The rock mountains of Zhangjiajie look as if they have been taken from old manuscripts of ancient Chinese art. The abundance of rivers and low level cloud streams often cause the rock peaks to become shrouded in a heavy mist.

Photo Journal

A tourist on the sightseeing platform.
The rocks often resemble fingers sticking out the ground, this one particularly looks like a middle finger.
Pine trees growing through the cracks of the rock.

Zhangjiajie was previously called Dayong and was at that time considered to be the place with the most advanced ceramics in China. But despite its success in the technological and cultural sectors, thanks to its mountainous terrain, undiscovered land, underdeveloped river transport and agriculture, it is not well developed compared to other cities.

Understandable given its remote geographical location.

The landscape is not even hilly, but the cliff-like mountains make it impossible to climb or even go around the mountain.
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Rivers at the bottom of the rocks are surrounded by trees.
The farming families living here grow corn.

At the very top of one of the mountains there is a 24 meter long bridge, familiar to locals and tourists as “the first bridge under heaven.” It is also considered the tallest natural bridge in the world.

Chinese tourists hike to it to express their immortal love for one another, they attach padlocks and throw the key into the abyss.

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The park is huge and entry is permitted by ticket and fingerprint only, with the ticket valid for 4 days. Scanning visitors’ fingerprints prevents them sharing their ticket with other people on the given day. This is how I visited the park twice.

The park is beautiful at any time of the year, on the first day of my trip its giant karst cliffs were covered with fog, on the next day they weren’t.

The park consists of huge rocks, to which the trees cling on. Not surprisingly, the film Avatar features these mountains, as the views from them are as if from another world – mesmerising – and are quite unlike any other place.

Compared to the film, where the mountains are floating, here they are connected to the ground.

If you are one of the first to arrive here in the mornings it’s very quiet, no wind, no voices, no city noise. In fact it is so quiet that it feels as if you are deaf.

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As for wildlife, the flora and fauna here is pretty rich, including endangered species of water deer and clouded leopards, whose species is so rare that except for their tracks no one has ever seen them. The monkeys here are changing to become less like wild animals that eat insects, flowers and fruits, and instead now only eat the remnants of food left by tourists, everything from sausages on sticks to peeled cucumbers. If not left behind then at the first opportunity food is taken from the tourists.

I had no breakfast and on the way bought a bag of crisps and some water. I had heard that in these parks it’s better not to take food, but I had no idea that furry, brazen snatchers will assault you to snatch anything edible. At the time, it was dead quiet around me, with no trace of monkeys, until I clicked the lock of my bag and then suddenly the trees shook as if they had been swept by a thunderous wind.

The mountains are steep but fortunately each track is fenced with a texture-masked cement railing. A monkey is sitting on one of them.

The park as it is seen from the top and bottom.

But do not let these wonderful views fool you, the park is as huge as people’s desire to see it. In fact, if you do not come here early, the park is soon filled with aggressive and loud tourists. Where such things as pushing ahead of the person standing in front of you, would be very unacceptable in the western world, it’s considered perfectly normal here.

Everyone talks about the mountains of Pandora in the Avatar movie. However the film crew did not actually mention these mountains as their inspiration, and yet this does not stem the growth of Chinese tourism here.

Wulingyuan city is quiet in the middle of the day, when all the tourists are in the mountains.

Unlike the film, which shows the wildlife as preserved by its inhabitants, in reality the inhabitants have become sellers of pottery, dumplings and other souvenir-type stuff. The park has been transformed into a hub with strong infrastructure: dozens of sightseeing platforms and toilets, bridges and the world’s highest and longest elevator and cablecar. This is not surprising, since the park receives 20 million visitors each year. As in Huangshan you can be carried up to the top by special human-carriers. At the top of the mountain you can take a picture of yourself at special photo stations and the crew will photoshop you in as the avatar hero.

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The beauty that nature has to offer isn’t important enough for Chinese tourists, they are more likely to take a “selfie” against the mountain backdrop, not caring to look at the mountain itself.

I came to the park twice; the first time I saw the park very early in the morning, the second time a little bit later, but it was too late.

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Countless Chinese tourists with selfie sticks.
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