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Zhiangjiajie the heart of Avatar

June 28,2014 - 10:38 AM

Part 1

Little is known about Zhiangjiajie in Hunan province which is located in the south-central part  of the People’s Republic of China.

Zhiangjiajie is a five-hour drive from Changsa City, the capital city of  Hunan province. Changsa, a major port and now considered one of the “most economically advanced” cities in China, is the hometown of the late Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong and where he is deeply revered akin to a deity.

Hallelujah mountains

However Zhangjiajie will sound familiar when reference is made to the Hollywood box-office movie hit “Avatar” which featured  the spectacular floating mountain in the planet Pandora.

Oscar-winning film director James Cameron got the movie’s inspiration for its floating mountain, the Hallelujah Mountain, from Zhiangjiajie particularly in Tianzi Mountain.

The 3,544-foot high Southern Sky column had been officially renamed Avatar Hallelujah Mountain after the blockbuster movie was

A huge billboard along the highway, beckoning visitors to come visit the internationally-renowned Hallelujah Mountain, is a testament that Zhangjiajie is opening its doors to tourists and to the outside world. There are about 100,000 domestic tourists that visit Zhianjiajie every day.

Also in Zhangjiajie, one will find the tallest outdoor elevator and fastest passenger elevator in the world, the Bailong Lift, and the longest cable car ride in the world.

At the Cathay Pacific pre-departure lounge in Cebu, Gloria Gaisano, who has visited the place, smiled as she told the five-man Cebu media team invited by Cathay Pacific on a familiarization tour to Zhangjiajie, “Be ready for a lot of walking. It is a beautiful place.”

The media group was accompanied by Cathay Pacific Marketing and Communications Supervisor Connie Cimafranca.

Indeed for the next three days, we found ourselves experiencing and traversing the majestic, tranquil and mysterious rock mountains by foot, bus, mini-train, by boat and by cable car.

In a day, the pedometer in the android phone records at least 12,000 steps taken.

Along with the long walks, we sampled the local cuisine and delicacies like stinky black tofu, rabbit meat and discovering interesting finds in souvenir shops and bazaars.

Towering rock pillars made of quartz-sandstone, deep canyons, the rush of water from the majestic waterfalls, the picturesque lakes and rivers and the thick, luxuriant forest cover provide a breathtaking scenic landscape and an experience that is out-of the-ordinary.

The tree-clad rock pillar formations and peaks,  thousands of feet high, are found in the 480,000-square meter  Zhangjiajie National Forest Park which has been recognized as China’s first national forest in 1982. The national park is also part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area that was later declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.

Nearly 400 million years ago, the Tianzi Mountain, as in with the other mountains, was under the vast ocean, according to our young English-speaking Chinese guides Damon and Gloria from the China-based travel agency Century Holiday. Then over the years, as a result of  erosion, these rock pillars, taking in various shapes, have been formed.

The spring weather in mid-May in Zhangjiajie was cool but once in a while the warm sun gave way to the rain. Hundreds of  visitors from Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and other parts of China trooped to these scenic places as well.

When exploring the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, be ready with your stamina and endurance, a good pair of legs, comfortable walking shoes and taste for adventure. The incredibly amazing experience and adventure of  nature-tripping is all worth it.

The Wulingyan Area covers three parklands—Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Suoxiyu Nature Reserve and the Tianzi Mountain Reserve. Also, the Tianmen Mountain is a scenic must-see place where the longest cable car ride in the world can be found. It’s a 30-minute ride from Zhangjiajie City to the highest mountain.

A lot of walking also meant climbing at  least 2,000 steps, maybe more, on the first day as we explored the enchanting Yellow Dragon Cave for about two hours.

Located within the Suoxiyu Nature Reserve, the karst cave got its name from a legend of a dragon that lived inside it.

The 48-hectare cave is located below a mountain river which explains why the plip-plop sound of dripping water can be heard everywhere, not to mention the rushing river and a 40-meter waterfall inside the cave.

Inside the cave where large caverns and tunnels lead you from one wonder to another, colored LED lights dramatize the virtual forest of rock formations which is called the Dragon’s Palace Hall, the largest and oldest hall in the cave.

One marvels at the stalactites and stalagmites, over a million years old, that take on various shapes so much so that they are named after the objects that they resemble.

The 19.2 –meter tall Sea-Suppressing Needle, which is 10,000 years old, is the highest stalagmite and is the symbol of  the Yellow Dragon Cave.

It has been insured for 100 million yuan.

The King’s Throne is also the largest stalagmite at 12 meters tall with a circumference of 50 meters.

Just before the visitors exit the area, there is an echo platform where they can shout, clap or make sounds that reverberate throughout the hall.

The cave is so large that it can probably house a building. Because the rivers also flow inside the cave, boats cruise along the waterway allowing
visitors to experience the sheer vastness of the caverns.

According to Wikipedia, the cave has four levels, 13 chambers, three underground waterfalls, two underground rivers, three pools, an underground lake.

The Suoxiyu Nature Reserve is adjacent to the Zhiangjiajie National Park where another scenic attraction, the Golden Whip Stream is found.

With a length of more than five kilometers, the unspoiled and crystal-clear stream allows one to see every movement of the fishes. Golden Whip Stream is also noted for its green mountains and steep cliffs.

On the second day, we took a mini-train ride to view the 10-Mile Gallery, a scenic showcase of the different peak formations and valleys at the Tianzi Mountain along the river.

“Use your imagination,” our guide Gloria repeatedly told us as we viewed the awesome stone structures throughout a five-kilometer stretch located at the foot of  the Tianzi Mountain.

Calligraphy at the 10-Mile Gallery stop

Stone formations are called three sisters, an Old Man with a sack collecting medicinal herbs, parents with a son, a pregnant woman, and so forth.

To appreciate the vast expanse of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, we rode the glass-covered  elevator, the Bailong Lift, also known as the Hundred Dragons Elevator. With a height of 330 meters or 1,070 feet, the elevator takes tourists up the side a monolithic mountain column and allows them to view  the massive mountain nearly up close as well the bottom.

In barely two minutes, the Lift, with a capacity of 50 persons, took us to the highest point of the Tianzi Mountain where even more stunning and jaw-dropping views awaited us as we continued walking.

Cathay Pacific flies from Cebu to Hong Kong  daily. From Hong Kong, take a connecting flight via Dragon Air to Changsa, the capital of Hunan province. Travelling from Changsa to Zhangjiajie is a five-hour road trip with rest stops along the way.

For inquiries on booking and accommodations, call Cathay Pacific at telephone:  231-3747 or visit the Cathay Pacific Cebu office, 12th Floor, Ayala Life FGU Center, Cebu Business Park Cebu City, Philippines. Also visit their website at

Cathay Pacific, in partnership with Dragon Air and China-based travel agency Century Holiday, invited  five media members representing print and TV on a familiarization tour to Zhangjiajie in Hunan, People’s Republic of China  from May 14–19, accompanied by Connie Cimafranca, marketing and communications supervisor of Cathay Pacific Cebu. Cathay Pacific has opened new routes/destinations to various parts of China, offering tour packages.

The Zhangjiajie tour is under The Best of Avatar package.

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TAGS: Asia, Cathay Pacific, China, film, flight, Philippines, tour, tourist, Travel

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