By Joan Larsen
Before the road was built in the mid-1970s, the only access to the village of Guoliang – high in the Taihang Mountains of China – was a very precarious path called “The Sky Ladder” – 720 mountain steps cut into a very steep cliff. It definitely kept visitors out. In fact, few even knew there was a village up there.
But the sheer isolation was daunting. Pleas for government help in building a road fell on deaf ears. By selling animals and other necessities for supplies, 13 of the villagers – not an engineer among them – set about carving a roadway, using only hand tools, inch-by-inch into the mountainside. Five years later and after only a few fatalities, the road was completed.
Tunneling into the mountain, the road twists, turns and dips in unpredictable places. It is a do-it-yourself mountain tunnel, and roughly carved pillars seem the only thing that keeps the driver from plunging to his death. Blind spots? Of course. They are everywhere, and turning a corner to find another car coming toward you – well, adds a great deal of screaming to your repertoire. There is definitely high fear factor on this hand-dug road. I would definitely not take it if it is wet ! But then – for many – the “fear factor” will kick in no matter what the season. Remote as this wondrous village is, word has spread about this road – now listed as one of the “scariest in the world” – and those of us who are drawn to such “accolades” seem to find our way in. Traffic now is at a new high. (And so are screams !)
The little village of Guoliang is prospering a bit more than it planned. Yes, there is a small hotel or two, new hiking trails, bridges, and – well, below, you will see some of its spectacular scenery. Believe me, it is gorgeous!
Far from the many beautiful cities of China, the country offers an array of the most stunning landscapes that will never ever be forgotten. And – for the adventurous few that love heart-stopping excitement in every journey – “the road to Guoliang” will definitely be a “forever” memory!
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”