Smitten by the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains on our very 1st day, we had more in store for us on day 2. Target for the day was the Yellow Dragon Cave and the Tianmen Mountains. One may wonder if one of the secrets of China’s economic advancement has anything to do with their waking up very early or not. Even before our alarm clocks rang, the sound of the honking of the tourist buses and the group of tourists bantering below our hotel woke us up. Note down the tips first and read on to snap up the best of your 2nd day adventure in Zhangjiajie.
Day 2 Top Tips
- Start with an early morning visit to Yellow Dragon Cave. Possible to take a bus from Wulingyuan, have to take a taxi incase short of time
- Best to carry cash for paying for tickets at entrances, buying food and water
- For Tianmen Mountain hike, wear trainers or comfortable walking/hiking shoes, carry water and drink frequently. Pack some dry food like nuts, biscuits, bread as no store or shops to be found once you start the walking-tour in the mountain range and finally put on tons of sun-screen lotion
- Take the cable car journey up, take the bus to return down to city
- Best to wear jeans, trousers and no skirts because you may get on an open air cable car ride and also for hiking and walking, something more comfortable and suited will be preferred
- Follow the itinerary in such a way that the Tianmen Mountain cave becomes the last stop and right before sunset
Another good reason for staying in Wulingyuan area was that not only the National Forest Park hosting the Avatar Mountain, was in the vicinity but also the Yellow Dragon Cave (Huanglongdong) – the most beautiful cave in entire China – was just a short taxi ride away. We got the address of the cave written down in Chinese from our hotel reception, flagged down a taxi and started our excursion. In some 20 minutes we reached the entrance area which appeared to be a pristine and peaceful park. With beautiful greenery, calm lakes, flowing streams and roofed huts for resting – looked no less than an idyllic postcard.
The walk itself from the parking to the Yellow Dragon Cave was some 10 minutes of walking. We enjoyed the serene elements along the way to the entrance. The sound of the flowing water especially in the Gallery of the Water Mills created such a beautiful essence of life – to continue flowing.
There was a ticketed entrance at the Yellow Dragon Cave, which costed per person 100CNY. Be aware that there would be numerous groups of tourists led by usually loud tour agents either ahead of you or just behind you – so match your timing in such a way so as not to spoil your photo opportunities or some moments of calm you might be seeking.
Sudden darkness and moisture welcomed us immediately after entering the cave area. However, as soon as we entered, we realised that the amount of void deep inside the cave was mind boggling. Hugely influenced by the flow and force of water underground, this was a typical karst cave with strange limestone formations and large caverns. Unusual shapes of stalactites and stalagmites appeared to be an unforeseen display of natural forces in action. With the deepest location inside the cave at a height of 140m, the cave itself had four layers with different stone formations at each. No wonder it was regarded as the best cave in China!
The entire route inside the cave was sufficiently well lit to guide the visitors and to keep the suspense as natural as possible in low light. The colourful light projections did attempt to create a surreal experience, however it turned out to be a bit over the top at times. A good hour or so is needed to really immerse into the Yellow Dragon Cave to witness the secret negotiations that took place inside the cave between the elements of nature for millions of years.
From the exit of the Yellow Dragon Cave, we took another taxi to go to the Tianmen Mountain. Point to note here was that the entrance to the Tianmen Mountain – the must visit attraction in Zhangjiajie, was located right in the heart of the city center. However it was some 45 minutes’ drive away from Yellow Dragon Cave or the Wulingyuan area, so consider this time in your day’s plan.
We dozed off in the taxi listening to simply beautiful and melodious Chinese ballads in the radio. When we woke up we found ourselves in the very heart of the Zhangjiajie city at the entrance of the Tianmen Mountain Cable Car and Bus Station. Looking at the city buildings and concrete jungle around, it didn’t occur to us immediately where exactly the famous Tianmen Mountain was.
We bought the tickets for 258CNY per person which included a cable car ride up to the mountain and for return journey by bus. As soon as we boarded the cable car, it struck us that we just got into the longest cable car journey in the world! Covering a distance of 7,455m, the cable car took atleast 20 minutes while it kept ascending. Soon the downtown Zhangjiajie city went out of view and it was taken over by low flying clouds and we found our cable car exchanging greetings with rocky mountain peaks in close proximity.
Soon we were introduced with the acute turns of the 99 Bends road, swirling its way up and down the edge of the mountain pass. We were so excited initially at the sights that we frantically were taking photographs of the panorama around. We realised soon after the reason for sudden nausea and dizziness because we were inside a moving object – a cable car – which was ascending to some serious altitude. So we advise you to control the natural excitement and stay calm and mostly seated inside the cable car while it takes its longest trajectory to deliver you in the laps of the Tianmen Mountain.
