Gather all Avatar fans and devotees of natural wonder, for there is a magnificent place that must be added to their bucket lists. It’s called Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, and it is found in China, as a part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area. Comprised of unique rock formations and pillars that seem to be floating in the air, Zhangjiajie inspired the setting of the film Avatar that, upon its release in 2009, brought the spotlight to this breathtaking landscape.
Nestled in the northwestern part of the Hunan province in China, this national forest park is the namesake of a small village located within its boundary that is quite popular among tourists. Featuring sandstone and limestone towers, jagged, fragmented, and often shrouded in low-hanging clouds and mist, the place looks magical and, indeed, unreal. Though it resembles Karst topography, the terrain doesn’t have any underlying limestone and wasn’t formed by chemical dissolution, which is Karst’s essential substance. The scenic area includes a peculiar landscape with original sandstone, dense forests, and deep running streams constituting a picture that resembles a landscape painting.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the first national forest park to be recognized by China, in 1982. Walking around the site it takes only a bit of imagination to imagine the pillars floating just like the Hallelujah Mountains of the moon Pandora in the fictional film Avatar directed by James Cameron. Interestingly, the Chinese government attempted to censor this film since, according to the state-run China Film Group, Avatar might provoke the audience to associate the plight of the condemned “Na-vi” people with that of the millions of real Chinese who were evicted from their homes in order to serve urban developers. This affair resulted in a premature withdrawal of the “controversial” Avatar from Chinese cinemas.
The entire site is dominated by a number of outstanding 3,100-quartz-sandstone pillars and peaks, most of them over 200 meters high. The pillars are characterized by quartz-sandstone peaks that make them unique in the world. These rock formations, along with the natural bridges and caves, complete an aesthetically appealing landscape embellished by the mist and clouds around the site. They also contain significant habitats of endemic species of plants and animals, whose perseverance stands for the universal natural values presented by the official of Zhangjiajie National Park. Among the gorgeous peaks, hidden in the dense, lacy greenery, flow attractive streams, pools, waterfalls and rivers that provide a cool, serene ambiance during summer days.
Unlike other areas of China, this site doesn’t have a long history of human civilization. In the past, it was regarded as an inaccessible and remote area that was visited only by the bravest and most persistent. According to some local legends, a certain lord of the Han dynasty decided to stay there in complete seclusion, and when he breathed his last, he remained buried below one of the high peaks. Since time immemorial, the geological formations of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, which was designated as a World Heritage Site of UNESCO in 1992, have fascinated and intrigued humans.
Around 3 billion years ago, this area was covered by a vast stretch of ocean. Due to a series of geological changes, the ocean bottom rose and the sandstone pillars and peaks were shaped after the gradual cutting, crumbling and eroding of the land for millions of years.
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Over millennia, the wind, water, and ice have caused weathering that resulted in today’s rock formations at this place such as cliffs, arches, canyons, caves, and other rock structures that generate this one-of-a-kind Chinese landscape. Annually, around 30 million tourists visit the site. In 2015 a new attraction was built to attract even more: the world’s longest glass bridge which, reportedly, is praised and visited only by the most adventurous visitors.