I have been living in Nanchang for five years and a half now, and take every chance I get to escape the urban jungle and explore China's beautiful countryside. In July, my friend Aranya, from my hometown of Calcutta, came to visit, and we took the opportunity to go to Hunan province so we could get some fresh air. I was really looking forward to my trip in Zhangjiajie, and I’m still glad I went, a it wasn’t at all what I expected.
We flew into Zhangjiajie, and spent a night wandering the alleys and backstreets of this gritty, laidback little city. The Hunan people were quite relaxed compared to people in Nanchang. Few men bothered to wear shirts, and it seemed most locals were content to hang out in the street markets, smoking and gobbling down snacks in the moist, humid climate. Given the heat, sleeping outside on a reclining chair was the norm.
In the morning, we went to Wulingyuan, the national park which provided the scenic inspiration for the movie "Avatar". The locals were very proud of this and there were all sorts of Avatar nick-nacks on sale from the peddlers.
Upon entering the park we were taken aback by the remarkable beauty there. Peaks soared up like giant teeth from the lush, dense jungle. For a second, I almost felt as if we were in some sort of prehistoric land before time, and I would not have been surprised if I had seen a dinosaur come rumbling down the trail.
We hiked up one of the peaks and surveyed the landscape from above. The jagged mountains stretched on and on, the towers of stone providing a strange parallel to the towers of apartments and offices that surround me in Nanchang.
As we hiked, we came across the monkeys who make their home up on the mountaintops. There were signs along the trail warning people not to feed them, but of course, many hikers found it funny, and could not resist giving the monkeys something. This was actually very bad, because it gave the monkeys the idea that it is ok to approach humans for food. One monkey was so bold as to steal a water bottle from a young lady!
We kept on hiking past dark, trying to find a lodge on top of one of the mountains. We couldn't find it, so we stopped at a little police station and asked for help. They ended up driving us to the lodge, where we had a comfortable, if slightly buggy evening.
In the morning, we decided to try out a trail that very few other people hiked on. The narrow trail zig-zagged alongside the steep cliff-face, which offered sweeping views of the undulating waves of green below us. We finally came to a place where a farmer had a small plot of vegetables on top of one of the peaks. She cooked us a little meal and then told us how to get down from the mountain. It proved harder than we thought and we ended up getting lost, until we finally got to a place where they actually built an elevator into the side of the mountain.
At the bottom, there was a group of around one hundred students, who were carrying an enormous dragon made of cloth, and were marching it around a field, as patriotic music blasted from loudspeakers.
Upon exiting the park, we hired a driver, named Chen, to take us to the airport. However, since we had a few hours to kill, Chen very generously gave us a tour of Zhangjiajie, making sure to show us the most amazing places. He was very curious about India, and asked us such questions as, "What percentage of Indians own cars?" It turned out that Chen has a friend who is studying in the India, and he plans to go there to visit him. However, Chen did not know what state his friend lives in India, and said that he hopes it is Mumbai, so that he can visit me as well.
My two days in Hunan were superb, and I found myself missing it as soon as I got on the flight back to Nanchang.