Gansu Province (6) : Zhangye

Dear readers,

I am standing at the entrance of the Zhangye National Geopark.  I finally made it.  The main purpose of my trip to this fantastic province : to see the Rainbow Mountains.

The park is huge and stretches into several provinces, but the most spectacular part is here in Gansu.   The area had formed over more than 60 million years ago, through geological processes and tectonic movements. Lifting up the terrain and folding the different layers of the crust with different mineralogical compositions. Than erosion finished the job, grinding away material over millions of years, eventually exposing the different layers in a wonderful colorful masterpiece of mother nature.  It is awesome.  I had never seen such a geological formation, although you may find a few smaller, similar geological formations elsewhere in the world.  But none on this scale with such a variety and intensity of color.

The park seems under full development as word of this natural wonder start to reach the world.  Were there used to be dirt tracks into the park were visitors could freely walk around, now a concrete road is build, and shuttle buses are taking loads of tourists to the different viewing platforms. Some huge viewing platforms are still being constructed. Clearly the park is preparing for future mass tourism…

Now there are 4 stops.  Each with a path and many steps to the viewing platforms that give the most spectacular views.   The road continues further into the park, but the road seems closed and I cant get any deeper into the park.  But no worries, there is plenty to see, and you get to gaze upon the best panoramas of the park from those 4 viewing points.

A helicopter circles above our heads. They must enjoy incredible views.  But I fight the temptation, and decide to keep my money in my pocket.  I prefer this time to go on foot and hopefully see the hotspots up close.

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Each stop offers completely different landscapes. Each one more spectacular than the other.  I was lucky to have the chance to see the park in the late afternoon and early morning the following day, so I had sunlight from different directions, and mountains bathing in the sunshine, that were otherwise in the shade.

As you move from platform to platform, the most incredible and unusual mountain ranges appear in front of me : white mountains, yellow mountains, gray and brown layered hills… Depending on the light they nay seem red, or glowing bright orange in the morning/evening sun.  But you must be patient and go all the way to the last platform to see the most spectacular section with the famous multi colored rainbow mountains.

I am not at all disappointed when i finally see them.  It is incredible.  The colors are vivid and bright, although you should not expect to see the over-enhanced and photoshopped images you see online.    It is truly breathtaking !

To see the colors best, timing is crucial.  You need good light.  Bright light.  Morning or afternoon are best.  And I am told that rain on the day before would also enhance the saturation of the colors.   Yesterday in the late afternoon I had been here before.  The viewing platform is rather small, and every visitor of the park wants to be here and take the best picture… It is crowded and the light is poor.  The mountains are brightly colored, and the views amazing, but it is really difficult to get a good picture with my phone.  A good camera here would be useful.  But I do manage to get some awesome pictures of the famous 7-Color mountain and the colorful layers of rock in the area.

The next day i wake up at 4 am to get to the park as early as possible to catch the sunrise.  I am not the only one with that idea.  It is dark still as I reach platform 4, but the platform is crowded already with hundreds of people queuing to get that 1 nice picture of the sunrise.  Of course the people with the best spots are not moving.  I struggle my way to the top, but it is impossible to get to the railing if the platform. I get pretty close though, and with the help of a selfie stick, I manage to take a couple of decent pictures without other people or cell phones in the shot.

It’s crazy really.  The sun doesn’t even rise above the rainbow mountains, but more to the left.  I take a few pictures, but as could be expected because of the strong sunlight, all you see is the orange sun, rising above smaller, complete dark mountains.   Ok the sunset is nice, but so are all sunsets.  You don’t even see the rainbow mountains.  And also the rainbow mountains don’t yet show all their colors in the weak morning light..

It is really best to just wait for a while until the sun is high enough to shed enough light on the mountains to see the full effect. I try my best.  But I can’t stay there forever to wait for the perfect light.  I also notice that as the sun is rising, it will soon be behind the mountains and the colors will be in the shadow.  I imagine a photographer should really camp out there for the day or days to catch that 1 perfect picture.

I am a tourist.  With limited time and equipment.  I am more than happy with the pictures I have and I am sure my friends and family will be in awe because of the images I took.  Good enough for me, and more important : I got to see the wondrous Rainbow Mountains with my very own eyes !

Now it is time to go.  The driver will take me to the train station, from where I will travel to Lanzhou, the capital of the province and a city beautifully located next to a river and a mountain range.  First however the driver stops at a local restaurant for some nice lunch.  He never drops me at the tourist places, but always finds me a great local restaurant.  I love my driver !

Unfortunately there is no time to visit or explore the city of Lanzhou because I had decided to stay a bit longer in the Danxia Geopark.. Ah well.  A city is a city after all.  I do have a couple of hours to have a drink in the city near one of its main roads in a cosy little bar before I need to go to the airport.  Maybe next time I will have a bit more time to explore this nice city.  For now I am happy to have at least seen the magnificent scenery and Qilian mountains around Lanzhou from the train.

Fantastic!  Enjoy the pictures !Next destination : Hunan Province with the incredible Zhangjiajie Natural Park and the most beautiful village of China.  Or maybe even the world if you ask me…

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Till next post !

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