Shilin, the Stone Forest
An old Chinese saying goes like this: ‘If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time.’ and I can honestly tell you the man who came up with this, knew what he was talking about. Shilin is indeed a must-see attraction if youâ€™re traveling in the area.
Known as â€œthe first wonder of the Worldâ€ ever since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), the Stone Forest of Shilin is still considered by many to be the most fantastic place in China. Stretching over an area of roughly 400 square kilometers, Shilin includes both small and large stone forests as well as other interesting scenic spots, like Shilin Lake which is filled with underwater stalactites.
Located in the Lunan Autonomous Country of Yi Nationality, in the Yunan province, Shilin Stone Forest is just 75 km southeast of Kunming. There are some who see just a bunch of huge limestone pillars, but most people who visit Shilin are impressed by the scenery. Giant grey pillars shaped as pagodas, animals, human figures, by the elements at the mercy of which they lie, scattered everywhere and forming a great labyrinth in which you could easily get lost in, is not something you see very often.
Geologists say Shilin Stone Forest is a perfect example of Karsts topography that was formed 270 million years ago, during the carboniferous period of the Paleozoic era. The constant movement of the lithosphere caused the waters of the large sea, which covered the area, to retreat and allowed the limestone cliffs to rise. All very interesting information but I for one like the legends of this place a lot better. Locals say the Stone Forest was created by immortals that smashed an entire mountain to bits, to create a labyrinth where lovers could meet in total privacy.
Shilin plays an important part in Chinese mythology; one of the most popular national legends speaks of a beautiful Sani girl named Ashima who gets kidnapped by the son of an evil landlord. Ahey, the girlâ€™s lover goes after her, and after a series of challenges, manages to rescue his beloved, but gets chased into the Stone Forest, where a flood drowns Ashima and she transforms into the famous Ashima Stone, one of the forestâ€™s main attractions.
The Chinese government opened the Shilin Stone Forest as a tourist attraction in the 1950s but since then its popularity has grown, the beauty of the sword-shaped limestone columns and the hospitality and traditions of the Sani people attract people from all over the world.