In South Central China, visitors will find mountain fingers pointing to the heavens. The Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve and nearby areas offer awe-inspiring natural scenery that takes visitors back to a primitive geological world.
—By Pamela Grant
Tianzi means "Son of Heaven," which is a name given to Chinese emperors in the past. It is such an appropriate name for China's Tianzi Mountain in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area in Wulingyuan District. Located in Zhangjiajie City in the Hunan Province of China, the spectacular mountain is an ancient geological formation formed from quartz sandstone approximately 400 million years ago, as the earth's crust rose periodically over a period of 2 million years.
The stunning raw result is the equivalent of natural skyscrapers reaching like fingers to the sky in the Suoziyu Valley. The Tianzi Mountain delivers a breathtaking view created by the sea bottom rising up and erosion creating the peaks. If this is not enough to entice visitors, the mountain is part of a "golden triangle" that includes Zhangjiajie Forest Park and Suoziyu Valley.
Triangle of Beauty
How is it possible to describe Tianzi Mountain in words? Called the "Monarch of the Peak Forest,” Tianzi Mountain offers four different panoramic scenes, depending on the season. There may be a sea of clouds or thick mists with the peaks of the stone forest rising above them. Snow in the winter turns the brown mountain and its greenery into a winter wonderland. Other descriptions include the Radiance of the Moonlight and Rays of Sunshine.
Visitors can ride a cable car to reach various natural platforms to get a close view of the main peak of Tianzi Mountain, which towers over all the others at 1,262 kilometres above sea level. The cable car ride follows a cliff in the Tianzi Mountain Scenic Area, giving visitors plenty of opportunity to watch the scenery unfold before their eyes. It is a thrilling ride despite its slowness because of the suspension over deep valleys and the passing by of many stone towers. Upon arrival, there are more than 80 natural platforms that visitors can stand on and soak up the beauty.
The Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve is part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area. The scenic area is shaped like a triangle and divided into three sections. The Nature Reserve is one section. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is a second section, and Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve is a third. Recently though, a fourth area was opened at a triangle border and is called Yangjiajie Scenic area.
Fairy Maid Scattering Flowers
The Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve is filled with massive blocks of stone and stone towers or obelisks. In fact, the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve has most of the sandstone obelisks in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area.
The rock is still undergoing erosion, of course, and ledges have formed on the towers where Mother Nature can take root. When looking out over the stone towers, one will discover shrubs, grasses and flowers growing during the warmer months, and trees year-round. The ledge growths are coupled with dense forests to create the stunning scenery. Imagine looking out over a valley filled with a variety of peaks with names like Imperial Writing Brush Peak and Fairy Maid Scattering Flowers. How could anyone not be enchanted?
There is more than stone towers in the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve. Visitors can see Yuanyang Waterfall, Latent Celestial Bridge, limestone caves and much more.
After filling the senses with a trip to the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve, the rest of the triangle waits.
The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is the first national forest park named in China. It is now listed as a World Heritage site and has a rich natural landscape along with a variety of plant life and wildlife. As a result, it is called "Natural Garden" and "Kingdom of Wild Animals" and is home to seven rare species of state-protected plant and animal species. There are colourful flowers in the warmer months, fiery red leaves in autumn, and brilliantly white snow in the winter.
The Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve is the third area of the triangle, and it offers even more natural wonders. It holds Baofeng Lake in a gorge surrounded by steep peaks, which is the only water in the central part of the scenic area. Visitors can enjoy a boat ride on the alpine lake and feel immersed in the mountains. If there in October, one may notice flocks of mandarin duck flying south to the lake to escape cold weather; the lake does not freeze, so this is where the ducks winter. Yingwo Village welcomes visitors and offers ancient temples and a glimpse of cultural history. Yingwo means Eagle Nest, an appropriately descriptive name.
Sea of Clouds
Also in the Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve is Yellow Dragon Cave, the largest karst cave in China. In the western side is the West Sea, which is actually a sea of stone peaks and dense vegetation.
When it rains, the clouds look like a sea full of waves, creating yet another spectacular scene. There is Ten-Mile Gallery, Four Gates where three streams from different directions meet and flow into the valley, and Baizhang Gorge which was an ancient battlefield.
The most recently opened section of the triangle actually lies outside the base of the scenic triangle. The Yangjiajie Scenic Area is linked to the aristocratic Yang Family, dating back to the year 960. There are still Yang family members in the Yangjiajie area, and many of the sites are named after family members from centuries ago. The Yangjiajie Scenic Area has more than 100 scenic sites, though its main difference to the other triangle areas is that it has fewer stone towers. There is lush foliage, sheer cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, meandering streams and a chance to enjoy the local culture.
There are many enclaves of minority groups living in the fertile Yangjiajie Scenic Area, and visitors can mingle with the ethnic people and enjoy their songs, dances, dress and customs.
Tianzi Mountain and the rest of the scenic triangle is a wonder to see. It is unique, mostly untouched, and beautiful. Visitors can enjoy nature, meet local people, and unwind in the peacefulness of an ancient area. In China, one can touch the heavens.