Whenever you watch a movie or read a book based on the sci-fi or rather the fantasy genre, what plays in your mind? The artists seem to beautifully weave for us a world either through their words or their visual prowess which leaves us awestruck as these are fictional worlds built purely by the artist. But just as every artist needs his or her muse, so do these ones. And while places cannot be completely identified as being the exact area mentioned in a creative work, they can be shown to be identical at various points. A recognition of a such a place leaves us thinking, leaves us wondering, leaves us imagining. Because we try to understand which of its attributes the creator picked and which he did not. As we tread through its lands, we try to relive for ourselves the scenes we have seen or read and, in that moment, I think fiction turns into a reality of sorts.
And, such an experience waits for you in a region residing within the thick subtropical forests of the Hunan province of China. There rise sandstone formations that are unique to say the least. That’s because the Zhang Jia Jie National Forest has over 243 peaks and 3,000 pinnacles in its treasure chest! Beyond the number, their clustered form and structure lends to them quite an aura as well. And of course, one cannot forget the fictional world that has given it much fame, that of Avatar. Yes, the 2009 hit which smashed not just the box offices but also the minds of its viewers including kids to adults alike, is said to have been inspired from Zhang Jia. Now now, my dear dreamer friend, you may not actually see Jake Sully or Neytiri with your own eyes but who knows maybe you see their shadows here somewhere amidst the drooping green and maybe you’ll see for yourself how the makers came to be inspired by this area to construct a whole world of their own.
How to reach: You can either fly directly from Beijing to Zhangjiajie or you can first fly into Changsha from where you can then transfer to Zhangjiajie.
Best time to visit: April to October
Ah, I hate to break the news but rumour has it that maybe James Cameron did not actually get his inspiration from here. Oops! Why the build up then? Well, whether or not this scenic place inspired the fan favourite flick, it does not take away from its beauty. And when you visit a place so enchanting why not let your mind believe that it could have been something more too? After all this has pumped up the travel industry over here. Prior to this for years this area and its marvels were only known to the local communities of Bai, Tujia and Miao. They did not divulge its secrets to the world for a long time, keeping this treasure all to themselves. Meanwhile, today it sees an annual approximate of at least a whooping 20 million tourists!
Don’t worry, although some aspects of rampant tourism do chip a bit at this place’s charm, it does not take away from it completely. In fact, in some small ways it even adds to it. An example of this has to be the famed Tianmen mountain. Shrouded in a mist of swimming clouds, this green peak gloriously emerges in the air to make its presence known. Today, visitors can reach it simply by taking one of the longest cable rides in the world. This allows you take in not just the mountain but its surrounding views too. One thing that would probably be a lot of fun is to walk around the narrow bridges circling the mountain.
What’s so exciting about walking on bridges you ask? Well, what looks like a mere walk right now is actually one that has to be taken on a glass bridge. And although a glass bridge too does not sound daunting, you have to picture it at quite a height, where it looks below to see a massive rock formation curling below it and some specs of green. Basically, its as close to seeing yourself walking on air as you can get because the moment you look below you find the entire landscape… below your feet! So, you maybe walking merrily in one moment but in the next you may find yourself yelping in surprise as you feel that a slip might send you sliding down a tall mountain!
But of course, this is China that we are talking about and things had to get even more interesting. So, can you imagine witnessing a dance performance while rock climbing or rappelling? Yes, you read that right! American dance troupe Bandaloop was seen to unfurl quite the enthralling performance when tied to safety gear, they leaped, twirled and performed in unthinkable ways along the rocky mountain side. So, buddied, friends, amigos, who wants to hit the dance floor?! Ermmm… pehle aap, pehle aap. ?
From the Yangjiajie which is the steepest to the Gold Whip Stream which is easy and makes for a relaxing walk, this cluster of the UNESCO recognize site really does offer many experiences to its visitors. With 550 kinds of trees cropping out and growing here, there is a scenic view waiting for you no matter where you turn. And the village of Huangshi Zhai or the Yellow Stone village to the Laowuchang or the Old House Area, there are also parts of Zhang Jia which are yet to become very populous. They exist in a form closer t nature, in a state which is more rustic and they capture your mind in their simple and beautiful forms.
You can find carefully crafted hotels sitting upon a lake to rickety wooden bridges where you can just perch yourself with a fraying diary and a pen. Who knows maybe your mind will let you enter the world of Avatar during your visit, or maybe you’ll enter a world of your own.
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