China-2023: Wulingyuan – Zone 1 (the Avatar movie-set).

Day three of my China-2023 trip, and it was time we dived into one of the most fantastical natural installations on the planet – the Wulingyuan national park. Now, I don’t want to come across as a broken record – much less the boy that cried wolf wow, but this place – it’s simply magically, wonderfully, impossibly off-the-scale magnificently gorgeous and grandiose! I could add more adjectives of praise, but I think you get the idea already; I mean – just take a look! ->

It’s a biggie too: the most impressive cliffs cover an area of around 10×10 kilometers:


Given distances like these, there are coaches that run among the so-called tourist “zones”, while to get up the not inconsiderable heights of the tops of the rock formations there are elevators or cable cars.

But even though the tourist transportation infrastructure helps ease the physical burden on visitors here, you’re still walking for most of the day – from 9am to 6pm (if you’re in “tourism till you drop” mode, which I always am, as you know). And if you want to see pretty much everything here, you need two full days at least – with no stopping for lunch, while three (at a minimum) are needed should you be in long-lunch and taking-it-real-steady mode. Actually, there’s a certain symmetry comes with taking four days since there are four tourist zones: one per day. Our first day was dedicated to zone one – here:

Colossal cliffs, freaky shapes:

Mother Nature appears to have cut a shelter out specially for this lonely little tree ->

A natural arch you can walk over. Wait – one day, surely that’s going to give way? ->

The views all around – out of this world:

The views below also outstanding:

Everywhere you look – a natural quartzite sandstone masterpiece ->

I’ve mentioned this before, but this is perhaps the best example of… the terrible guide maps that are printed on tourist-info boards in China! Terrible – as in illogical, mixed-up, and with some details sometimes seemingly made up! Utterly incomprehensible to foreigners – despite the translation into different languages. Even the Chinese themselves find them hard to fathom. At least some routes around tourist spots are one-way, where even a small child wouldn’t get lost (why they’d be on their own is another matter, but I digress) – like at the Enshi cliffs and Pingshan Canyon. But here: you need to be a cryptographer to crack the code; wait – I am a cryptographer, and I could make neither heads not tails of it! :)

Here it is enlarged somewhat and with the different zones (+ elevator) added ->

Red larger box = today’s zone (1); smaller red box = elevator; between the two red boxes – bus route. But more on that later…

These buildings under the red flag make up the entrance to the park ->

Rather small for such a grandiose tourist attraction ->

Like everywhere – Russian is given on the signs in addition to Chinese, Korean and English ->

There was hardly a line to the ticket office, so we purchased some tix real quick and it was into the coach and off!…

Once at the foot of the mountains/rock formations, you can either climb up top by foot, or in an elevator. Since we were here for fun, we opted for the latter. But it’s not just any old elevator; it’s special. It even has its own name – Bailong Elevator – and Wikipedia page! But I guess that figures: it’s hardly a mass-manufactured Otis that takes you up a mere four stories in an office building…

More on its being no ordinary lift elevator (from that Wiki link): “It was recognised by [the] Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest outdoor elevator on 16 July 2015, and is purported to be the fastest passenger elevator with the largest loading capacity [in the world]. After an upgrade in 2015, the cars now speed up the ascent in just one minute and 32 seconds.”

As is often the case, the info on the Russian Wikipedia page differs somewhat. There, it additionally states that “the line for the elevator can reach four hours in waiting time”! Which is another example showing how the best time to come here is just after a Golden Week: there was a line but it lasted literally minutes!

So up we went, and indeed it didn’t take long: I still managed to get some pics taken from the elevator:

Up top, and once again – mostly deserted:

Careful – weteloor! ->

But did I speak too soon? Suddenly – crowds! Well, not really. Could have been – and I’m sure it does get – a lot worse. We needed to wait a couple of minutes and we could then get to any point on the edge of this here deck for unhindered views:

And… minus the tourists ) ->

…But sometimes there’s no getting away from them!

Local Miao offer national costumes for photo shoots ->

And they come in all sizes! ->

The Avatar-like sculptures, which I saw last time I was here (in 2015), have all been removed. I wonder why?

Paths – goodies, including sturdy wooden elevated ones:

Abaldet, as we say in Russia (~= OMG, wow, woah, no way, holy cow…) ->

How do those trees take root and then grow into such fine specimens?! ->

Sometimes you might not be able to grasp the massive scale of everything. If so – check out the viewing platform in this pic atop the cliff to the right ->

…And closer up ->

And here’s Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. Yes – as in the movie. And yes, that’s its official title now – named in honor of the film! ->

This here rock “finger” has a height of more than a kilometer! 1080 meters, to be precise – if the internet is to be believed ->

How does it manage to stay upright? And – ominously – for how much longer?…

Here it was quite busy – understandably. Which got me thinking – what must it be like in high season? I wonder if the crowds need policing to keep order and the crowds moving once they’ve had their few minutes of taking photos.

Ah – btw: keep this following pic in mind for a while; a little later I’ll show you the place at a different time…

Here in Zone 1 the route is as easy as pie: no chance of getting lost ->

Turtle Pond. To calm the emotions after viewing the rock columns:

Apparently the turtles bring luck – that is, if you toss a coin into the pond. But they bring mega-good-luck if you get a coin into a turtle’s mouth; no easy feat, which is probably the intention. Be prepared to part with plenty of Yuan if you’re with children or the superstitious – or both! ->

This rock column is said to feature four (human) faces looking to the left:

…And since that reminds the Chinese collective soul (or some such) of the four left-looking Chinese leaders of the Revolution on the 100-Yuan bank note, the rock column is called the “100-Yuan Bank Note”! ->

Now, since this is turning into a tour guide, let me go the full hog and tell you a bit about the timing of a visit here…

We left the hotel around 9am, and 10 minutes later we were at the southern entrance. We bought our tickets there, then took the bus to the foot of the “lower elevator” – arriving at around 9:45. For some reason we hung around there for half-an-hour (taking photos), then it was up said lower elevator after waiting in line a short while, and minutes later the same process again but with the main elevator, coming out up top at around 10:30. Next – a 15-minute walk and a 15-minute coach ride, and we finally get to the main attraction around 11am. That is, it takes two hours just to get there. Then you need a good three hours once there. But remember – this is in ultra-low season.

Meanwhile, snack time! ->

Come 2:30pm, we were back on a coach and heading for Zone 2, which I’ll tell you about in an upcoming post.

Back to Zone 1, and we come to the World’s First Natural Bridge ->

Of course – we just had to cross it:

Here’s the view from the bridge:

On the other side – a narrow downward path (passing the inevitable Chinese fast-food stalls (not pictured)) ->

And the fantastic views continue to astound ->

Natural “still life”:

Here you can see how these constructions are the result of erosion of high plateaus:

The inevitable padlocks! ->

And now – insider tip!…

You’ve seen in the above pics of Zone 1 generally rather a lot of tourists, right? Well, for one reason or another we returned from Zone 2 the following day via Zone 1 in the evening – finding out that around 5pm here there’s not a soul about. Look – here’s proof! ->

Perfectly people-less! ->

Remember the photo of the bridge above I showed you packed with tourists? After 5pm – check it out! ->

Quick selfie, already back in the elevator ->

By the time we got back it was already dark:

And that was Zone 1 – done. Next up – Zone 2…

The rest of the photos from my China-2023 trip are here.

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