The Stone Forest or Shilin is a notable set of limestone formations located in Shilin Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan Province, People's Republic of China, near Shilin approximately 120 kilometres (75 mi) from the provincial capital Kunming. The tall rocks seem to emanate from the ground in the manner of stalagmites, with many looking like petrified trees thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone. Since 2007, two parts of the site, the Naigu Stone Forest and Suogeyi Village, have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the South China Karst. The site is classified as a AAAAA-class tourist site.
The Stone Forest lies in the hinterland of the Middle Yunnan Plateau, 103o11"-103sup>o29" east longitude and 24o40"-24o56" north latitude. Located in Shilin Yi Autonomous County, it's over 70 kilometers away from Kunming. The climate belongs to the subtropical low latitude monsoon climate, with an average temperature of 16oC. It's a large-scale comprehensive tourism area incorporating natural scenery, national customs, leisure and holiday, and scientific research.
As the essence of the world's karst, the Stone Forest is well-known for "grandness, rarity, danger, elegance, quietness and vastness". It is dubbed as "the first wonder of the world" and "a natural museum of physiognomy" and enjoys a good reputation in geology circles for its remote history, wide variety, and large scale. It took shape 270 million years ago, experienced long geological evolution and complex geographical change and became the precious geological relic it is today. It includes numerous physiognomy types of the world such as the stone forest of Malaysia, America and Africa. It seems that the stone forests of all the world assemble here. With well-structured stone teeth, peak clusters, water-eroded caves, karst lakes, waterfalls and underground rivers, it's a typical plateau karst ecological system and a solid panoramic picture.
Covering an area of 1100 square kilometers and having a protection area of 350 square kilometer, there are all kinds of unique natural sceneries. According to the lay-out and features of the scenery, the scenic area is divided into eight sub areas: the Stone Forest Scenic Area, Heisongyan (Naigu) Stone Forest, Zhiyundong Cave, Changhu Lake, Feilong Waterfall (Dadieshui) Scenic Area, Kuishan National Forest Park, Yuehu Lake, and Qifengdong Cave. Among these, the Stone Forest Scenic Area (the key scenic area), Heisongyan Scenic Area, Feilong Waterfall Scenic Area and Changhu Lake Scenic Area have been developed and opened to tourists. In the Stone Forest Scenic Area, the key area, over 100 scenic spots familiar to tourists such as "Shilinshengjing (the highlight of the Stone Forest)", "Qianjunyifa (in a most dangerous condition)", "Phoenix Combing Wings" and Ashima are all here. Entering the scenic area is like entering the tunnel of time. You can feel the great works of Nature. Traveling in the maze below the sea, you can see barranca and stone peaks, just like a lively and grand natural painting.
In addition, there are many peripheral sights and potential scenic areas to be developed gradually for the people.
The charm of the Stone Forest lies not only in the natural sights but also in the customs of the Sani people of Shilin County, for it is "the hometown of Ashima". In the endless stone peaks and red earth of Shilin, there are also precious national and historical culture resources. Sani People, a branch of Yi, have lived here for over 2000 years and are famous for their diligence, bravery and warmth. Yi culture typical of Ashima has rich connotations and great influence. What Ashima represents is not only the image of Shilin, but also that of Yunnan tourism. In Ashima culture, the most influential are "one poem", "one film", "one song" and "one festival". The ancient narrative poem Ashima written in Yi characters has been translated into over 20 languages; adapted from this poem is China's first stereo film Ashima which enjoys a great reputation in the world; the Sani song Please Stay here, You Guest from afar is famous in the world; and the Torch Festival of Yi, which falls on the 24th of the 6th month of the lunar year and incorporates wrestling and bullfighting, is dubbed as the "Oriental Carnival".
Features of Stone Forest
Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, enjoys great fame among tourists not only because the region features a consistently warm climate, but also thanks to its wonderful vistas and landscapes. Among the most dramatic of these attractions is the Stone Forest (Shilin), known since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) as the 'First Wonder of the World.'
It is in Lunan Yi Nationality Autonomous County, which is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kunming and requires only a three-hour drive. It covers an area of 400 square kilometers (96,000 acres) and includes both large and small stone forests, as well as many other scenic spots. An old local saying says that 'If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time.' Truly, the site is one of the most important attractions of Yunnan.
Walking through the site, visitors marvel at the natural stone masterpieces and are bewitched by the intricate formations. The magnificent, strange and steep landscape creates countless labyrinthine vistas, including:
Major Stone Forest, Minor Stone Forest and Naigu Stone Forest, all of which feature stones in various formations. Animals, plants, and even human figures can be found here. Some are elegant, some are rugged, and each is lifelike with its own distinguishing characteristics.
Subterranean Stone Forest in Zhiyun Cave, distributed underground among several caves and occupying a total area of about three square kilometers (720 acres).
Strange Wind Cave, composed of Penfeng Cave, Hongxi Spring and an underground river. From August to November, gales lasting two to three minutes sweep out of the cave every 30 minutes.
Long Lake is a karsts lake that is three kilometers (two miles) long but only 300 meters (zero point two miles) wide. The lake features underwater stalagmites and stalactites and a small island in the center of the water.
The source of the Dadie Waterfall, Ba River, is a branch of Nanpan River. In the rainy season, up to 150 cubic meters (196 cubic yards) of water per square inch plummet down the 88 meter (288 feet) drop.
Geologists say the Stone Forest is a typical example of karsts topography. Approximately 270 million years ago - during the carboniferous period of the Paleozoic era - the region was a vast expanse of sea. Over time, the movements of the lithosphere gradually caused a retreat of the waters and the rise of the limestone landscape. Due to constant erosion by the elements, the area finally developed into the present-day appearance.
Many beautiful legends originate in this magical place, passed along by the native people known as Sani, a branch of the Yi ethnic group. One particular story about the faithful love of Ashima, a beautiful, clever and warm-hearted Sani girl, is the most popular and has been told for thousands of years. The Sani people celebrate their national festival - the Torch Festival - every lunar year on June 24. They take part in traditional performances such as wrestling, bull fighting, pole-climbing, dragon-playing, lion-dancing and the A-xi Moon Dance. During this time, the place is alive with a particularly joyful, festive atmosphere, making the area even more attractive than usual. However, the Stone Forest - with its sculptures engraved by nature, herself - is always a true miracle for visitors to behold.
How to get Stone Forest
Kunming East Coach Station (at the East 3rd Ring Road area) has regular buses to the site. The frequency is 20-30 minutes in peak season and about 40 minutes in low season. Beside the entrance of Stone Forest, there are regular buses to Naigu Stone Forest Scenic Area every 40 minutes.