Amazing Karst at China’s Shilin Stone Forest: 270 million year old Natural Wonder (19 pictures)

Imagine 96,000 acres of forest, then swap out the trees in your mind’s eye for huge karst formations, some of which formed at least 270 million years ago, and that “stone forest” is Shilin in China. Since the Ming Dynasty in 1368-1644 AD, the collections of intricate karst formations and landscapes at Shilin Stone Forest have “bewitched” people; the site became known as the ‘First Wonder of the World,’ according to the China Travel Guide. South China Karst is not one Stone Forest, but made up of many such individual landscapes of all sizes. In fact, UNESCO says South China Karst has “outstanding universal value” and named two smaller stone forests, Naigu Stone Forest and Suogeyi Village, both as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here’s a look at Shilin Stone Forest in China.


David Learns Chinese related, “We’d gone to Naigu Shilin, the Black Stone Forest, part of a complex in Lunan Yi [an ethnic minority] Autonomous County. The entire area could be thought of as a giant Chinese garden. The contorted, sharp-edged limestone pinnacles stretch up 20, 50, 100 feet. If you have a feel for rock this is a great place. And so nice to breathe in the fresh high-elevation air, and hear the sharp cry of hawks and other birds.” Photo by sylvain kalache



South China Karst, UNESCO World Heritage Site since June 2007. Photo by sylvain kalache



The University of Houston’s Dr. John Butler wrote, “Dissolution lakes of enchanting and picturesque scenery, the Lunar Lake and Long Lake for example, are widespread in the Lunan region. The Big Waterfall is situated in the southeast of Lunan County and 19 km away from the downtown area. It flows swiftly over the 90 m fall and is the most spectacular waterfall in Yunnan Province. The Lunan caverns — Zhiyun Cave, Jibailong Cave among others — make up another fascinating world. The Shima Dragon Palace, which resembles a fairyland dragon palace, is concealed underground at depths of 100m or more. In particular , a magical scenery named ‘dragons groaning and tigers roaring’ in Qifeng Cave is a natural creation and a true masterpiece of geological agents.” Photo by Njambi Ndiba



Sword peak pond in Shilin Stone Forest. In fact, the University of Houston geologic history states, “The locals seemed to have named nearly every eroded surface. The main scenic areas include the Major, Minor and Naigu Stone Forests, Zhiyun Cave, Jibailong Cave, Qifeng Cave, Lunar Lake, Long Lake, and Big Water Fall. The Major and Minor Stone Forests are considered to be outstanding examples of karst topography in the world. Situated in the upper part of the nearly pure limestone (primarily CaCO3) of the Permian Makou Formation, the rocks are extremely weirdly shaped, looking like animals or human beings. These scenic spots are given interesting names such as ‘birds feeding their young’, ‘phoenix preening itself’, ‘glossy ganoderma of eternity’ and so on, making visitors always give full-play to their imagination.” Photo by LHOON


Sunshine, or the lack thereof, is supposed to make the rocks appear various colors. Photo by Sebastian Böll



China Journeys explained that karst is “a German term for the region in Slovenia where the process was first investigate.” Also “you can be sure that all domestic visitors will visit the rock of A-Shi-Ma where they will hear the legend. Supposedly, Ashima was a beautiful maiden of the Sani People (a sub-group of the Yi) who was kidnapped by an evil landlord’s son. Her true love came to save her but she then drowned on the way home, turning into this rock with just a slight resemblance to a girl carrying a bamboo basket.” Photo by Wilson Loo Kok Wee



7Wonders explains, “The rocks have memorable names such as Ten Thousand Year Mushroom (10m high), Mother and Son, Camel Riding on Elephant, Avalokitesvara Rock, Buddha Stone, Rhinoceros looking at the moon and beautiful maiden ascending from the water, etc.” Photo by Kent Wang



More advise on how to best see Shilin, which is just one of the many stone forests. “A road runs around the central area and it is well worth walking beyond this as few visitors ever do. A good trail runs from A lady yearning for her husband around to the Ten thousand year old glossy ganodernma (for which, read mushroom-shaped rock) and back to the road via a very tight squeeze. This may not have the pick of the peaks but is quiet and a great place to have your picnic, if dry. (Food options in the park are limited and it is best to bring your own.)” Photo  by Alexandria



Stone Forest’s most famous attraction, Ashima rock. A legend that has been told for thousands of years says that “the forest is the birthplace of Ashima, a beautiful girl of the Yi people. After falling in love she was forbidden to marry her chosen suitor and instead turned into a stone in the forest that still bears her name.” Each year on June 24th, the locals celebrate the “Torch Festival, which features folk dances and wrestling competitions.” Photo by Kent Wang



Stone Forest Pond waterway. You could get lost in the labyrinth as the karst forests have caves, peaks, ponds, waterfalls, and underground rivers. Photo by P Jaksa



Hillman also advised, “To enjoy the Stone Forest at its serene best, go either early in the day or late in the afternoon. You’ll avoid the crowded paths and loud talking guides. As a bonus, the lower angles of the sun make the rock pillars more striking to the eye and camera.” Photo by Stephen Zopf



One of the World’s Natural Wonders. Photo by malaysia traveller


Karst is made up of limestone and the landscape includes caves and sinkholes as underground streams erode the rock into fascinating formations that “look like petrified trees thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone.” Photo by Brücke-Osteuropa



China Travel Guide states, “Subterranean Stone Forest in Zhiyun Cave, distributed underground among several caves and occupying a total area of about three square kilometers (720 acres). Strange Wind Cave, composed of Penfeng Cave, Hongxi Spring and an underground river. From August to November, gales lasting two to three minutes sweep out of the cave every 30 minutes. Long Lake is a karsts lake that is three kilometers (two miles) long but only 300 meters (zero point two miles) wide. The lake features underwater stalagmites and stalactites and a small island in the center of the water. The source of the Dadie Waterfall, Ba River, is a branch of Nanpan River. In the rainy season, up to 150 cubic meters (196 cubic yards) of water per square inch plummet down the 88 meter (288 feet) drop.” Photo by Berend Bosch



Imagine 96,000 acres of forest, then swap out the trees in your mind’s eye for huge karst formations, some of which formed at least 270 million years ago, and that “stone forest” is Shilin in China. It’s located about an hour away from Kunming. Shilin is dotted with 65 reservoirs and ponds. Photo by Richard IJzermans



“Split and eroded by wind and rain, the tallest reaches 98 feet (30 meters) high,” wrote Lonely Planet. “Legend has it that the immortals smashed a mountain into a labyrinth for lovers seeking privacy.” Photo by mikeccross



7Wonders goes into more detail with the legend: “Asham of the Sani (the Sani people are a branch of the Yi nationality) was bore into a poor family in today’s Yunan region. The girl was very clever and she began helping her father herd sheep at the age of 12. One day in the mountains she saved a boy named Ahei who had lost his way while picking wild fruit. Ahei, a 12-year-old orphan, had to toil for the landlord. Sympathizing with the poor boy, Ashma took him home. Ashma’s parents took pity on Ahei and fostered him. Ahei and Ashma grew up together and they fell in love with each other. They got married and lived a happy life. But Ashma was later abducted by the man, Azhi, the landlord’s son who was eager for the lady’s beauty. When Ahei-the husband learnt the event, he killed the landlord and his son and rescued his wife-Ashma. The lovers went into the stone forest and lived happily there ever after, giving birth to fine sons and daughters who are said to be the ancestors of the Sani people.” Photo  by malaysia traveller



Walkway through the sharp karst. Photo by sylvain kalache

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