China’s pursuit of promoting tourism while ensuring accessibility for all has led to a novel innovation: escalators on a mountainside. But as with any blend of nature and modernity, this convenience comes packed with mixed reactions.
Tianyu Mountain, situated in Chunan county of eastern Zhejiang province, recently became home to an escalator system designed to give visitors an effortless ascent. What once was a 50-minute trek can now be cut short to a mere 10-minute escalator ride, followed by a 3-kilometre hike to the peak. Such developments signal China’s push to make its scenic wonders more accessible to the masses, catering especially to those who might find the original trek challenging.
The mountain’s new feature was received with glee by many, especially those for whom the physical challenges of mountain climbing might have been a deterrent. “I haven’t walked a single step to scale most of the mountain, and I haven’t missed any scenic spots,” expressed an enthused visitor. The sentiment of convenience echoed among many, with elderly and young visitors appreciating the effort to make nature more accessible.
But behind the infrastructure lay pragmatic concerns too. A manager from the tourism development company, Xu, shed light on the thought process behind the escalators. Initially, the company considered cable cars but found them to be less efficient and riskier. The 350-metre escalator system, segmented into three parts, was constructed at a cost of 10 million yuan (around US$1.4 million) with a ticket pricing of 30 yuan (approximately US$4) per ride.
China’s previous tryst with such initiatives is not new. The Shenxianju Tour Zone in Taizhou, also in eastern Zhejiang province, boasts a 104-metre-long escalator known as the South Sky Ladder, introduced three years prior. As Gu Qiaolu from Shenxianju Tour Group pointed out, the vastness and altitude of the tour zone presented physical challenges even for the younger visitors. Introducing both a cableway and an escalator was an attempt to simplify the visitor experience without compromising the scenic views.
Yet, not everyone views the escalator through the same lens. The online sphere buzzed with conversations around the “no-pain mountain climbing” concept. Many felt the escalator detracted from the authentic experience of hiking and disrupted the natural beauty of the mountain. “So what’s the point of climbing the mountain? I think that joy has gone,” a critic voiced.
Furthermore, environmentalists and purists argue that such interventions not only commercialize nature but may also have lasting impacts on the local ecosystems.
In the midst of these debates, the essence of choice remains. As one Weibo user remarked, those desiring the authentic experience can still climb, while others can choose the escalator, underscoring that when nature meets modernity, preferences will always be diverse.