As the name of the mountain stands, ‘Tianmen’ – translating to the Door of the Sky or Heaven – no wonder the cable car ride to reach the Door of the Heaven had to match its prestige because the ascent felt like one to a real paradise hanging over the Zhangjiajie city. Upon arrival at the cable car landing station, we had to figure out which route to take to cover most of the unique sights. There were maps and there was a reception with helpful staff – only issue was that the main map was not in English and the staff also didn’t speak any English. Shehzaad’s conversational Chinese skills came handy again and we could atleast figure out the best course of action to make the most of the day without getting lost in paradise!
The summary of the itinerary was such that the route was circular and could be walked clockwise or counter-clockwise in 4-5 hours which would cover two glass walkways, the Tianmen Temple at the highest point, the view of the magnificent 99 Bends road, the actual Tianmen cave and a countless number of otherworldly sights along the way.
We decided to take the anti-clockwise route and took another short open cable car ride to reach the highest location in the Tianmen Mountain range which hosted the surreal Tianmen Temple. Showcasing the appeal of the Tang dynasty architecture, the temple was located in such a serene natural setting with Buddhist chants being played on the background and the smell of incense in the air – it felt as if it was just high enough to the skies to be close to the paradise above the clouds.
We descended from the Tianmen Temple and kept following the walkway which unveiled at every turn breathe-taking sights in front of our eyes. No less than a pilgrimage in its own right, the rituals involved walking around these treacherous but well protected and well guided mountain passes to be exposed to some wonderful natural delights.
When man attempts to trump nature, it is mostly belittled but its worth the effort. One such was the two glass-made walkways kissing the edge of the mountains. We had to wear protective clothes around our feet to make sure the glass beneath the feet remained clean and scratch free. The walks were short enough not to get too nervous but the sights beneath were unforeseen. We came across a few tourists clearly suffering from acrophobia as they somehow froze as soon as they set foot on the glass walk-ways. However, rest assured that the structure was robust enough and secure. Be careful not to lean over the railings trying to take your photos with your camera or your phone, you certainly will not want to donate your electronic devices to the Mountain of the Heaven Doors, would you?
The famous Road to Paradise with 99 Bends was visible from the glass walk-ways. Alternative to the cable car ride from the city to the mountain area, many tourists took the bus to make their journeys both ways. The sharp curves, twists and turns of the roads and the way similar looking buses were plying through them both ways made them appear as little ants busy making their laborious daily travails up and down the mother of all curves through the mountain pass.
After long 3 hours of walking and discovery of sights, we took the automatic escalator down to reach the location to enjoy the actual Tianmen Cave. That ride down the escalator turned out to be a never-ending descent as it lasted for some 15 minutes which truly gave the impression that as if we did indeed ascend to the Paradise through the Sky Door and now it was time to get back on Earth through this unusually long but steady escalator. It dawned upon us very soon that the escalator was built deep through the heart of the mountain body which we thought was a magnificent feat. No wonder the duration of the descent gave enough time to reflect on what we saw earlier and to get excited in anticipation of seeing the final cherry on the cake – the massive cavity in the mountain – famously known as Tian Men – the Door of the Heavens!
Finally when we came out of the heart of the mountain body, we were in plain ground. We took a few steps out and looked up on the right and got awestruck looking at this door-like cavity through the heart of the mighty rocks. Obviously we had never seen anything like this, a piece of blue sky was still visible through the cavity and it did create the illusion as if that blue was a different blue, as if that sky was a different sky, as if there was another world just on the other side of that door. Such was the magic of seeing the Tianmen with our own eyes.
We walked towards the edge of the viewing platform to marvel at the setting sun. The splash of colours, the silhouettes and the shapes looked so different than they usually look from ground. Especially the final crimson rays of the setting sun left a signature on the Mountain Door which looked magical. The darker it became, the prominent the ‘other side’ looked through the hole.
There were moments, when it was only two of us left wondering in front of the massive mountain cavity. We got on the last bus which were waiting to ferry down passengers back to Zhangjiajie City. And like a final symphony in an ornamented orchestra, the bus carried us through the Road with the 99 Bends! The serious twists and turns we witnessed from up above during the day – we were descending using the same route. The bends were so strong at times that we had to make use of both of our hands to hold the seat handles – lest the centrifugal force threw us out of the window to the open arms of the Tianmen!
Avatar Mountains on day 1 and Tianmen Mountain on Day 2. These attractions in Zhangjiajie made us believe all along that Paradise and a lost world do exist and this is exactly where they were.0