an expedition to the stone forest {part 1}

Friday, February 13:  We check out of our hotel early to head to Kunming’s East Bus Station.  I’ve seen big bus stations before,  notably in Istanbul, but this is by far the most sprawling and chaotic bus station I’ve encountered in China.  The lines are 20-30 people deep at about 15 ticket counters, and they’re moving slowly.  We never imagined we’d have so much trouble getting a bus ticket to Shilin, home of the Stone Forest.

The bathrooms in this bus station are of the horrible trough variety, and even Alex, who hardly gets phased by bathroom things, says, crinkiing up his nose, that the men’s room is the most disgusting place he has ever seen.

We’re the first ones on the bus at 10:00 a.m. As this is the kind of bus that doesn’t leave until it’s full, we sit and wait for an hour, until 11:00, before we finally take off.  As we’re on the east side of Kunming, we’re in countryside almost immediately, and we enjoy the green hills and blue skies, dotted with some nice suburban apartments, on the 1 1/2 hour bus ride to Shilin.

We’re dumped at some kind of depot in Shilin, near the entrance to the park, but we need to find our hotel and check in.  We’d also like to get some lunch.  We find a taxi after much hassle, as no one at this depot speaks English; we’re then taken to the Stone Forest Holiday Inn, where we find that no one at the hotel speaks English.  The hotel seems far removed from anywhere else, and though we try to find out about a restaurant, we cannot get any information from the staff, who all just look at us as if we’re creatures from Mars.  We finally give up and ask about the entrance to the park.  We’re waved to the right direction outside the hotel.  We start walking, not having any clue how far we have to walk to the entrance.  Finally, after about 500 meters, we come upon the entrance to the Stone Forest.

Entrance to the Stone Forest

Entrance to the Stone Forest

All waterways lead to the Stone Forest

All waterways lead to the Stone Forest

Just inside the entrance, after paying our combined entrance fee of 360 yuan (~$58), we see the usual hordes of Chinese tourists along with this pretty little pond.

Little pond immediately upon entering the Stone Forest

Little pond immediately upon entering the Stone Forest

Our first priority is to find a restaurant.  Usually Chinese parks have all kinds of places to eat, but we can’t find anything here.  We follow the crowds along a road lined with buildings that seem to have no purpose.  We come to a spot where people are queuing up to get on small open-air minibuses, and we hop on one of them.  We take a ride counterclockwise around the perimeter of the park, enjoying the scenery along the way.  We’re determined to get off if we see any kind of food kiosk.

We find a food stand along the road in front of the Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area.  We find some bread snacks and sit on a beautiful green lawn among the karst formations to enjoy our small and insufficient picnic.

The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area

The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area

A placard in the park tells the origins of the word karst:  Karst was initially a transliteration of the German term karst.  Originally, karst was the name of a limestone area in the Istria Peninsula of Slovenia in Europe where limestone is widespread. At the end of the 19th century, Czechoslovakian scholar J. Cvijic researched the grotesque limestone landform and termed it karst.  Since then, karst has become international geological jargon referring to the dissolution process and morphological features occurring in carbonate rock.  In China, karst is also called Yangong.

After our picnic, we head into a dense karst area where we can climb to a viewing pavilion.

The Stone Forest

The Stone Forest

Limestone pinnacles

Limestone pinnacles

view from above

view from above

view from the minibus around the Stone Forest

Stone Forest

views from the perimeter road

Stone Forest karst landform

The Stone Forest

The Stone Forest

Stone Forest

Stone Forest

Odd-shaped pinnacles

Odd-shaped pinnacles

peak ecstasy

peak ecstasy

Back to our picnic area, we find a sign introducing The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area:  It is well known for its elegance.  The rich peaks and pillars are distributed in delicate spatial configurations amidst trees and meadows.

The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area

The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area

The Minor Stone Forest

The Minor Stone Forest

We head across a small pool into the Major Stone Forest area, which is a dense forest of karst pinnacles with stone walkways and steps built through it.

I love how Chinese signs at tourist attractions are so romanticized.  A sign here says: This tiny water pool is called Lotus Flower Pool with majestic Major Stone Forest to its south and beautiful Minor Stone Forest to the north.  This water pool is encompassed by fragrant magnolia, carpet-like lawn, and evergreen ivy.  Thousands of red carps are swimming in the clean water.

Lotus Flower Pool

Lotus Flower Pool

odd-shaped peaks

odd-shaped peaks

Another sign we find in a green valley informs us: On the left side of the gorges, green vines have fully covered the rock, whereas not a single vine has grown on the right side.  As the legend goes, this is where Ashima and her lover Ahei chanted their songs of love accompanied by wooden and leaf musical instruments, hence the name “The Lovers Valley.” It was once the shooting set for The Monkey King Subdues Thrice the White-bone Demon in the TV series Journey to the West.

Lovers Valley

Lovers Valley

Lovers Valley

Lovers Valley

Major Stone Forest peaks

Major Stone Forest peaks

As we wander further into the depths of the pinnacles, the crowds thin out considerably and we have the Stone Forest almost to ourselves.

