Photos by Sam Schulman (Brandeis University), Student Correspondent for CET Shanghai, Fall 2019 This trip was the first that I had ever planned by myself, and accepting that I would be solo-traveling—though I later found one friend to accompany me—I settled on Zhangjiajie in Hunan province. Famous for its many beautiful mountains and sights, I thought that this trip would be unique and a nice change from fast-paced Shanghai. After our 22 hour journey on the “green skinned” (named for their green exterior) sleeper train, we made our way to our hotel and planned the next day’s hike. Within Zhangjiajie forest park are several regions, and we decided to forego the cable car trip to the top and climb the stairs pictured here. After about an hour and a half of climbing, we found ourselves in 杨家界 (Yáng jiā jiè), our first section of the forest park. As we embarked on the Yangjiajie hike, we followed the cable car line above us. Though we passed by a few other hikers, the cable cars are the popular option, and to find the path, we followed a local on a back path to the stairs. Zhangjiajie is famous for its numerous cable car routes, including the world’s longest cable car ride (30 minutes) to the top of Tianmen Mountain. After arriving in Yangjiajie, we made our way to Yuanjiajie, an area full of famous mountain sights. One of these is “The Great Natural Bridge” which connects the main mountains paths to the more isolated mountain pictured on the left. All of these paths snake through and around the mountains, and this one was covered in red pieces of fabric with wishes and hopes written on them. Pictured here is one of the paths filled with the wishes, prayers, hopes, and thoughts. These paths wrapped all around this mountain and were consistently covered in red. Zhangjiajie forest park is famous for having diverse flora and fauna, including many rhesus monkeys. Feeding and teasing the monkeys is very discouraged, but that doesn’t stop tourists from seeing what they can get the monkeys to hold. We stood back at a distance as two monkeys ran across the rails of the bridge we were standing on. One of my mains desired sights in Zhangjiajie was Avatar Mountain; this mountain and others in Zhangjiajie inspired the iconic floating mountains in James Cameron’s Avatar. The mountain was originally known as “the Stone Pillar supporting Heaven”, but was renamed Avatar Halleluiah Mountain (阿凡达-哈利路亚山Āfándá hālìlùyà shān) after the commercial success of Avatar. After a packed day of exploring even a relatively small section of Zhangjiajie forest park, we were exhausted. We decided to see what it was like to take the cable car down, which involved hopping in a moving car rapidly, shooting forward, and then having a gentle ride down. In mere minutes, we passed by the entirety of our hike up the mountain, and made our way back down to our starting point. Our second undertaking on this trip was to visit 天门山(Tiānmén shān), Heaven’s Gate Mountain). From our place in line for the famous half-hour cable car, we watched as countless cable cars disappeared into the day’s opaque mist. The mountain top was cold, rainy and with low-visibility, but was absolutely breathtaking. Similarly to Yuanjiajie, the mountain was covered in various labyrinthine paths, and in this photo, we were walking on a path parallel to the one pictured. On our way to Heaven’s Gate, we passed through a few eerie tunnels like this one. Still enveloped in mist, I couldn’t help but feel like I was passing through a magical middle-earth like mountain. For a majority of the time, we weren’t entirely sure if we were going the right way, but following our damp map and occasional signs brought us to the right location. Our trip through the tunnels and down a series of 6 or 7 long escalators brought us to the top of the famous 999 stairs. At the top of these stairs was Heaven’s Gate, which was filled with mist and sporadic rainfall. Wanting a better view, we began to descend the stairs. After descending the stairs in the rain, we were somewhat disappointed that our view was entirely obscured by heavy fog. My traveling partner was committed to climbing up the stairs and back down again for the full experience, so I waited for her at the bottom. As I was cold and wet at this point, I bought myself a bowl of hot wonton soup and tea, and suddenly, the mist began to clear out. Though I was enthralled by the fog, many of the famous mountain views were obscured. However, at this moment, I could at last see the whole of Heaven’s Gate clearly.