The final stage of our epic journey was just that, EPIC. We went to China’s premier national park, Zhangjiajie, better known to some as the “Avatar” or “Hallelujah” mountains after the James Cameron movie, Avatar. When we arrived, we could immediately see why it had inspired people. Above the mist towered impossibly thin mountain spires. Based on the recommendation of our guide, our first trip took us to a place that had originally been a mountain village. We were delighted to find that this trek would not only get us to the village, but would also take us through “monkey infesting areas.”
Originally we laughed at the translation, but we soon grew to see how true this really was. On our first sighting, we were amazed at the monkeys. They didn’t care at all about
the people watching them gambol up and down and sideways through the trees (us). They were a little more interested in the tourists next to us who had some food that they seemed willing to share. We kept hiking up, up and up occasionally seeing more monkeys. Once, a monkey seemed to think that my fingers were peanuts and I retreated to what seemed to me a safer distance. At the top, we had amazing views of the mountains. It seemed unreal that this was an actual place. The mountains in Zhangjiajie were truly in the clouds. According to my health data, by the end of the day we had walked 13.5 miles with an exhausting 208 floors of steps climbed.
The next day, with our legs still sore, we launched our exploration from the Northern
part of the park. Alex discovered my deep and abiding hate of plastic ponchos, but all was right with the world again after we purchased an umbrella and continued. We hiked down into a valley with a “Monkey Park” which sounded promising. We bought some monkey food (peanuts) and waltzed over. The monkeys in this area knew exactly what was going on. There was a small house for them to stay in at night, and whenever they got slightly hungry, they simply walked over to one of the humans on the trail and waited for us to hand them some food. Are these monkeys too used to humans? Probably. Is it awesome hand feeding a somewhat wild monkey? Definitely.
When the clouds parted and the sun came out that afternoon, we decided to try and see the most scenic area of the park while the weather was good. This involved rising to an elevation like our 208 floor ascent the day before. Luckily, because this is a Chinese national park, we opted for the easy route and rode the 200 flights IN A GLASS ELEVATOR (cue thoughts of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here). After zooming to the top, we walked along the level path at the top seeing the famous “Hallelujah Mountain” and so many other breathtaking views.
We also crossed a bridge which allowed you to look down and see the vertigo inducing, multiple hundred foot drop from the bridge to the forest below. With sunset imminent, we walked down the mountain and back along the Golden Whip Stream to conclude one of the best days of hiking I’ve ever experienced.
The next days were somewhat bittersweet as we faced the reality of going back to work. We went back to the park one more time to see a small monastery and feed the monkeys one last time. We caught our flights back and after an unexpected layover, arrived back in Beijing in the wee hours of the morning. Sad that our trip was over, but excited to be reunited with our fluffy roommate, Albus, we left Zhangjiajie with so many memories and pictures of mist shrouded mountaintops and monkeys that I know we will never forget this magical place.