Shilin or the Stone Forest is an impressive group of limestone formations covering an area of approximately 500 square kilometers, which is located in the Shilin Yi Autonomous District in the People’s Republic of China. The high rocks, which are located about 120 kilometers from the provincial capital Kunming, are reminiscent of stalagmites or petrified trees, creating the illusion of a forest made of stone. Two parts of the fascinating area, the Naigu Stone Forest and the village of Suogeyi, have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2007.
A very special karst landscape
These formations, caused by limestone erosion, are believed to be over 270 million years old. Up to 300 meters high sandstone sculptures can be seen here. They are considered a tourist attraction and are very popular with both overseas tourists and Chinese travelers. Many bus tours bring vacationers here from Kunming City. However, there are also a number of hotels in the area.
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Hiking trails and bridges make sightseeing easier
While strolling through the grounds, visitors can admire the natural stone masterpieces and be enchanted by the intricate formations. Many beautiful legends come from this magical place passed down by the indigenous people called the Sani, a branch of the Yi ethnic group. A special story about the loyal love of Ashima, a beautiful and clever sani girl, is the most popular and has been told for thousands of years. After falling in love, Ashima was not allowed to marry her chosen suitor and instead turned into a stone in the forest that still bears her name.
Traditional festivals between March and October
Every year on the 24th day of the sixth lunar month, many Yi celebrate the Torch Festival, which features folk dances, kite games, bullfights, lion dances and wrestling competitions. During this time, the place has a particularly joyful and festive atmosphere, which makes the area even more attractive than usual. The stone forest with its sculptures modeled by nature itself is a real wonder for visitors all year round.
Ming tombs in Beijing
The Ming tombs, which are located about 45 km northwest of Beijing, are the final resting place for 13 of the 16 emperors of the Ming period. It is one of the most important historical burial sites in China. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003 and should definitely be included in the trip to Beijing. The grave complex extends over an area of 80 km² and is laid out according to the rules of Feng Shui. In the past, the complex was cordoned off by a long wall with 10 watchtowers. The emperor and his entourage visited the mausoleums of his ancestors several times a year, but even he had to get off his horse at the Great Palace Gate and go through the eastern of the three entrances, because the middle one was reserved for the coffin of a dead emperor.
Way of souls
The “Path of Souls” is 7 km long and serves as the “sacred path” for the entire grave complex. On the way to the Changling tomb one comes through a wide marble gate with 6 columns, directly behind it comes the Great Palace Gate with red walls, the three passages and a yellow roof. If you follow the path further, you will pass stone figures of animals and humans, arranged in pairs, which symbolize the honor guard of the emperors. They make it clear that the emperor is not only defended by guards in life but also after death.
Changling is the tomb of Yongle, the 3rd emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He had moved the capital of China from Nanjing to Beijing (Peking) in order to stabilize the state and also initiated the construction of the Forbidden City. The facility consists of several courtyards and halls. According to Chinese beliefs, the soul separates from the body after death and buzzes around for generations to communicate with offspring, which is why an earthly part was built for the deceased in which they can feel at home. Today there is a large exhibition in the halls with copies of the magnificent additions to the graves.
The tomb of Dingling, which is most frequented on study trips today, is the tomb of Wanli, the 13th emperor of the Ming dynasty. His 48-year rule marked the cultural heyday of the Ming Dynasty, but also brought its downfall. The construction work on the monumental tomb, which extends over 180,000 m², took 6 years and required 30,000 people to work daily. The grave complex consists of a forecourt and underground halls that were built of stone without beams or columns. Their stability results solely from the vaulted ceilings. In the underground palace there are coffins, thrones and many splendid grave goods. Most impressive are probably the crowns of the emperor and empresses.