Getting here was a challenge. A 6:30AM flight, meant we started our day at 4:00AM. Our flight landed in Langzhou where we took a 90 minute shuttle from the airport to the train station. Then we took a four hour train ride. We arrived in Zhangye at 4:30 in the afternoon. Nearly twelve hours of travel time. The kicker: For one odd moment in time everyone was sick except for Kylie. We were exhausted. After an arm-sized sushi and bowl full for Korean rice we went to sleep. We slept in the next morning, and didn’t get moving until about eleven. Private cars to the Danxia Landform run about 350-400 Yuan. Our innkeeper offered us a driver for 300 Yuan. To be clear, a driver would take us to the landform and wait for us to finish, and then drive us back to the city. Sharleen found a taxi driver willing to take us for the day for 200 Yuan. She is good!
Da Fo Si
Our driver took us first to Da Fo Si. Marco Polo made his way from Venice through central Asia, stopping for one year in Zhangye. In his writings he wrote of a great reclining Buddha and was impressed with the dedication and veneration the people gave to their lifestyle. He was referring to Da Fo Si, a colossal Buddha made from a wooden structure and covered in clay. It was constructed in 1098 and remains today much in the same way it was when Marco Polo saw it in 1200. No pictures were allowed. The statue is 50 meters in length and 30 meters high. It fills nearly the entire room. There are places for kneeling and showing respect. Along the walls there are smaller statues (nearly 3-4 meters high) of significant monks in history. Some have offerings. 5 monks gilded with gold and lacquer are behind the Buddha. We walked around the Buddha, looking at all the monks in the perimeter. There were several myths about this monastery. One is that Kubla Khan was born here. Another is the last Song Emperor after being deposed, sought refuge here and finished his life as a Monk. Did Marco Polo really walk around the Buddhas as we did? A thousand years is a long time, and the truth may have been forever lost; however the art, age, and magnificence of this place was hard to deny.
In the museum grounds there were a few museum buildings and a shrine for ashes of deceased people.
Our driver drove us for an hour outside of the city, through the corn and sunflower fields to the colored hills. As we got close, the landscape changed to sprawling hotels and luxury accommodations. He dropped us at the Northgate for our Danxia Landform exploration. I had even seen pictures of this landform before, but I was unprepared for how stark and amazing the colors were. It was mildly overcast, but the colors still stood out to us. There were 5 main viewing platforms and a shuttle bus moved people from platform to platform. Hiking through is not an option. All traffic, vehicle and foot is relegated to the roads and boardwalks to protect the landscape. Police, rangers, and minders are everywhere to ensure people don’t stray from the path.
This geopark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These structures cannot be remade or be recovered. Once they are gone, they are gone for good.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to hike. Each viewing platform has almost a kilometer of boardwalks and viewpoints. We spent from 2:30PM – 6:00PM walking the boardwalks and taking in vistas.
The informational placards are more poetic than they are informational. That didn’t matter. The scenary was amazing. Even though there were a good amount of people there, we were able to find space and time to enjoy the park at our pace.
We timed our visit to be at platform 4 during sunset. However being overcast with some drops of rain falling, sunset did not light up the hills as much. We caught a dinner in the tourist village at the entrance and met with our driver at 7:30PM.
By days end, we were all exhausted again.
We had room in our day for another adventure before the train ride to Chengdu, but we couldn’t muster the energy. So we did some neighborhood explores trying to find some good food. After checking out, we made our way for the train station four hours early.