The Stone Forest (Shilin) is situated in the Lunan Yu Autonomous County, 126 kilometers southeast of Kunming Qujing Prefecture in Yunnan Province, with an elevation ranging from 1,625 to 1,900 meters above sea level; it is known as the "First Wonder of the World ". The Stone Forest is connected with Kunming both by highway and railway, enjoying an easily accessible transport.
The stone forest is a special type of karst landform. Its towering rock pillars in high concentration (between 5 and 30m) like a forest of stones, hence the name. These rock pillars, high and strangely shaped, spread widely in an area of over 26,000ha. Only 80ha of this area are open to visitors. The rock pillars are well preserved.
In addition, there are numerous karst caves fraught with stalagmite, stalactite, stone pillar, stone corridor and five underground rivers, lakes, ponds and waterfalls. Found also in the scenic zone are 65 reservoirs and ponds with a total storage capacity of 50 million cubic meters and good water quality.
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.
The Stone Forest is endowed with a pleasant climate, and it is adorned with more than 400 kinds of flowers and is divided into several scenic areas with names like Greater Stone Forest, Lesser Stone forest, Outer Stone Forest, Underground Stone Forest, Stone Forest Lake, and Da Dieshui Falls.
Among the most wonderful attractions in this area are the following eight scenic spots: Large & Small Stone Forests, Naigu Stone Forests, Large & Small Zhiyun Caves, Qingfeng Cave, Long Lake, Moon Lake, Fairy Lake and Feilong Falls. Also standing upright in the Stone Forest are innumerable cliffs and majestic peaks. The Lunan Stone Forest is composed mainly of peculiar rock pillars supplemented with karst caves, lakes, waterfalls and other scenic attractions.
Major Stone Forest, Minor Stone Forest, and Naigu Stone Forest have stones in various formations like animals, plants, and even human figures can be found here. Some are elegant, some are rugged, and each with its own distinguishing characteristics. Subterranean Stone Forest in Zhiyun Cave, an underground stone forest distributed among several caves occupying a total area of about three square kilometers.
Also you can find the Long Lake, it is a Karsts lake that is three kilometers long and only 300 meters wide. The lake features underwater stalagmites and stalactites and a small island in the center of the water.
From afar, it really looks like a dense forest but as you walk closer, you will find "trees" are all slender stone pinnacles. The Yi and Sani ethnic group who live there are hardworking, good singers and good dancers. Their folklore and culture are colorful and multifarious, backed up by a long history.
The term "the Stone Forest" suggests that it is a forest made up of stones. It is a Karst landform. In primitive times the Stone Forest area was a part of the Ancient Yunnan-Guizhou Sea. Geologists say Shilin Stone Forest is a perfect example of Karsts topography that was formed 270 million years ago, during the carboniferous period of the Paleozoic era. The limestone in the sea, washed by the water, formed countless channels and dissolved pillars. Movement of the crust and the collision between the Eurasian Plate and the Indian Plate, the crust here kept rising and in the end the sea became land then through hundreds of millions of years of the tests of the sun, rain, wind and many earthquakes, the land appeared so beautiful two million years ago. Groups of gray-black stone peaks, and stone pillars rise abruptly, pointing to the sky, like a very dense forest just as its name infers.
The Stone Forest dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) and is consider by some to be the First Wonder of the World, the Stone Forest of Shilin is still considered by many to be the most fantastic place in China. Stretching over an area of roughly 400 square kilometers, Shilin includes both small and large stone forests as well as other interesting scenic spots, like Shilin Lake which is filled with underwater stalactites.
Many beautiful legends originate in this magical place, passed along by the native people known as Sani, a branch of the Yi ethnic group. One particular story about the faithful love of Ashima, a beautiful, clever and warm-hearted Sani girl, is the most popular and has been told for thousands of years.
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.
The Sani people celebrate their national festival: “the Torch Festival”, every lunar year on June 24. They take part in traditional performances such as wrestling, bull fighting, pole-climbing, dragon-playing and lion-dancing and the A-xi Moon Dance. During this time, the Stone Forest is alive with a particularly joyful, festive atmosphere, making the area even more attractive than usual.
The Chinese government opened the Shilin Stone Forest as a tourist attraction in the 1950s but since then its popularity has grown, the beauty of the sword-shaped limestone columns and the hospitality and traditions of the Sani people attract people from all over the world.
In 1982, the State Council listed the Lunan Stone Forest Scenic Zone among the first group of the major places of scenic and historic interest. It is as well as its natural resources is owned by the state. The preservation of the entire area is divided into three classes by degree.