Revisit the inspiration for 'Avatar's' Pandora with a ride up the world's tallest outdoor elevator

The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan, China is famed for its towering, pillar-like karst formations, and bears a remarkable resemblance to the floating landscape of alien-world Pandora, which plays a starring role in the movie.

The 326-meter-tall glass Bailong Elevator was built onto the side of a cliff in the national park and offers stunning views of the karst formations.

The Bailong Elevator consists of three double-decker lifts, each of which can transport as many as 46 visitors up the mountain in less than two minutes per trip.

It serves as an easy gateway to some of the main attractions of the park including Golden Whip Stream, Tianzi Mountain and views of the Southern Pillar of Heaven — which was later renamed “Hallelujah Mountain” in honor of “Avatar” director James Cameron’s floating mountains.

Alternatively, visitors can hike up the mountain, which takes about 2.5 hours.

Completed in 2002 with a hefty price tag of RMB 180 million ($27 million), the lift hasn’t always been celebrated. Local experts and scholars initially criticized the project, saying construction of the Bailong Elevator, which began in 1999, damaged the natural scenery.

Some 18 years after its opening, the Bailong Elevator remains one of the hottest attractions in the park. It carried up to 18,000 tourists each day before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Following weeks of lockdown, Zhangjiajie reopened in March this year.

In spite of the pandemic, it has raked in RMB104 million ($15 million) in the first three quarters of 2020 — but that’s still a 67.82% decrease compared to last year.

Jin Xin, Zhangjiajie’s executive vice president and secretary of the board, told China’s National Business Daily that daily visitor numbers have recovered to 70% of pre-Covid figures.