From the provincial capital of Kunming you can reach the Stone Forest or Shílín as it’s known in Chinese in around an hour. The busses leave Kunming east bust station every 40 minutes in high season and every hour in low season, so there is certainly no danger in missing out if you don’t catch the first bus of the day.
270 million years ago the Stone Forest was a shallow sea, over millions of years sandstone and limestone deposits formed in the sea, after the ground raised and the water drained from the basin these sandstone and limestone deposits were shaped by weathering and erosion forming the stalactite like formations we see today. These rock formations resemble prehistoric petrified wood leading to the local people to name the area Shílín which literally translates into Stone Forest.
Any natural historical area you visit in China will have its own legendary story, Shílín is no exception. The Sani people are a branch of the Yi ethnic group, their homeland is based in modern day Yunnan province. A story has been told and passed down for thousands of years by the Sani people – the story of Ashima.
Ashima was said to be a very beautiful young woman who was unable to marry the love of her life, heartbroken she ran into the stone forest and turned herself into a stone (as you do). The stone Ashima is said to have turned herself into is the most important and well visited stone within the Stone Forest.
Each year on the 24th of June, the local Sani people have a celebration called the torch festival during which they take part in a number of colourful activities which I hear is incredibly awe inspiring.
During my trip to the Stone Forest I was a little naughty, I found myself for a moment completely alone and to my right there was a sign which said ‘no entry’, beyond the sign I saw a crevasse in the rocks with a stone staircase leading up, I thought about it for a couple of seconds before jumping over and scuffling towards the rock staircase so as not to be spotted by other tourists and/or security. Before I knew it I was on top of the Stone Forest, clambering up tight staircases, tiptoeing across ledges and walking one foot in front of the other across narrow beams connecting the stones.
I could see why this place had a ‘no entry’ sign, it was pretty dangerous, but at the same time it was bloody amazing. I remember one point where I clambered to the top of one of the stones, it was silent and in the distance I could see the tourist lookout point filled with tourists pointing at me from afar…it was time to scarper.
I took some amazing photos from the ‘off limits trail’ I managed to get myself onto, this trail was obviously something much older, something that was maybe trodden by tourists back in a more adventurous age without red tape, lawsuits and railings…you fall and it’s your problem.
I really hope you get to visit Yunnan Province and if you do then try to make the short trip to The Stone Forest.