There’s an Actual Stairway to Heaven — With 999 Steps — in China
From the center of Zhangjiajie in China’s Hunan province, visitors load onto the Tianmen Mountain Cableway. Over the next half-hour, the cable car will climb almost 24,500 feet to the top of Tianmen Mountain. At the end, the riders step out onto the “Gateway to Heaven.”
At about 5,000 feet above sea level, Tianmen Cave is the highest naturally formed arch in the world — which has given the landmark its famous moniker. The impressive views and unique formation are the reason most people trek up the mountain.
To reach the fantastic landmark, visitors must walk up 999 steps on the “stairway to heaven.” Nine is a lucky number in Chinese numerology, representing good fortune and eternity. Those who wish to avoid the long cable car can opt to take a bus up a narrow roadway that bends back on itself 99 times.
The cave itself is about 430 feet tall and 190 feet wide. It used to be a fairly ordinary cave until the year 263 A.D., when one side of the mountain’s cliff collapses and created the portal to heaven. Although be careful to whom you tell this origin story. Some believe that the cave’s creation is a mystery, which only strengthens its Tianmen’s reputation as a holy mountain.
Visitors who want to pay homage to the attraction’s religious nature can visit the Tianmenshan Temple, which was built in the year 870 A.D. It claims to be the Buddhist center of Western Hunan.
It’s also possible to walk around the surrounding park for equally incredible views. There are a few cliff-hanging walkways (including three made of glass) where visitors can get closer to the geopark and the sacred Chinese mountain.