Fairy tale for the ages

Updated: 2015-05-04 09:45

By Erik Nilsson(China Daily)

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Fairy tale for the ages

A panoramic view of Kunming's Stone Forest in Yunnan province.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Aura of a classic love story lingers today in the Stone Forest of Kunming, