World's biggest sinkhole a sight to be-hole-d

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Despite being hundreds of meters deep, the Xiaozhai Tiankeng sinkhole was not discovered until 1994, when a group of British explorers with the Royal Geographic Society stumbled upon it. Since this fateful find, the hole has captivated the attention of cave-explorers, biologists and adventurous tourists from around the world.

Today, the sinkhole is the main feature of the Tiankeng Difeng — literally "the heavenly pit and earth cave" — National Park. Located in Fengjie County of Chongqing City, the hole's opening measures 626 meters at its widest point. It is also 662 meters from top to bottom, making it the world's largest and deepest sinkhole.

The sinkhole is a doubly nested structure — with upper and lower bowls measuring 320 meters and 342 meters in depth respectively. Between these two steps is a sloping edge, formed when soil was trapped in the limestone. In the rainy season, a waterfall will appear at the mouth of the sinkhole.

Tiankeng is also rich in biodiversity. Some 1,285 plant and animal species have been observed in the sinkhole, including rare gingko and the clouded leopard.

Other notable features of the sinkhole are its underground river and earth cave. The hole formed over the cave, which in turn was formed by the powerful underground river. Explored and mapped by the same group of British explorers who discovered the sinkhole in 1994, the river is estimated to be approximately 8.5 kilometers long. The river starts in the Tianjing Fissure Gorge and reaches a vertical cliff above the Migong River, forming a 46-meter-high waterfall. Along its course, it descends a total of 364 meters.

Wooden walkways lead the way through the cave. The hike might be fairly exhausting, but the views along the walkway are definitely worth the effort.

The best time to visit Tiankeng is in the spring, when it is covered with peach blossoms and other vibrant plants. It is also worth visiting in autumn, when the leaves turn the hole into a wonderland of color.

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