After having a short overnight stay at the train station in Zhangjiajie (not too much sleep though) I hopped on board the train which eventually brought me to the moderately sized town of Jishou. The town itself didn’t have a particularly incredible variety of sights to offer but anyway, being just an ordinary Chinese city (if you exclude some ‘ancient quarters’ under construction on the riverside). Anyway, it was not my main reason for leaving my footprint in this area. Thus almost immediately I took a local bus towards Dehang.
Dehang is a small village which gained wide recognition among the travelers and tourists for its incredibly charming location within the jaw-dropping mountain setting. Moreover, the village and its surroundings are home to the incredibly fascinating ethnic minority of Miao.
On the other hand, Dehang is clearly not an only village of its type in the area, with some more pristine settlements scattered along the valleys. Furthermore, one might not particularly admire the idea of paying an admission charge to see another ‘authentic ethnic minority’ village.
Hence I stopped mid-way, in a tiny town of Aizhai.
The beauty of the surrounding countryside is truly unrivaled. Drastic karst peaks rising high above the rice fields are not something you can see in every corner of the world. The colorfully dressed locals add a lot to the overall charm – living their ordinary peaceful life in this pleasant scenery, relatively far away from the nearest larger city. (to be honest though, in major parts of China you are never really far away from the nearest agglomeration)
One could easily spend a few lazy days in this soothing atmosphere, simply chilling out, chatting with locals or exercising one’s feet, as the opportunities for hiking are abundant. The same goes for cycling.
However, the name Aizhai recently gained international fame for a radically different reason than the unrivaled beauty of the mountainous countryside around. The wooden minority huts are also definitely not the first thing visitors focus their eyes on upon arriving in the area.
Instead – the first thing everyone notices, while holding their breaths is this:
Aizhai Bridge (矮寨特大桥). Finished in December 2011, officially opened for public in the end of March 2012. The bridge became the world’s highest and longest tunnel-to-tunnel bridge, significantly easing the traffic conditions on the extremely windy roads. The construction of the bridge and the supporting road infrastructure has been designed to reduce the journey times between the cities of Jishou and Chadong by 75% (from 4h to just 1 hour).
The bridge has got the total span length of 1176 m (3,858 f), with the main span located 336 meters (1,102 f) above the ground level. Enough for an Eiffel Tower to easily fit underneath.
The bridge constitutes the part of G65 expressway, projected to link the cities of Baotou in Inner Mongolia and Maoming in Guangdong. Some significant parts of the expressway have already been finished, including the stretch running through the impressive span of Aizhai Bridge.
The interesting fact is that in September 2012 the bridge hosted the international BASE jumping festival. The choice of location is easily understandable. Jumping from Aizhai Bridge – this is something you might consider adding to your ‘to do’ list, provided you love extreme sports enough.
One more thing to add: if you are a fan of spicy cuisine, after admiring the bridge and the countryside, head to one of the incredibly cheap local eateries and give Hunan’s culinary heritage a try. As a die-hard fan of Sichuanese cuisine, I was also delighted by the ubiquitous presence of chili peppers in Hunanese dishes, including such basic offerings as the good old bowl of noodles.
My trip back to Jishou was quite an experience too as it was the first time I hitched the pickup truck, enjoying the windy ride on its back!