Inside Major Stone Forest

Inside Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

In the depths

In the depths

Inside Major Stone Forest

Inside Major Stone Forest

Steps in Major Stone Forest

Steps in Major Stone Forest

Alex climbing in the Stone Forest

Alex climbing in the Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

A Thread of the Sky refers to those deep and narrow rock cracks and channels.  They developed along the vertical cracks (joints) due to water erosion.  When you walk into these locations, only a thread of the sky can be seen from below as the surrounding precipitous rocks block almost all the incoming daylight.

Inside the Major Stone Forest

Inside the Major Stone Forest

Gnarly trees in the Major Stone Forest

Gnarly trees in the Major Stone Forest

Red rocks in the Major Stone Forest

Red rocks in the Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

At the bottom of the rock wall, there’s a cavity whose dimension allows a person to crawl in and out. It’s called Rock Prison. Says the sign: Inside is a steep and narrow valley surrounded by high-rising peaks that may even block flappy birds.  According to legend, during Yianfeng Emperor’s reign in Qing Dynasty, it was the location for Zhao Fa, leader of the ethnic Yi people’s insurgent forces, to imprison his prisoners of war.  It was once the shooting set for The Monkey King’s Imprisonment under the Five-Finger Mountains by Gautana Buddha.

Alex at the entrance to Rock Prison

Alex at the entrance to Rock Prison

We emerge from the depths of the Major Stone Forest and begin to walk back along the perimeter road in a clockwise direction, returning over the same territory where we rode the minibus earlier in a counterclockwise direction.  Now we can enjoy some closer views of the areas we zipped past.

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Categories: karst, Karst landform, Kunming, Shilin, Stone Forest, Travel, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “an expedition to the stone forest {part 1}

  1. Even in a stone forest, there is color – the greens and rocks splashed with red.

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    • Yes, this one had a lot of color, Carol. It reminded me just a little of Cappadocia, except Cappadocia is much more natural and feels more like wilderness. 🙂

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  2. Spectacular!!

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  3. You did not say what you thought about it – it was an awful long journey on an empty stomach to get to this place. It reminds me of Stonehenge, you think it is massively huge but when you get there, you see that it isn’t. I felt bad for you having to journey so far to see these interesting rock formations.

    What burns me is the description of the bus station. All the money poured into tourism yet monster bus stations have the most disgusting bathroom facilities, as if they don’t realize the need for this by thousands of people on any given day. This is one of the things that really turns me off about travelling and I have been to 54 countries and many of them in the bottom of the third world, yet often their washrooms were better and cleaner than those in the more “advanced” countries.

    I look forward to your description of the meal you will finally eat after all this effort! Please include more photos of the food!

    So glad we are still travelling with Alex – will he be posting his feelings on the trip as well??

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    • I really enjoyed the Stone Forest, Mona Lisa, even though it took us so long to get there. It turned out our 4-5 hours in the afternoon were enough time to see much of it (though not all!) It was quite sprawling actually, and we walked a lot. You can see more in my second post that I just put up today.

      It wasn’t that the distance was so far; it’s really only an hour from Kunming, it’s just that the hassle of traveling in a country with 1.3 billion people is something you can’t imagine until you do it. It does get very wearing.

      It’s funny what you say about the bathrooms. I was always pleasantly surprised in Myanmar that despite the level of poverty compared to China, the bathrooms were always so civilized. The trough variety of bathrooms in China are the worst, although in all fairness, many of the bathrooms, such as those in Xi’an, where I just went for a long weekend, were quite nice. It is hard to find Western toilets however, as the Chinese find them disgusting. They hate the idea of sitting where someone else has sat!

      As for the meal we ate at the end, I have no description. I used to be so good about describing and photographing my meals, but I’ve fallen short here in China. Maybe because I’m less than enamored with the food. I’ll try to be better about recording my meals. 🙂

      I don’t know if Alex will post his feelings. I haven’t asked him, assuming he wouldn’t want to bother, but maybe I should! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kind of like a grey Bryce Canyon! What is the red in these rocks then? You must be getting very fit with all the steps you keep going up and down! Hope everything is going well at the university this term.

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    • You’re the second person who compared this place to Bryce Canyon, Jude, the other a friend of mine on Facebook. As far as the color, I put up some information in my second post about why the rocks have red, yellow and brown in them.

      You’d think I should be getting fit with all the walking, but somehow I can’t seem to drop weight in China. Maybe it’s all the oil, or the rice?? 🙂

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  5. Truly an amazing place Cathy, your photos are superb. I especially like the ones that have people in them as they give an idea of the size of the karst columns.

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    • Thanks so much, Pauline. It was easy to take great photos of this place, and it especially helped that the sky was so blue and had those dramatic clouds. The ones with people in them do give a sense of perspective, I think. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Talk about wierd and wonderful! I kept expecting trolls to leap out at you, Cathy! 🙂 The geology is quite fantastic, in every sense of the word.

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  7. Beautiful place – but what, no handstand from Alex!? – Suzan –

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    • Thanks again Suzan. It was a beautiful place. I think maybe Alex was just burned out from all our travels. Usually he does a handstand everywhere he can!! 🙂

      Like

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