhaps the main attraction of the oldest National Park in China– undoubtedly a must-see within our quick trip. A short but very steep gondola ride brought us to the top what seemed like a huge, densely forested rock plateau. A series of concrete trails provided us an easy DIY tour around countless scenic points.
Everywhere we turned were these magnificent limestone giants.
Each scenic point had its own unique (and very Chinese) names, like “Five Finger Peak”, or “Six Wonders Pavilion”, “Star Gathering Stage”,“Remaining Piers of the Heavenly Bridge”, “Clouds Drifting Cave”, or “Golden Turtle in the Clouds Sea”. I promise, they sound much more poetic and enchanting in Chinese. And these pictures don’t do them justice.
At the top, in the company of friends, there was no mention of other people, pollution, or politics. Something to keep in mind as I make myself back at home here in a city of 12 million.