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                                Stone Forest (Shilin)
 
A national grade scenic and tourist spot
 
The Stone Forest is known as "One of Earth's Natural Wonders". All visitors to Kunming from home and abroad never hesitate to come here to admire the unique scenes formed by the stones. The Stone Forest is located in Shilin County, 85 kilometres southeast of Kunming. Covering a few hundred square kilometres, stone peaks rise abruptly from the ground in numerous layers like bamboo shoots, forests and pagodas. If you climb to the top of one of the peaks, you can behold thousands of peaks and valleys just like a marvelous vast black forest. The roads wind around between the peaks, taking visitors to ever more unexpected and beautiful scenes. Researches by Chinese and overseas geologists have proved that the Stone Forest is over 270 million years old. The area used to be an ocean. During the Long Geological Period from the late Permian Period 230million years ago to 2 million years ago , the ocean subsided and giant rocks appeared. During this time the rocks were gradually worn away by water, forming the strange rock forms seem today. Wandering in the Stone Forest is a unique experience .The stone mountains form strange shapes, the peaks are like poems and pictures, like the vertical "Lotus Peak," the majestic "Rhinoceros Admiring the Moon" and the graceful "Pavilion Observing the Peaks". The layers of mountains seem to be pressing forward; the curious shaped rocks excite people's imagination. In the depth of the Stone Forest, numerous lakes are like bright mirrors reflecting the rocks and peaks.
 
Among all the scenic spots in the Stone Forest, the rock of Ashima in the Small Stone Forest is the most famous. The rock of Ashima resembles a girl of the Sani people, a branch of the Yi ethnic group, with a kerchief on her head, and a bamboo basket on her back. The shape and expression are both surprisingly lifelike. Ashima was a beautiful girl in a Sani folk tale. She is a symbol of the hope for freedom to choose who to marry, and a happy life for the Sani people. This is a story of a young couple who fall in love, but cannot marry each other. It was first written down in the 1940s and performed in Kunming. It has been published several times, and was filmed in the 1960s. The national dance drama "Ashima" is on the list of the top Chinese dances in the 20th century. Since then "Ashima" has been translated into eight languages including English, German, French, and Russian and has shed its beauty throughout the international community.  
 
Walking through the Stone Forest, we can still find traces of the Neolithic Age. On the cliffs and peaks we find ancient frescos painted using a mixture of animal blood and minerals. This is a beautiful place combining the spirit of the ethnic minorities and natural scenery. Close to the Stone Forest are other scenic spots such as the Black Stone Forest, the Dadieshui Waterfall, the Changhu Lake (Long Lake), and the Ziyundong (Purple Clouds) Cave. Lakes, mountains, caves and rocks add more charm to the Stone Forest area. Every year, on the 24th day of the 6th lunar month, the Yi people celebrate their Torch Festival . Traditional activities including wrestling and bull fighting, and joyous singing and dancing always last throughout the whole night.  
 
Front Scenery of Stone Forest: As soon as one enters the Stone Forest scenic area, a crystal-clear lake comes into focus. By the east lakeside, rise from the water a good array of fantastic stone pinnacles, pillars, shoots, and stalactites, resembling a natural potted scenery. A few hundred steps beyond the lake, there is a pool with a huge boulder in the shape of a squatting lion. Hence it's given the name of "Lion Pool". Further on, a couple of tall limestones block the way like a green screen.
 
Greater Stone Forest: Inside the sea of Stone Forest, one feels as if were in a bizarre fairyland. The stone formations standing still resemble a variety of things such as ancient fortresses, birds, beasts, flowers, trees, human beings, and whatever else one can imagine.
 
Lesser Stone Forest: It adjoins the Greater Stone Forest, and has large lawns, lush growth of bamboos and trees as well as mountain flowers in Spring and Autumn. Most fantastic are "The Cluster of Pinnacles Propping up the Sky" and "The Stone Singing Praises of Plums".
 
Outer Stone Forest: It's gifted with myriad of stone peaks of various shapes. The Lion Hill resembles a squatting male lion on a height.
Stones here are oddly shaped, with peaks magnificently standing erect like a forest; thus people gave it the name “Shilin,” which means stone forest. Without visiting the region, one could never perceive the shapes with his or her imagination, and will never believe that such a place exists in the world. Attributed to the power of nature, there are several such “stone forests” in China. Among them, Yunnan's stone forests are the most well known.
Shilin is located at the southeast outskirts of Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, about 80 kilometers from the capital. Among all of China's mountainous and river attractions within an area of 9.6 million square kilometers, Yunnan's stone forests are unique for their topographical landscapes that feature magnificence, strangeness, peril and seclusion. Because of its characteristically large area, high rock posts, beautiful peaked shapes and closeness of varying scenes, Yunnan's stone forests take the lead in the world's lava topographical landscapes.
 
The Stone Forest displays the richest morphological features. Due to its unique geological evolution, numerous stone forest clusters that formed in different geological periods coexist in varied topography, each with its particular features. There are pinnacle-shaped, column-shaped, mushroom-shaped, and pagoda-shaped groups. Since almost all the typical pinnacle karst types can be identified in the Stone Forest, the park is acclaimed internationally the "Museum of Stone Forest karst".
 
Looking at the sea of imposing, winding stones, visitors ask where this exquisite creation came from? To answer this question, many people from past and present, both from China and foreign countries, have made consistent endeavors to unveil this mystery. According to scientists, the area used to be a vast sea about 200 million years ago. With a long-time geological movement and evolution, the sea eventually became the stone forests we see today. Locals, however, have another theory: the stone forests were transported by a strong immortal with a divine whip from afar, just like a shepherd tending to his sheep. The immortal planned to “shepherd” the stones to block off fierce floods. It is uncertain whether it was because of the failure of the immortal's divine whip, or whether these supernatural stones simply missed the land and its people as well that the moving stones promptly decided to “live” here.
 
Bestowed to mankind by nature, stone forests are an extraordinary masterpiece of the arts. In the natural scenic area of stone forests, which has an area of 350 square kilometers, there are several well-known scenic spots: Major Stone Forest, Minor Stone forest, Naigu Stone Forest, Zhiyun Cave, Strange Wind Cave, Long Lake, Moon Lake and the Flying Dragon Waterfall. These countless scenic spots can be classified into two types: rock and water areas. Major Stone Forest, Minor Stone Forest, Naigu Stone Forest, Zhiyun Cave and Strange Wind Cave belong to the rock-related scenery. Among the rock-related spots, stone forests -- “the First Wonder under Heaven” -- are the most representative. Stone forests include the Major Stone Forest and the Minor Stone Forest, which cover an area of 40 hectares.
 
Each rock stands majestically, as if surging and rolling like waves. Stone forests are like celestial palaces, with paths turning through the peaks. The peaks are in different positions -- some with their heads looking up into the sky, broadminded, or depressed. Each of the peaks or stone posts seems to be contending for strangeness and beauty. Some peaks stand magnificently high. Under the highly erected stone posts, clear streams flow among the strange stones, producing a “ding-dong” sound that wets the green and fresh flowers. In the labyrinth-like stone forest, one can look around and go up some steps for a better view.
 
So many scenes -- half illusion, half reality -- and a great variety of shapes lure visitors from near and far.
 
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