Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Heavenly Gate At Tianmenshan (天门山) -- Part I

After collecting our baggage at Hehua Airport, we met our guide Sam who is to show us around Zhangjiajie, today and tomorrow. Sam is a young lad - an ethnic Han from Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, about 400 kilometers from here. When I saw Sam, I told Neeti that the guy looks like the comic character, Tintin, though with glasses!
As we drove out of Hehua Airport, the neatness and greenery of the town impressed me. Roads were of high quality, traffic was under control, though my expectation was quite different - I had thought that being in the countryside, a remote location, Zhangjiajie might be a bit chaotic.
Zhanagjiajie city itself was previously named Dayong (大庸), and has a recorded history dating back to 221 BC. Humans lived here along both banks of the Lishui River during the Stone Age. 
The new name of Zhanagjiajie  as adopted in 1994, after a small village within the boundaries of the National Forest Park in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源) in order to give it more prominence and after this site had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Zhanagjiajie is a three-character name (张家界) can be interpreted as follows: "Zhang" (张) is a common surname in China; "jia" (家) or "family", and "jie" (界) or "homeland", or "Zhang family homeland." 
The Zhang clan is linked to a Han general, Zhang Liang, who resettled in the area after Emperor Liu Bang, started to persecute his generals who had contributed to his becoming emperor. 
As we drove towards the city, we struck up a conversation with Sam. Sam was surprised how we got so keen on Zhangjiajie. In his own admission, we were the "first Indian tourists" he was catering to and he had an impression that we were the first Indians in this part. The main industry in Zhangjiajie is tourism. The place attracts visitors from all over China and other Asian countries such as Taiwan, Japan and Korea.We also did not see any Europeans or Americans here!
Sam suggested that we proceed straight to see the Tianmenshan or the Tianmen Mountain, which is about 8 kilometers from the airport and accessible by gondola. We waited and roamed around the gondola station while the driver went to buy our tickets for the gondola ride up to the summit!

That's Sam roaming around!

Our tickets!

We crossed a section of Zhangjiajie city as we went up to the summit.

Construction everywhere! 
But not chaotic! Perhaps the "heavy hand" forced orderliness!

Away from civilization!

 The Tianmen Mountain Cableway is said to be the "longest passenger cableway of high mountains in the world". 
It has 98 cars and a total length of 7,455 metres. The ride involves an ascent of 1,279 metres. 
The highest gradient is an unusual 37 degrees!

Pristine Hunan countryside!

The quartzite sandstone pillars emerge

Misty, but magical!

The Heaven's Gate finally visible!

The 99-bend road! Should be travelling on this later today!

I was "Up above the world so high" but still not quite a diamond!

Quite an enthralling view!

Look at the gradient of the mountain!

A message of caution!

An artistic version of Heaven's Gate!

The Heavenly Gate was quite an attraction for adventure seekers like this display mentioned

A plan of the cable car route

Map of the Tianmenshan National Park

We walked along the mountain side on this quaint pathway!

Divine Valley

This wall had photos of famous people from Zhangjiajie!
One particularly fascinated me - the one on the extreme left, on the bottom, of a famous Chinese singer called Li Na!
In May 1997, Li Na, came to  Zhangjiajie. After she  had a house built for herself on the summit of Tianmenshan . Later on, she renounced the world and became a nun. People believe that the idea was triggered by her stay on Tianmenshan!
Later, I checked out Li Na's works on YouTube - this one was absolutely soul stirring!

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