Another one by Jethro.
So the next stop is Zhangjiajie national park. Apparently this is the place that inspired the floating hallelujah mountains in the film Avatar. To get there we had to take our second sleeper train, 17 hours. From 2230 till 1630 the next day. This train takes us to Zhangjiajie city which is 30 km south of the Zhangjiajie village which is at the entrance to Zhangjiajie national park. We were sure that these very distinct names would ensure absolutely no confusion between them when trying to ask locals which bus goes where.
We had made sure that we had the middle bunks as these are the best because you can lie down and look out the window. This way you can watch the world go by and get glimpses of how people live outside of the main tourist bits. So overall I was looking forward to the journey. Of course, the first thing that happens as soon as we all shuffle on to the train is that the people on the lower beds close the curtains, yay. But hay, it was night so I guess that makes sense. Surly in the morning we can open them to look outside.
The morning then arrived, as we arrive at some random town. I opened the curtains and look out at the massive tower blocks being built in the middle of some fields and the sight of an approaching platform. After going through the station the view retuned to the usual concrete square houses that seem to be the only ones in the Chinese catalogue of buildings. The train then started bearing right, and inevitably the sun slowly but surely creped in the train cabin. Naturally the people on the lower bunk immediately shut the curtains as thought they were vampires. Great.
It seems that as soon as people get on to public transport here, the sun is no longer tolerable especially as ‘view out the window’ is not a designated good view so it is to be ignored with the help of a curtain. This gave rise to me and tom slowly trying to unclip the top of the curtains so that we could see out the top of the window, while leaving the curtains to still cover the lower bits of the window for the people who enjoy sitting in plastic boxes with no way of seeing out.
We arrived in Zhangjiajie city at bang on 1630. Now all we had to do was to find the correct bus to get to the hostel so we could have a shower and get some proper food. To do this we found somewhere to stand and get the guide book out to see what number bus we should take. But before we found the correct page someone came up to us and asked where we were sleeping. He had a English accent and a big back pack that could only mean one thing. A fellow traveller. We told him our ‘choice’ of hostel (I put choice in inverted commas because obviously, you just go the one the guide book recommends) and he asked if he could join us so we said sure. Now we were three, our new friend suggested that we could justify just getting a taxi instead of the bus. This made sense, given we weren’t sure where to get off the bus, so we headed to the taxi rank. At the taxi rank there was a long line of very shiny, brand new VW Golf saloon taxis. But for some reason our new friend gravitated to the only one in the line that was about 20 years old and a bit knackered. We all climbed in and pointed to the Chinese characters written in the book next to the name of our hostel and the driver nodded and we were off.
After checking in we decided to learn the name of our new friend, Matthew, and went for some food. After randomly choosing three things from an entirely Chinese menu we accidentally got some rather spicy food, but with the help of Coke®, we got through it all. During this meal we invited Mathew to join us for our excursion of two nights in the national park.
We had planned to go the national park the next day nice and early as the £30 entrance ticket is only valid for three days. Luckily our hostel was set up for getting people to the national park from the city. So instead of having to get a bus back to the train station and then a coach for 45 min to the national park, the hostel arranged a car for a very similar price straight from the hostel, leaving at 0700.
We woke up at 0645 to sound of someone banging on the door. We answered and he gestured that we should get ready pretty fast and have breakfast. So we did. Getting into the seven seater car with some others from the hostel, I ended up at the front. I decided this was a good thing, cos if your at the front you get a seat belt, unlike any back seats where obviously you are perfectly safe without one. The driver spent most of the journey driving on the left side of the road, which I found quite interesting considering that you drive on the right on china. Overtaking was his thing, as he seemed to be in a bit of a rush. Once we got out the car it all made sense. There was a rally driving sticker on the side of the car. Was quite a thrilling journey.
After buying tickets we headed in to the park and to the first land mark, called “Oxygen Square”. This marked the beginning of the rainforest. The path was paved and it was pretty easy going. The views up to the towers were amazing!
After about 45 mins of walking the valley floor, we got to a view point called “Getting Together From Far Away”. (Here I should note that all the viewpoints had names that are all a bit strange and may have had a bit of traditional Chinese miss-translation). This is where the stairs started. Apparently only 3800.
We got up them in one very sweaty hour. And we still had tree cover all the way up, which reduced the roasting heat a little. Once at the top we were at “Back Garden” which was our first birds eye view of the massive pillars of rock that stand in the valley floor below but are still the same height as the cliffs that encompass it. It was nicely empty of people. We wondered along the walkways that were carved into the cliff looking for the view in every break in the trees. This lead us to “Enchanting”. And also to all the other people. Much more like china now. The views were just as impressive all along this bit and it we had our first photo with the locals of the day. We shuffled along to “Heaven Pillar”, supposedly the sight that inspired the Avatar film. So naturally we had to have a photo sitting on a fibre glass Avatar flying dragon thing. The views just kept getting better and Tom has acquired a large number of photos already, so we continued on to “No. 1 World First Natural Bridge”. This was not only the place to attach red ribbons to the railings but also a pillar that was still attached at the top to the main cliff, making a bridge. We wondered across the bridge and round the top of the pillar to some more great views.
All this took a good few hours and we were getting tired of carrying all of our stuff around. So we thought we should head to the hostel. And also find lunch. After jumping on a free bus (very unusual that something is free… oh my god). And wondering down a random road we got to a village that out hostel should be in. So we asked a local by pointing at Chinese characters on some paper that said the name of our hostel and they made gestures that basically meant “no”. So we tried someone else, same answer. So we decided to head out the village only to find out hostel 10 m down the road from the people we asked. We settled in to our warm and slightly damp accommodation for the night and slept with eager anticipation for the next day.
Part 2 will continue in the next post.