China impresses yet again with this obscure, natural attraction. The Kunming Stone Forest looks like something from another planet, or maybe even a movie set.
The limestone formations jut into the sky, resembling petrified trees. There are so many of them that it looks like a forest made of stone.
This part of China isn’t always the top of tourist’s itinerary. But, there are so many reasons why it should be. If you are planning a trip to China, make sure to add Kunming Stone Forest to your list. Here’s what you need to know about it.
Facts About Kunming Stone Forest
-It’s located in Shilin Yi Nationality Autonomous County, which is three hours from the city of Kunming.
-The entire area is around 400 sq. kilometers.
-The stones were formed 270 million years ago.
-The area is considered a World UNESCO Heritage Site.
-This is one of seven scenic areas in the region.
-There are thousands of rocks that make up this forest.
-According to folk tales, Kunming forest was the location where Ashima, a Yi woman was born. The story says that she was turned to stone when she wasn’t allowed to marry her true love.
-The tallest stone in the forest is 30 meters high.
-The park is open all year.
History Of Kunming Stone Forest
The stone forest got its start 270 million years ago. This was during the Paleozoic era, when the area was a vast sea.
As the lithosphere moved over time, the waters retreated and the limestone landscape was open to the elements.
Over time, the erosion shaped the limestone into towers and the forest was formed. It was about 200 million years ago that pillars, peaks, pyramids, towers, corridors, and stalagmites started to form.
After a few volcanic eruptions, the stone was coated in calcareous formations which has helped protect and preserve it from the elements.
The name, ‘stone forest,’ first was found in a poem that was written in 300 B.C, about the area. During the 14th century there were many detailed descriptions of the stone forest as well.
It was in the 17th century that scholars and adventurers began to explore the Kunming Stone Forest. They made sure to write about it in detail over the years.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, a French missionary lived in this area. He began to share news of the stone forest with the outside world.
And, in 1931, the forest was visited by the Yunnan governor who fell in love with its beauty. He formally named the area and it turned into a tourist attractions shortly after.
Culture Of The Kunming Stone Forest
The culture of Kunming Stone Forest is largely based around folklore. The most famous is the story of Ashima.
A member of the Yi ethnic minority, Ashima was said to be a beautiful, intelligent, and hard-working girl.
In the story, she falls in love with an orphan shepherd named Ahei. However, the son of a wealthy land owner, Azhi, falls for her.
He offers to marry her, but Ashima turns down his proposal. So, Azhi has her kidnapped and brought to his fortress.
Ahei realizes that Ashima is missing so he confronts Azhi and battles him to a riddle singing contest. They compete for three days but Ahei eventually wins and saves Ashima from the fortress.
As they were escaping, Azhi releases the flood gates, causing Ashima to drown.
The immortals heard of the tragic event and turned Ashima’s body into stone so that her love, Ahei could still visit with her.
Now, it’s said that her stone body still stands in the Kunming Forest and represents hope for others.
And, every year, on June 24th, a festival happens around Ashima’s stone.
This celebration, called, ‘The Torch Festival,’ is full of dragon dancers, bull fighting, pole climbing, wrestling, and moon dancing.
Aside from the festival, visitors can explore the area’s culture in Kunming. While visiting, make sure to check out:
-Western Hills: This mountainous landscape is perfect for hiking, photos, and anyone who loves nature. It’s one of the most beautiful scenes in the area.
-Dianchi Lake: This is the largest freshwater lake in Kunming. Visit the lake by boat or take a cable car above this natural beauty.
-Flower and Bird Market: This is a great place to experience the urban life in Kunming. It’s a great spot for shopping and visitors can find plenty of snacks and local cuisine.
-Yunnan Ethnic Village: Near Dianchi Lake, this scenic area offers a look into ethnic, villager life. Buy crafts, see dance performances, and learn about the history too.
-Yuantong Temple: This is the oldest Buddhist temple in Kunming. It dates back more than 1200 years and was originally built within the Tang Dynasty. It’s a top destination for culture lovers.
-The Pu’er Tea: This fermented tea is a specialty in Kunming. Make sure to try some at a local tea shop. And, don’t forget to bring some home as a souvenir.
-Chestwood Park: Come see the seagulls at this beautiful, public park. Visitors love to relax here when they’ve had enough of the city for a while.
-Kunming Museum: Learn about the history and culture of Kunming at this museum. There are numerous exhibits which include artifacts, artwork, and rotating displays.
Tips For Visiting Kunming Stone Forest
-Bring sturdy walking shoes for hiking.
-Pack a variety of clothes so that you are prepared for the changing weather and temperature.
-Book accommodation nearby so that you can take your time and visit the forest over multiple days.
-Pack a hat and sun block, even when the weather is cold.
-Keep an eye on small children if you choose to bring them.
-Make time to explore the other cultural and historical attractions in the area.
-Hire an English-speaking guide if you want to fully understand the stories behind each formation.