Zhangjiajie: the wisdom of crowds
OK, so were over-achievers. Give us a mountain and well climb it. However, at 37¡ãC (99 F) in the shade, climbing mountains is just not such a bright idea, as weve learned.
Wulingyuan Scenic Area, near the city (and village) of Zhangjiajie in Hunan province, is one of the most spectacular natural parks in the world, with thousands of strangely shaped sandstone pillars, an extensive subtropical rain forest and deep-green rivers running through steep canyons. Trails have been laid out throughout the area, but its vitually impossible to cross this enormous park on foot.
Most visitors come in tour groups, crowding behind a loudspeaker-toting guide and as such completely obliterating any view of the surroundings. It is one of the places where you actually feel how many Chinese there are in China. So we decided to get away from the tour groups a little Zhangjiajie Forest Park Comments!. There are signs all over the park, right? You cant really get lost.
Well no, we didnt get lost, exactly.
On day 1 we took the first right off the main trail and almost instantly we were alone in the woods. It was a wonderful walk, we saw monkeys and many butterflies and grasshoppers, and enjoyed marvellous vistas over the park as we got up higher. After about an hour or two, we met a local man working in the woods who seemed to think we were out of our minds walking up a mountain in the heat and told us the trail we were following wasnt going anywhere. So we went back down and decided to start following some signs.
After some confusion with the signs (they gave some indication of directions, but were not very helpful concerning distances and elevation) we found a cable-car to another mountain-top, from which we had a good view of a section of the park with some amazing sand-stone pillars. The walk around the top took another two hours. Then we took the stairs down the mountain. Four thousand of them. Again, wonderful walk but good god, did our muscles and joints hurt by the time we got down!
The second day, we were going to be smarter: no undue exertion in the heat, no climbing up or down, just visit some waterfalls or something on ground level. Our legs wouldnt allow us to take stairs down anyway.
Well, whatever. After an hour we escaped the tour group treadmill from which we couldnt see a thing of the winding brook we were supposedly following, and took a wonderful path following another brook. It was all very pretty, like walking through a fairytale. About an hour and a half into a pleasant walk in the woods, the signs told us to turn right to get to a waterfall. We turned right. At first there was a slight slope upwards, which we were OK with, since stepping down was the only thing that hurt. Soon the upwards slope turned into steps. This was also all right, if it wouldnt take long. After about 15 minutes we realized we were actually climbing a mountain again. What to do? Walking down the steps didnt seem appealing, besides, it meant walking back almost 2 hours. So we went on, because how high could it be?
About 600 metres high (2000 ft). It hurt, it was scary (we could easily have slipped or have met a snake in the underbrush), and it was very tiring. We were not happy. Surely, those signs could have given some indication of this trial? Making matters worse, everyone we met on top of the mountain told us there was no way we could get back to our hotel from there.
Fortunately, we didnt believe them. It took another three hours, but we did get back to Zhangjiajie taking various buses and even an elevator down another mountain. Today we cant move from the aches in our legs and backs. Lesson learned: follow the tour guides. You may not get to see much, but it doesnt hurt.