August 2, 2012
To resume my visit to China in 2006, we are in Kunming, The City Of Eternal Spring. It is a very temperate area known for its plant diversity. Most of China’s flower species come from Kunming with its pleasant, temperate climate. We see commercial flower gardens and orchards around Kunming, but our tour will take us to Shilin, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, a surrealistic “orchard” of stone.
The drive to this unique landscape through a three-mile long tunnel, and we worry about it caving in, probably unreasonably so. But, safety isn’t foremost in Chinese projects, we think. The tunnel replaced a twisty, tortuous road, we are told. Then we take a shuttle to the base of the 200 acres of what are called karst towers, formed 270 million years ago as the Himalayas were forming.
It’s a lovely spot by a lake, but the sign that greets us with tortured interpretations was a hoot though well intentioned. We were relieved to know what we buy here will be genuine.
Yunnan Province has many minority people. And we see them come to Shilin to get married, or celebrate special events in their lives. The most prominent minority in this region is the Yi people. The Suni Muslims are a branch of the Yi people. There are black Yis and white Yis. The black Yis enslaved the white Yis because they admired the rare black tigers of Asia over the white tigers. The Yi were great hunters and wrestlers, strong and muscular. They walk in fire and have fire torch festivals unique to the area. Mau banished slavery among the Yis. Another nearby minority is the Hui people, called barbarians. They arrived here with Kublai Khan. A very informative website can be found at the following link.
The area does resemble a stone forest, which is the common name for Shilin.
The karst formations are limestone and were shaped by a receding inland sea and harsh winds.
It was an easy, pleasant hike through the “forest” and one could imagine what it must have been like for ancient children to climb and play on the formations.
We hiked around the lake and took pictures. There are caves and waterfalls deeper inside the forest, but we were given a limited time here. Without a guide it would be easy to become disoriented and lost if we wandered too far off the path.
The people in their special native dress were fascinating, anyway.
The costumes are somewhat different, but always the main color of red and yellow.
The Yi men show their single status by the way they wear their feathers. A girl shows interest in a man by touching her horn.
Vicki speculated this was some type of local holiday celebration. It seemed very romantic to us with couples and singlels having their picture taken by the lake.
Near the gift shop, this gent was fiddling with a musical instrument. We figured there would be a musical event later in the day.
By lunchtime, the place was mobbed. I saw that under the costume the girls wear street clothes, kind of like we do for high school graduation.
This woman may have been a different minority with similar costume. I enjoyed people watching as much as the stone formations.
The Stone Forest is seventy-five miles from Kunming and actually makes its own weather. At certain times of years, storms roar out of the caves and water cascades from the high formations. We will move on to Urumichi and visit a Yi village.