The following article is not for the fainthearted.
Sitting 300 metres above a valley, wedged between two mountain peaks 430 metres apart, the glass-bottomed bridge in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is bound to test the courage of even the bravest of visitors.
Designed by Israeli architect Haim Dotan, the bridge above Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon is the latest addition to China’s growing fascination with glass-bottomed walkways. While the bridge is not the first of its kind, it is being touted as the longest and highest of its kind. The bridge cost US$3.4 million to build and can carry up to 800 visitors each time.
Before any visitors made the hair-raising trek across the bridge, numerous highly publicised tests were carried out to ensure that the bridge is safe to cross. Invited participants were instructed to smash on the glass panels with a sledgehammer. The top layer of glass cracked, but the two layers below it showed no signs of giving way. To definitively drive home the point, authorities drove an SUV across the bridge.
“Don’t look down” may be the first words to pop up in the minds of visitors about to cross the bridge. However, in this case, looking down is certainly recommended—in addition to looking up and off to the sides. The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is nothing short of magical. The deep canyons, majestic waterfalls, and sky high sandstone and quartz pillars are reportedly the inspiration for the world of “Pandora” in James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar. From the daring to the breathtakingly scenic, the bridge provides ample photo opportunities.
The official opening of the bridge drew large crowds of visitors from all corners of China—far too many visitors than the bridge can handle. According to a spokesperson for the bridge, an approximate 8,000 visitors came each day to test their mettle and the load exerted too much pressure on the bridge. As such, the authorities had no choice but to close down the bridge until further notice.
Despite this overwhelming pressure, the bridge is still in pristine condition. The closing of the bridge is to allow for improvements to be made to infrastructure around the bridge—such as the parking lots and a new ticketing system—so as to be able to better accommodate the large number of visitors.
While Dotan did not comment on the closure of the bridge, he attributed the overwhelming response to the sensation that the bridge creates: the feeling of being suspended in mid-air between heaven and earth, like a bird with wings open wide. Architect Keith Brownlie attributes it to the thrill of being on the bridge. He describes the bridge as being a boundary between emotionally driven fear and the logical understanding of safety.
“People like to challenge their rational mind in relation to irrational fear,” said Brownlie.