Zhangjiajie: the world of the Avatar Mountains

Pronounced Jang-jia-jee, this region in the Hunan Province of Southern China is just over 2 hours away from Shanghai by plane. It is a area of outstanding natural beauty which inspired the setting for the film Avatar (see picture below)

The region is a geological marvel comprising over 3000 quartz sandstone peaks shaped over 380 million years by weather, erosion and water cutting to create a ‘forest’ of sheer towers, capped by exotic vegetation. Coming from the urban mega-sprawl that is Shanghai it was a pleasure to see some natural beauty.

As there is no heavy industry in Zhangjiajie the air is particularly clean, even though the main city has 1.8 million people living there.

This is an extremely popular tourist destination and a must see on any visitor’s list after the Great Wall and the Forbidden City etc. Making the most of our early release from school, 2 weeks ahead of the local school summer holidays, we headed here before the crowds hit.

After an incredibly early start and a most disappointing meal on the plane, we arrived to begin our adventure with a hike along the Golden Whip stream. This stream is 7.5 km long with crystal clear water babbling through the verdant lush forest floor. It is not surprising that it is a designated World Heritage Site.

As a National Park we walked along a well maintained path and were advised not to step into the vegetation at the sides in case of snakes. We were more than happy to oblige with that!

We admired the lofty pinnacles which all had been named after their shapes. The one below, for instance, was called ‘the old man gathering herbs’ as the vegetation gives the appearance of a basket on his back.

The local minority group who live here is called the Miao (pronounced meaow) and they dressed in beautiful silver-laden costumes.

This lady was on our bus

Drums are very important to the Miao and walking on these drum shaped stones is supposed to bring serenity.

We will see if it works…

At intervals along the path we came across little shrines full of sticks.

The Miao put straight sticks there and make a wish. They wish that their bones and their spines will remain as straight as the stick. Generations of Miao carried heavy baskets on their backs causing them to have spinal curvature and consequently be in great pain so this is a very understandable wish.

The forest is also home to wild monkeys. In fact they call it an ‘infestation’. These creatures whilst they look adorable can be vicious and we took great care not to let them have any food.

The dragonflies and butterflies that darted around us were captivating. They were huge. I have never seen any this big. I didn’t manage to capture any of the midnight blue butterflies but they resembled small bats! This is one of the dragonflies on the leaf in the foreground

It was extremely hot and humid and we were soon dripping wet with perspiration and resembled ripe tomatoes but it was so nice to be out in nature again. We were delighted not to have rousing Chinese music blaring at us (like last summer)

After lunch we hiked again, this time along a gorge called The 10 mile Gallery (we didn’t walk for 10 miles though) I reckon that we probably did 10 miles altogether which was enough in the 30 degrees heat!

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