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Throwback Thursday: China’s Stone Forest

July 11, 2013

I’ve appropriated the recent social media rage #throwbackthursday to start a new weekly series!  Throwback Thursdays share pictures and information from some of my earlier travels between 2007 and 2010 that have yet to make it onto this site.  After a long blogging hiatus, this series is to catch you, my readers, up on these past travels, while using the rest of the blog to recount my more recent trips.

Main entrance of the Stone Forest.

Main entrance of the Stone Forest.

We came to Shilin or the Stone Forest on a day-trip from Kunming where we had flown in the day before.  We were using the latter, which is the capital of Yunnan, as a jumping-off point to explore the rest of the province by train.  But before heading to idyllic Dali, we decided to delay our onward journey one day in order to experience China’s legendary Stone Forest.

Stone Forest (69)

Sweeping views of the “forest.”

Shilin is about 120 km or a two-hour bus ride from Kunming, and the path between the two is quite well-trodden by Chinese tourists to Yunnan.  The area is famous for its limestone rock formations that have been shaped over time by wind and rain into tall pillars that give the illusion of a forest turned to stone.  The formations are thought to be around 270 million years old, and the tallest reaches 30 meters high.

Stone Forest (37)

Stone Forest (89)

The Stone Forest is part of a larger national scenic area that spans 350 square kilometers, and several parts of the site have been awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In addition to the stone formations, there are lakes, caves, and waterfalls.

Stone Forest (79)Stone Forest (26)

As we explored, we found that some of the stones are packed so closely together that they create a series of narrow passageways.  Others are bent slightly inward at the top, forming a canopy and blocking out most of the strong sunlight from above.  Just when we’d feel totally submerged in the “forest,” we would emerge from this maze to find sweeping views of the countryside dotted with hundreds or thousands more karsts.

Stone Forest (80)

We couldn’t get over some of the views and kept commenting how it looked like we’d been dropped onto the set of Lord of the Rings or some other fantasy film.

Stone Forest (65)Stone Forest (32)

The area near the Stone Forest is also home to the Yi and Sani ethnic minorities, and the park hosts daily dance and musical shows where members of these groups perform in traditional costume.

Stone Forest (101)

We spent a total of about 2 hours exploring the Stone Forest and watching some of the performances.  Unlike many attractions in China, admission to Shilin is rather steep at 140 RMB (23 USD) per person.  However, for those who find themselves in Kunming looking for something to do, the whimsy and other-worldliness of Shilin make it a worthwhile trip.

Have you encountered such a fantastical place in your travels? Please share in the comments below!

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