Hang by a thread
Give the terrestrial route a miss and take to the skies in a cable car when you're in Hong Kong next. The lofty path is sure to give you plenty of food for thoughttravel Updated: May 24, 2010 09:43 IST
When I first visited Hong Kong last year, I had the option of either chilling with members of the Disney clan or of spending the balmy afternoon in a cable car, taking in sweeping views of mountains and the sea. I chose the latter.
I'd always been fascinated with the idea of being hauled up a hill in a rickety car. The experience seemed like a metaphor for life itself: You ride the steep gradient in a fragile body. One moment you're dangling precariously high and the other, you're seemingly in free fall. Smitten by the other existential possibilities that a cable car ride would throw up, I chose to try the Ngong Ping 360, a cable car service that connects Tung Chung on the northern part of Hong Kong's Lantau island with Ngong Ping, a hilly tourist district on the west.
Never having been in a cable car before, I imagined that I'd feel that familiar surge of adrenaline as when you're on the highest point of a giant wheel. But the Ngong Ping cable car was a rather more genteel experience: we trooped into the cars in orderly groups of four and watched as the glass doors shut on either side. From the starting station, the steep ascent ahead looked like an insurmountable obstacle.
But if the 5.7-km-long cableway felt the strain of carrying nearly 3,500 people per hour in each direction, it didn't show. The cars glided up with nary a shudder and we suddenly had the gift of perspective. A narrow sliver of land jutted out into the South China Sea and aircrafts took off from it towards the horizon. This was Airport Island.
The cars soared over the green valleys of the North Lantau Country Park, a 22-square-km flanked by peaks on the east and west; and dipped over the shimmering waters of the sea. A country trail ran through the park and a lone man braved it. This 2.3 km-long-trail - the Wong Lung Hang Country Tail - winds through dense forest cover and is considered one of the most challenging hikes in Hong Kong.
The lone hiker may have taken the more arduous route, but we were all pilgrims drawn in one direction: towards a gigantic bronze Buddha perched on a hill. This was the Tian Tan Buddha, a 112-feet tall statue of the seated Buddha that was completed in 1993. You have to climb 268 steps to reach the statue, which is said to be visible even in nearby Macau on a clear day.
A light drizzle came down on us we looked out over Hong Kong from the viewing platform of the Big Buddha. The cableway looked more fragile from this distance. I found out later that since it was inaugurated in 2006, the service had suffered a series of system failures including a serious accident in 2007, when an empty car fell off the cable and plunged into a hilly area.
If I had known then, I may have felt differently about hanging by a thread, as it were. But innocence is bliss and I'm glad I chose the lofty path to discovering Hong Kong.
Vidya is a part of the HT Pullouts team who is far from Zen in real life
First Published: May 24, 2010 09:43 IST