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Stone Forest

Located in the very center of Yunnan province, in the Shilin (Stone Forest) Yi Autonomous County and about 70 KM (43 miles) away from Kunming the capital city of Yunnan province, the Stone Forest Scenic Area is a large scale comprehensive tourism area assembling breathtaking landscapes, exotic ethnic customs, vacation and recreation areas and scientific investigation.

 It is believed that back some 270 million years ago, because of dramatic crust and plate movements in the southwest China region, development of special landforms which later became karst landforms. These kind of landforms took shape after the limestones were eroded by constant water washing and dripping.  So the landscapes can vary from stone pillars, stone peaks, stone sprouts, underground rivers and pools.  These formations can be found in many of the provinces in southern China, like in Yunnan, Guizhou, Xichuang, Guangxi, Guangdong and, Fujian.  While this type of landform can be found in those other areas, the karst landforms in Stone Forest have been recognized as the most well-formed and most beautiful.  They have long been praised as the “the First Wonder Under the Heaven” and “the Natural Landscape Museum”, and geologists around the world pay great honor to this scenic spot.

Other than its great value in geological scientific studies, it is one of the best well-known tourist attractions in Kunming and even in all of  Yunnan.  It is the National level Key Scenic Area.  It was listed as one of the World Geo-Parks by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2004, and in 2007 it was approved as a World Natural Heritage site by UNESCO.

Covering an area of 1100 square KM (424 square miles), the scenic area has spectacular natural beauty.  There are mainly eight parts: the Stone Forest Scenic Area, the NaiGu Stone Forest area, Zhi Yun Cave, the Long Lake, the Da DieShui area and Guishang National Forest Park, the Moon Lake and, the Qifeng Lake.  Of these, the Stone Forest area, the Naigu Stone Forest Area, the Da Dieshui area and the Long Lake area have opened to tourists.  The Stone Forest especially is the most popular and typical piece of this scenic area.

The Stone Forest area is further divided into the Major Stone Forest and the Minor Stone Forest. The  stones in the Major Stone Forest are more “wild” in their shapes with varied forms.  Just using  your imagination a little bit more and you can appreciate how wonderful and amazing the views are.  Zigzagging through narrow paths, you walk into a wonderland of stone.  There are swords, peaks, castles, birds and beasts of various kinds.

The Minor Stone Forest is gentler and has a calming and pleasant effect on people.  It is here that the Statue of Ashiam, the symbol of the Stone Forest, is located.  Beside its natural beauty, the Minor Stone Forest is also famous for its unique ethnic culture.

Ashima is an epic poem that portrays the history of the Sanni people, one of the subgroups of the Yi people in Yunnan. The poem is actually named after the heroine of the story.  It tells a romantic story of the girl, Ashima, which means “a maid with golden beauty heart”, who fell in love with a handsome boy by the name of Ahei.  At the same time, there was an evil landlord who also liked Ashima and wanted make her his concubine.  Having been refused by Ashima , the evil guy captured Ashima and took her home.  Hearing of this, Ahei fought against all the odds, and finally got his beloved Ashima back.  While on their way back home, they were caught in a heavy rainfall as they passed by the stone forest.  As the rain was getting heavier and heavier, the ground  separated them.  Trying as hard as he could, Ahei could not find Ashima.  Crying Ashima's name at the top of his lungs, all he heard was his own echo. Actually the reason was that Ashima was rescued by the Goddess of Echo when she was drawn into the big waves.  After that Ashima too became a Goddess of Echo.  So when Ahei shouted her name, wishing to reply all Ashima could do was repeat what Ahei shouted.  Year after year, Ashima slowly became a stone, and now if you shout her name she still echoes back.  In the 1950s, the film the Ashima featuring the legend and was made into China's first color Cinerama the Ashima, which was  screened in cinemas around China.  Ever since then, the Stone Forest and Ashima became household names. Ashima has become not only the symbol of the Stone Forest, but also is synonymous with the tourism industry of Yunnan province.

Major Festivals

The Torch Festival

This festival falls on the 24th day of the sixth lunar month every year.  It is one of the most important festivals for many ethnic groups in Yunnan province. For the Yi people in this region, it means lighting up torches to cast away bad luck and evil spirits, and to celebrate the harvest. On that same day, people of all ages from different villages put on their colorful costumes to celebrate this grand festival. There are various kinds of activities which include singing, dancing, wrestling and horse racing.

Mi Zhi Festival

The celebration of the Mi Zhi Festival usually falls in the winter season of the lunar calendar spanning from the first day of the rat (according to Chinese Animal Zodiac) to the day of the horse, and lasts about three to seven days. For the first few days people are allowed all kinds of activities, like hunting and fishing.  The women can do their knitting, washing or cleaning their houses.  Young people go outdoors to sing and dance together. The only thing they are not allowed to do is farm work.  After seven days, all religious priests would come to “the small Mi Zhi” forest to perform a small scale sacrificial ceremony, which would indicate the end of the festival.  The observation is meant to commemorate how ancestors of the Yi people lived here in the past.

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