Stone Forest – Shi Lin

image-12Met up with the two other guests rom the night before, flagged down a taxi, the other Canadian paid for that as he was quite happy to be going with someone and declared he would have surely become lost otherwise. The East Bus Station is quite far from anywhere central, one tends to think the driver is taking the long way around.

There is also a lot of construction, I say is because it appears it will be ongoing for several months. Look for signs in English but also ask where to buy tickets. Knowing how to ask was helpful but not really necessary – Shi Lin is a very popular tourist destination.

When I asked when we would leave I was told, in Mandarin, now! We rushed for the bus only to wait another ten minutes. Then we were off, for about 30 minutes before being stopped in our tracks, along with everyone else heading in the same direction, by what we assume was an accident. That delayed us by 1 1/2 hours and we knew that the last bus returning would be 5:30.

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Generally it takes about three hours, one way, from Kunming to drive the 90km. Buying an entry ticket is confusing, as with other places it seems the park ticket has to be purchased separately from the shuttle ticket despite the fact there is no other way to actually get to the real gate.

Drivers of the electric, open sided vehicles are dressed in traditional Yi costume, most of the drivers were women, a little gimmicky perhaps but still a nice touch. It was also nice to still be in the open air and be able to view the area while riding. According to travelchinaguide.com an old, local saying says that ‘If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time.’ I cannot emphasize this sentiment enough!

 

Formed out of limestone roughly 270 million years ago, these stone ‘trees’ really are a geological wonder. Who would have guessed natural formations of rock could provide such beauty. PART park has been on the UNESCO world Heritage Sites since 2007. Of course, in order to encourage visitors, pathways, stairways and various places for refuse have been installed. This is not your simple pleasure trip for the day though. I did not see one pair of ridiculous footwear, everyone was dressed for possible rain, carried water and food in packs (except for silly me with my extra bag – but we soon dealt with that after about an hour and I could then put everything into my day pack).

We were prepared to explore for about four hours, taking into consideration the final bus departure. Tours could remain longer. I lost count of how many stairs we went up an down; how many times we stopped to ooh and ah or take photos. I believe we were all entranced. My little iPhone 4 certainly did not do the formations justice – I do hope something of the wonder has been captured.

We returned, – took city transit from the bus station, the whole trip about 12 hours – tired, happy and hungry. Street food was on the menu. The next day I headed to Thailand, the Israeli woman (she is 25 – so young) to Yangshou and my Canadian neighbour to Myanmar the following day. We all said our goodbyes in the morning. Travelling solo is great, but sometimes it is rather nice to visit some places with others. The Stone Forest was such a place.

 

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Kunming: City of Eternal Spring

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My Train Berth

Chengdu to Kunming. Getting to the station via taxi was wise and I still had to walk more than intended. I had managed to fit my Ugg bag/purse into my Tracker day bag but also had a full bag of food. I was prepared to eat my way through this trip with mainly healthy food – red dragon fruit, hammi melon, bananas, oranges (mandarin of course) and even an apple. I also had some cookies, one steamed mian bao with pickled veg in it, yogurt and some sort of flaky, slightly sweet and salty pastry, and plenty of water.

My berth was too high for me to gracefully climb into. I noticed much younger women also had some difficulty. There is very little head room and the wall slopes so sitting up is nearly impossible. I self-regulated myself to a side seat by the window with excursions up the ladder for supplies. At least there is a ladder!

Away from the city fields with were being cultivated and harvested with various vegetables – absolutely no time given for laying fallow. Perfect photo op, an old person walking down the red dirt, hilly road – too far away to determine gender. Incongruous patio swing at one sticks, stones and whitewashed house. Comfort and leisure slowly coming to the fields.

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Not even an hour passed and I lost count of the tunnels. God forbid I forget the closeness of the ceiling or have to get up anytime soon! I had to maneuver my stuff around and was well on my way to pretzel state.

Roadside shrine, two figurines, I wonder which deities and for what reason. After several hours I started to get bored and nodding off only to wake up at 4:00am. I was ready to jump off the train.

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Just as I get to the point of being saturated with the underbelly of China I am pulled into the inner walls of sanctity – Yuan Tong Si is one such place. (I should explain I had been on the train 22 hours, developed a nasty headache and found that stairs were once again causing me to pause – I will get my lung capacity checked out when home)

Even managed to have a delicious, simple lunch for 5 yuan, rice with eggplant, a little spicy, broad beans, cabbage, potato and a simple pumpkin broth. Yuan Tong is a working Buddhist Temple. To my knowledge all the food donated to the various deities is then made into meals for the monks, the poor and the faithful – or something along those lines.

This temple, first built in the Tang Dynasty (c. 800 AD), was rebuilt with funding from the Yunnan govt, Chinese and Thai governments. Dedicated in 1991 the addition of the white temple, was built in the Thai style, far less ornate than the Chinese temples yet beautiful in its simplicity.

I could tell the holiday is over, no school children with families and most of those at the temple were most likely retired except the few foreigners – then again, a few of them seemed a few years older, at least, than I. This meant an enjoyable couple of hours listening to chanting – never did find the chanters except one group led by a monk. Bird song, doves fluttering, a cat relaxing, butterfly sunning its wings on the tail of a stone lion. This is a place that invites prayer, incense, red waxen candles and quiet respect by all.

Rather than search for my bus I explored a bit, keeping an eye out for the one I would need. Stopped for a much needed coffee at a nearby KFC. From my position on the second floor I saw one person smoking from a massive hookah.

Back to my lovely hostel where I met a fellow Canadian, and a young woman from Israel. We made arrangements to see the Stone Forest together the next day. It was nice to just think in English for an evening.