By Itumeleng Makgetla (South Africa)
December 15,2013
Taking a part in the Hunan Province Foreigner Photography contest has been nothing less thanspectacular. In China, Hunan Province is an intermediate size province, the provincial capital Changsha is also regarded as a relaxed and chilled city in the eyes of the “big city dwellers” of China. However, there are many places in rural Hunan that are more than suited to captivate ones imagination and sense of wonder. This province has a bounty of tropical vegetation and contrasting topography ranging from the steepest of mountain peaks piercinginto the ever misty skies to the deepest, darkest valleys and the fairest of plains sparsely straddled by dazzling rice paddies.
Amidst the natural scenery, the astonishing character of the province is imbedded in the age old culture dating as far back in time as three millennia. From the colourfully clad Miao people of Feng Huang to the traditional architecture of Xiangxi; it soon becomes clear to any traveller that the marvels of Hunan are vast and simply outstanding.

During my snapshot expedition of ZhangJiajie, a somewhat modest town westwards from Changsha, I had expected to discover a beautiful area to glance from behind the lens, since this area is synonymous to travellers from China and from abroad. Its fame in the recent times is largely owed to James Cameron’s blockbuster movie Avatar, which showcases scenes of unimaginable beauty of the flora and fauna. It was only upon arriving at the Tianzi Mountain National Forest Park that I got reminded of the wonders of nature; the constant and on-going battle of rivers cutting into stone and all else and everything standing between them and the open arms of the sea. It is rather thought- provoking to even attempt to describe the vastness in scale of this wonder of nature. Driving onthe bend-obsessed roads in between the peaks of the conjoined taluses, buttes and other countless and haphazard erections was at the same time breath-taking and frightening as my mind could not desist from driftingin to the perpetual “what if” mode. The thrill of standing on the roof of Hunan and being at heights at which very few birds find wise to soar is truly an experience to last for a long time yet. Tianzi Mountain National Forest Park’s listing as UNESCOs world heritage site is certainly by merit.
Another wonderful sight is the Karst cave of Huanglong Dragon Palace. These caves areformed over a protracted periods of time. The beautiful stalactites hanging from the roof of the caves are a wonderful display of the artistry of both nature and science, these deposits of Calcium carbonate formed by the water cascading from the roof of the caves result in wonderful formations of various shapes and sizes, and thus gives and air of sublime splendour that is very pleasing to the eye –a rather subtle but effective suppressant of claustrophobia as I have come to experience. The 13km caves can be navigated both by foot and by boat on the dark green streams entering and exiting the caves at a moderate speed.

Zhangjiajie is a must see, especially for the nature enthusiast and for all who wish for a get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take time and immerse yourself in splendour of nature.