The tiny village of Guoliang, nestled among the Taihang mountains in China’s Henan province, is almost entirely cut off from civilisation. Until the late ’70s, the 350 people who lived there could only enter or leave via the “Sky Ladder” – an innocent-sounding name for a dangerous, treacherously steep, and narrow stairway carved into the mountainside. For years, the Chinese government ignored requests to build a road that would allow outsiders to enter Guoliang more easily, so in 1972 the villagers decided to take matters into their own hands.
Many people sold livestock and herbs to pay for building materials and tools, and over the course of five years, a crew of 13 villagers (none of whom was an engineer) carved a tunnel into the sheer cliff face almost literally with their bare hands, as they had no access to heavy machinery.
The Guoliang tunnel was finally completed in 1977, measuring 1.2 kilometres long, five meters tall and four metres wide. For the first time, automobiles and foot traffic were able to reach the village.
Today, the tunnel is a popular tourist attraction in itself. Visitors come from all over China and the world to marvel at the uneven, hand-carved “windows” that let light into the tunnel, to attempt the white-knuckle drive to the top, or simply to appreciate the determination of the workers who built it. As one of the steepest roads in the world, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but you’re not afraid of heights…are you?
Sophia Softky is an armchair philosopher and wayward American trying to make her way in Melbourne. Sometimes she writes things, and sometimes they get published. She is a millenial and therefore lives inside of the Internet.