My visit to Shilin (Stone Forest) was definitely the most awesome thing I've seen so far in China. Not only that, it gave me a much-needed shot of nature to tide me over for the next five months.
Just at the entrance to the park there is a small lake with some cool stone formations. Behind this you can see some houses, this park is quite large and supports some tourism industry.
Those stones in the pond were just a taste; they were quite small compared to these, the real thing. This is an area just inside the "Major Stone Forest" section of the park where there are words carved in the rock and everyone stops to have their photo taken. The big word is "Shilin" (Stone Forest).
Many of the tourists and local guides were wearing the traditional conical basket hats. I have seen some farmers wearing them in the countryside but you never see them in a city. All of the park tour guides were wearing the colorful garb of a local ethnic group called the Sani (?); you can see one in the picture below.
The first of many, many places where it was necessary to duck, squeeze or climb, and the first of at least a million stairs. There were stone pathways throughout the park; in fact I'm not sure I ever set foot on dirt. A tremendous amount of labor went into making this park and they made the pathways out of native stone, often carved right into the rock, so it doesn't seem intrusive but rather adds to the intrigue of the place.
This spot felt prehistoric and reminded me of "Land of the Lost". Although I was alone I could hear people nearby, sort of an odd feeling.
To give you an idea of the size of these things, at the lower left corner of the next pic you can see the top of a sign. These stones must have been four stories high or more.
This cracked me up: "Better to rest here for awhile." There were a number of these small stone tables and seats in a clearing and a lot of picknickers, but the sign is referring to what you will see in the following picture, a stone bed, complete with pillow. Comfy!
The little tables and chairs could be found here and there throughout the Major Stone Forest area, which I though was quite nice, because all those stairs were exhausting.
Lots of places like this where you can see a pathway off in the distance but you have to figure out how to get there, as in the Myst games.
Most of the tour groups didn't seem to get very far from the main point of the park, so by this point already there were only a few people, which was quite nice.
There was a man from Thailand who wanted to have his photo taken every few steps; he was certainly meeting a lot of people that way. I took his picture and he returned the favor.There were many different butterflies there, some of them quite spectacular.
"Peripheral Area" - aha, this is exactly what I wanted! Awayyyyy from the tourists!
I followed the Peripheral Area sign up a pathway to the top of the hill, where I was rewarded with fabulous views in all directions. In this picture, although not very clear, you can see the pagoda in the main area where ALL of the tour groups were waiting to climb some crowded stairs and pile into it. Neener, neener, I got a MUCH better view from here, and didn't even have to climb as many stairs!
I caught up with the Thai man again here so I got my photo taken again,
A cool looking rock right at the top, felt like a kind of marker. I thought I had hiked a lot by this point, but little did I know...
Coming down from that hill I came to the ring road, which tour trams drive around, and following a sign found what was possibly the fanciest rest room I've seen in China. This public toilet was brand new and wooden and beautiful, and the toilets had this weird plastic liner in them and instead of flushing the liner would just go down, kind of closing the waste in the plastic bag as it went down.
On the same little hill was a guard hut, but the guards preferred sitting in this gazebo, for obvious reasons! What a job!
View from next to the gazebo.
I crossed the Ring Road and went into the REAL "Peripheral Area"; this is the area where no tour groups went and besides myself, I saw only one group of four people there. The peripheral area is even larger than the main area and I hiked through there for at least two hours. Below is a picture looking back up some steps I had just come down.
There were security cameras high on poles and these emergency telephones dotted throughout the park so I felt all right about exploring alone despite all the stone stairs. many of the stone stairs were so well used that they were polished and slippery, not to mention steep and uneven, so the cameras and phones no doubt are used to find people from time to time.
Here I found the "Antique Cliffy Paintings". They didn't look like much, but the name gave me a giggle.
Here are the other four hikers... and you can get an idea of the size of these stones, since you can't even see the top in this picture.
By this point I was getting kind of tired and hot and hungry, and I kept putting my camera away thinking "I've got enough photos", but then I'd round another corner and just have to pull it out again. Shilin was like a land of wonders.
A sign announcing three directions: Major Stone Forest, Antique Cliffy Paintings, and Eternal Mushroom. Of course, I had to go off in search of the Eternal Mushroom!
The standing stone reminded me of the Bahro stones in the game URU.
The path toward Eternal Mushroom went on and on and on, until it passed between some farms...
Yes, those things in the far distance are the Eternal Mushrooms. I went two more hills nearer to them than this photo, but the distance was deceptive and the path just kept going on and on. Fearing to miss the bus back to Kunming and not certain how long it would take me to get back, I gave up on the Eternal Mushrooms, but another traveller in the hostel confirmed that I was right about them.
Re-entering the park proper, I sat down for a rest for a moment. Between the trees, in the distance you can see the pagoda where the guards were sitting. The deceptively small-looking stones all around are the ones I was hiking beneath recently and are actually set down in a depression, they are really quite massive and only the guard post location indicates how far I had come (I think I came in a big loop off to the right).
Having been hiking for several hours without food, I decided to take a shortcut back to the guard post, a road that skirted the area between the farms and the park. This was so quiet that I could hear nothing but birdsong and the wind in the trees, how wonderful.
Reconnected with the Ring Road and following the trams; many of the Chinese tourists wanted to have their photo taken with me as though I was part of the scenery which I found rather odd. I took a picture of this massive rock giant to make note of the TREE on top of it which shows its size!
Having had enough of being photographed and helloed, I took another path leading back into the Major Stone Forest area. This spot was not marked in any way, but I was amazed by the resemblance to a face in a Roman helmet with eye slits.
Tired, but not enough to dim my curiosity, I had to follow a sign marked "Deep and Narrow Valley". These stairs were so steep and small that I had to hold the chains and go down sideways. I thought I'd stop at the little table, but curiosity kept me going all the way to the bottom.
... and then I saw the steps going back UP...
Despite my exhaustion, I didn't stop there because the Deep and Narrow Valley was home to the park's mosquito population. Onward and upward... and upward... and upward... will these stairs never end? I think I'm lost... but this is a beautiful little spot with several paths crossing.
Following the sounds of people on my now-shaky legs, finally tired enough to put the camera away, I followed a maze of stairs and finally connected up with the million or so tourists climbing to the pagoda. Following them took me back to the main area, where there was an exhibition of folk dancing in progress, to my delight.
After that, I made my way out of the park, ate a delicious but overpriced lunch in a local restaurant, and got myself onto the long distance bus returning to Kunming.
A view of the countryside between Kunming and Shilin as seen by the bus. Lovely hills, not flat like the area I'm in.
All in all a wonderful day, and by far the coolest thing I've seen in China. This would rate very high on my list of natural wonders I've seen in the world.