Just don’t look down

Before we left for the China (Hunan) International Tourism Festival (Sept. 11-18), there was talk of whether we would be able to visit the Sky Bridge in Zhangjiajie.

The world’s longest (430 meters) and highest (300 meters to the bottom of the valley) pedestrian glass bridge opened to the public last Aug. 20 but closed after 13 days due to “overwhelming demand.”

While the bridge can reportedly take 600 people at a time and visitors are limited to 8,000 a day, the crowds swelled to 80,000 during the trial opening, prompting the closure.

Authorities opened the bridge for the 500-plus delegates of the tourism conference, and re-opened to the public mid-September.

The Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge.

Of course I was excited to see the bridge, but I must admit I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of walking across it. Just thinking about it made my stomach queasy; thank goodness for ginger candy! It didn’t help that the road going to the bridge had many twists and turns – as is the case, it seems, with most of the mountain roads in Hunan.

We walked through the as-yet unfinished cavernous welcome hall, up escalators, then stairs. Finally, we reached an area where they gave us brown cloth shoe protectors to put on. Stepping out into the sunshine, there it was spread out before us – the majestic Grand Canyon, and strung delicately across it, the Sky Bridge, gleaming white in the morning sun.

I took a deep breath and headed towards the bridge.

Thankfully, it is not entirely made of glass; glass panels each about two meters square are set into the middle of the walkway. There is thus the safety of the solid sides to walk on when acrophobia gets the better of you.

From the number of people I observed walking on the sides and holding on to the railings, I wasn’t the only one with a fear of heights here.

Carefully, I stepped on to the first glass panel and looked down; there was earth just below so I felt safe, and dared to continue.

Actually, I had little choice because my companion merrily egged me on, almost dragged me along. By the third panel I could hardly look down; the drop was dizzying (remember the bridge is anchored on the edge of two cliffs).

I told myself that the bridge has repeatedly been proven to be safe. Journalists were challenged to try to smash the five-layer glass panels with sledge hammers and pick axes.

A car was even driven through the entire length of the bridge, with hardly a wobble or creak. People jumped on it.

I made it!

So, it should be able to hold up the 500 or so of us, right? All that reassurance though did not change the fact that it is really a loooong way down. And there were probably wild animals among the rocks and lush plant growth, so if the fall doesn’t get me the animals surely will.

But I was by this time about a third of the way, and my companion just kept pulling me to go on, all the while oohing and aahing about how beautiful it was.

Midway through, I was told to lie down on the glass to have my picture taken, with the valley floor hundreds of meters below as background. Slowly I fell to my knees, then got on my butt, stretched out my legs and lay down. It was all right lying on my back and looking up at the clear blue sky, sort of posing for a photo, trying not to look as petrified as I really was.

Ivan and Dustin from New Goldmines Travel and me, with our guide Kevin and Tujia guides.

It was a different thing though when I rolled over to get up; then I saw that only a glass panel separated me from…air, nothing! Dizzying is a word I will use again and again in describing this experience, for that is what it is.

But I had to admit there was a frightening beauty to all this – the sculpture of rock and trees, vines intertwined with lush foliage, all cascading down the sheer cliff into the abyss.

It was late summer so what in other seasons is a river was dry, with just rocks and some plant growth marking its path.

Since I was already lying on my stomach I decided to take some pictures, unaware that I was being photographed taking photos!

Taking photos through the glass.

By this time, I was a bit less shaky; I had made it halfway. I was ready to turn back, but my companion insisted that we had to make it to the other side, so we could say that we indeed crossed the world’s longest and highest glass bridge.

So on we walked; there were less people in this part of the bridge, most of them having stopped for photos around the middle. I even managed to make an acrobatic jump for a photo, and at the other end raised my arms in triumph. The cliff at this end was a really sheer drop, as if the cliff face was dealt a sharp cut with a cleaver.

The Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge.

Whatever is on the other end of the bridge is not yet finished, with steel barriers and a guard keeping anyone from going further, so we turned to go back.

This time it was an easy stroll; I figured if I made it one way I could surely make it back. With a few final photos and a look back at what we had done, I took off my shoe protectors and walked back in to the pavilion, back – safely – on terra firma. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, no. 9 (October 4-17, 2016): 15-16.