Terrifying skywalks, misty mountains and a giangatic cave awaited me. I was on a cable car, heading up a mountain I knew very little about. My decision to visit Tianmen mountain was a very spontaneous one!
After a very early start, a shaky plane ride, feeling slightly ill, I was torn between heading straight to my final destination or whether to head up Tianmen mountain. I landed in the town of Zhangjiajie where the Tianmen National park is situated but my final destination was Wulingyuan an hour outside of the city. Whilst I wanted to visit this mysterious place, hiking around a mountain did not seem very appealing in my sleepy state. During the plane journey, I had an inner argument which I confess I had not settled until the bus I was on stopped just outside the Tianmen cable car station. It was very cloudy, but I prayed it would not be too cloudy on the mountain and obscure all views. Spontaneously I lept off the bus with my case in hand. I was going to see the famous Heaven’s Gate.
There is a storage room for luggage where I left my case for the day for 10 yuan. I unsuccessfully trying to use an expired student pass and paid the full price to visit the national park. Then I was sitting in my own private cable car and heading up a mountain! What had I done?!
I sat back and took in my surroundings. Energy levels rose significantly as I observed my surroundings. The cable car to the top of Tianmen is a spectacular journey. It starts in the centre of the city of Zhangjiajie. Your journey starts by flying over many buildings, the railway line and train station. The cable car then enters greener surroundings as you pass over farms and fields. Then the cable car takes a steep turn upwards. Indeed the last part of the cableway is very steep, going up at 37 degrees!
Once the true climb begins, if you are lucky you are treated to a spectacular view. Tianmen cave, Heaven’s Gate, is essentially a giant hole in the mountain, appears in the distance. It is more impressive than I could have imagined and was simply breathtaking. As soon as I saw the cave I knew I had made the right decision to visit Tianmen national park.
I then looked down and realised I was very high up.
Then the clouds absorbed everything. I reached the top after about 20 minutes in the cable car. Afterall, Tianmen Mountain Cableway is claimed to be the “longest passenger cableway of high mountains in the world” at 7km long. As I left my private cable car, I looked around. I was in the clouds.
I hurriedly did my makeup in the ladies, priorities right, and then stepped back into the clouds. I knew very little about this place and ventured towards a map to try and plan my visit. This was truly a spontaneous trip! After gazing at the map I was aware I was too tired to walk the entire route. I picked out a few things I wanted to see such as the skywalks but knew my main priority was Heaven’s Gate so I decided to head straight towards the cave as I was scared the clouds would envelop it.
I walked through the misty landscape which was very eerie. The way to Tianmen cave was all downhill to my delight.
I walked to the entrance to go down towards the cave but was informed that once I went down I would not be able to come back up. I had chosen option A at the ticket office meaning I could take the cable car up and take the bus down. Whilst I did want to see the cave that would mean I would not be able to do any of the skywalks and see anything else in the park as the cave is close to the bottom of the park. Dismayed, I turned back around to try to climb to one of the peaks.
It was nice to go back through the mist. I managed to take some very eerie photos. Mossy woodland then began to surround me as I began walking towards one of the peaks. Yet, of course, I could see nothing as the fog was so thick. As I reached the top I was not rewarded with views but astounded myself that I had managed to summon the energy to climb! I then walked back down again and decided to try one of the three skywalks on the mountain.
Passing the entrance to the cave once more I reached my chosen skywalk. Access to the skywalk is granted by paying a small fee of 5 yuan for renting some very fashionable red shoe covers. Then you are allowed to embrace the terrifyingly tall glass skywalk.
This is a great idea for someone who is incredibly scared of heights.
In fairness the walkway was not as scary as I expected and was a lot of fun. I made friends with two nice girls and we giggled our way around the skywalk together. Furthermore, the clouds distorted quite how high above the ground we actually were. I believe my tiredness put my height anxiety into sleep mode and I did not stress or panic until a day later when I was tucked up in bed. Talk about a delayed reaction!
After many photos on the skywalk and posing for photos with fellow tourists, the tiredness started to creep up again. It was time to start my descent. I headed towards the entrance to Tianmen cave.
Once you pass the barriers you begin your descent inside the mountain. Bizarrely, there are seemingly hundreds of escalators that escort you several stories down towards Tianmen Cave. I was surprised how long it took to ride all of these escalators. The family in front of me were obviously not bored with the many escalators as they took photos on each one, despite the several firm warnings from security guards who were yelling not to take selfies on the escalators! I took just one to try and capture my amusement of this bizzare environment inside a mountain!
Outside once more you are allowed to walk through the cave! It was wonderful to gain a true sense of the magnificent scale of this incredible geographical feature. You then continue your decent down 999 steep stone steps.
I took many, many photos with Tianmen Cave. Yet my best shots were closer to the bottom.
I was lucky to be able to visit on a Wednesday as there were not too many people. Well, by Chinese standards there were not too many people. I was grateful, not only to be able to get the shots I wanted but because the steps were quite steep! Around 45 degrees at points! Take care on the 999 stone steps and hold on. I would not appreciate being hurried here!
Close to the bottom there was a lovely waterfall and a place to pray by burning incense sticks. Glancing back one final time at the incredible Tianmen cave it was time to leave this national park.
I headed towards the queue to for the buses down the mountain. As I joined the queue many people started and someone exclaimed loawei (foreigner/outsider). I replied by smiling and stating, ‘I am a foreigner’. This made the queue laugh as they then informed me that there was space for one more person in the bus that was about to depart. I was ushered to the front of the queue and boarded the bus.
The bus wound its way down the 99-bend road. Exhausted I fought back sleep and reached the base of the mountain. We reached a car park and I was ushered towards another bus that was going back to Zhangjiajie.
I had a fantastic visit to Tianmen. It was not well planned, but I still had an amazing time. I feel very lucky that the clouds did not obscure the view of the cave as I had feared and that was worth my trip. The mountain is often covered in clouds but that only adds to its wonderful misty atmosphere. I am sure it would take a day to see all the mountains but if you are short on time or just passing through the city of Zhangjiajie, you can still spend a few hours on the mountain. I am very pleased I made the spontaneous decision to visit Tianmen mountain and see Heaven’s gate. It was a wonderful start to my trip around South Eastern China.
If you are short on time or like me just passing through the city I would recommend spending a few hours on the mountain. Tianmen mountain is a mysterious and wonderful place.
Let me know if you have made any spontaneous decisions which ended in amazing adventures in the comments below!