World’s highest lift zips tourists up China’s ‘Avatar’ cliff

(FILES) In a file picture taken on December 13, 2005 a tourists admire various peaks at the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China’s first national forest reserve in Zhangjiajie, central China’s Hunan province. A city in central China has renamed a mountain after the US blockbuster movie “Avatar,” which set a Chinese box office record until its run in the country was cut short. The majestic peak in Hunan province previously known as “Heaven and Earth Pillar” or “South Sky Pillar” has been officially renamed “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain,” the Zhangjiajie city government said in a statement on January 26, 2010. AFP PHOTO/FILES/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo by AFP FILES / AFP)

by Ludovic EHRET

ZHANGJIAJIE, China (AFP) — Towering more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) up the cliff face that inspired the landscape for the blockbuster movie “Avatar”, the world’s highest outdoor lift whisks brave tourists to breathtaking views.

The three double-decker elevators in central China’s Zhangjiajie Forest Park zip up the cliff in just 88 seconds, a speedy attraction as domestic tourism slowly recovers in China after the coronavirus forced strict travel measures and lockdowns earlier this year.

It delivers tourists to the top of the sandstone rock face that inspired the fictional jungle moon of Pandora — home to the blue-hued Na’vi people — of the 2009 James Cameron smash hit.

“One of the main reasons we came is that the site inspired Avatar,” said Qiao Ke, 45, who travelled to the lift with his family.

“The film really made an impression on us. And it really is beautiful here.”

“Its geological structure is very suited to using elevators as a means of transport, so we made this Bailong Elevator”, explained Liu Jie, the director of the company managing the lift, whose name means “Hundred Dragons.”

“Before, there was only a cable car with limited capacity, so tourists had to wait a long time,” Liu added.

The alternative was to brave a three-hour climb up on foot.

“It’s super-fast,” retiree Jin Shihao told AFP after completing the ride, which costs $19 (129 yuan) for a return ticket.

Around 8,000 tourists take the lift every day. However, numbers are still significantly down from an average of 14,000 before the pandemic.

© Agence France-Presse