A steep cable car line piercing the clouds and climbing towards a mountain. 99 adventurous hairpin curves zigzagging along 11 km of uphill road. A glass-bottom walkway that lets you walk as if you are suspended in mid-air. A gigantic natural cave that is called the stairway to heaven. A stairway of 999 steps nearby a gushing waterfall, to climb up to the cave mouth. The Tianmen mountain and its Jaw dropping attractions await the travellers just kilometers away from the Zhangjiajie city in China.
Located at a distance of 1500 kilometers from the capital city, Beijing, Zhangjiajie is easily accessible by air and train routes. The Tianmen Mountain is located at a mere 8-kilometre distance from the Zhangjiajie railway station. The ropeway cable car going to the mountain, starts from nearby the train station. Make sure you come early or else you may just stay in the queue for too long or may miss the chance altogether. Usually the line will be extending from the first floor counter till the road. The price for the ticket currently is 258 Yuans. This includes the entry pass, uphill cable car journey as well as downhill bus journey. Ninety eight 8-seater cable cars are constantly on the move along the seven-kilometre-long ropeway.
The cable car station on the hilltop is at an elevation of 1200 metres. The ropeway that runs parallel to the ground for some distance suddenly starts an uphill climb. The view from the cabin, whether you look upwards or downwards, can be nerve wracking for the faint hearted. But the view of the tiny little glass boxes with curious travelers inching up the steep slope is a sight to behold. So is the sight of the 99 hairpin curves that run along an 11-kilometre distance along the mountain. A winding road runs underneath the cable car route around the 1.5-kilometre-high mountain. We will be returning in the mini-buses like the one we could spot sitting inside the cable car. The mini-bus drivers of China are infamous for speeding and with what we saw underneath us, we were sure the return journey would be as adventurous. The cable cars stop after a 30-minute journey uphill at the extremely elevated cable car station. From here, one can walk to the Yunmeng viewpoint, which offers view of the Zhangjiajie city and of the several cable cars that pierce through the clouds to reach the mountain top.
The mountain, which is also a biological hotspot, is located in the Hunan Province of China. It is from a spot very near to the cable car station that the glass skywalk begins. The glass skywalk drilled on to the cliffside is a true adventure with the faint hearts giving up halfway through. This place is also a photographer’s delight. The skywalk glass panels have a width of one metre and thickness of five centimetres. To keep the skywalk clean and scratch-free, every traveller’s feet is covered in a pretty maroon shoe cover. Set atop the 1.5-kilometre-high cliff, a look under your own feet may give jitters even to the adventurous. High winds may make some of the walkers sick and many return midway due to this. A clear fog-less day is certainly the best bet for a walk on the skywalk because an entire valley can be seen beneath your feet while you would be still in air.
On the other side of the mountain is our next destination. The natural hole in the mountain. Very soon, we were on an escalator, drilled through a mountain and set in four levels landing us near what is called the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The ticket to use those escalators cost 32 Yuans. We landed at the mouth of the next leg of our adventure – a stairway of 999 steps which passes along a beautiful large waterfall leading up to a huge naturally formed hole across the mountain. This 57-metre-wide cave is what gave the name to the mountain literally meaning the doorway to heaven. The mountain that was initially called the Songliang mountain was rechristened Tianmen after this cave was noticed. The natural cave is supposed to have been formed after strong water currents passed through it for several years. This has been the venue for world wingsuit competitions more than once. The participants wearing wingsuits had flown from the sky through this cave mouth for the competition. The adrenaline pumping videos from that day can be seen in Youtube. Inside the cave there is an area where there are several locks hanging. The Chinese believe that climbing these 999 steps and putting a lock on this board will take them to heaven after death. If climbing up was hard, climbing down is no easier either. The steep steps do require the travelers to be careful with their step or else one may just roll down the 999 steps on the mountain side.
Now, it is the journey downhill. It was harder to find a place in the mini-bus than in the cable car. Finally inside one, the mythical over speeders incarnated right in front of our eyes. At times the drivers just braked unable to steer clear of the buses coming from the opposite side. Terrifying as it was, with deep gorges on one side, we watched outside the window unperturbed of the speeding. When the bus took the turn on some roads, we could see the road till the beginning of the valley. The cable cars ran like little flakes of dream popping in and out of the clouds that freely floated around the gigantic mountain. The speeding driver refused us an opportunity to focus the camera properly and thus it went happily into the case. Now there we were, soaking in the last green sights of an unforgettable journey uphill in China.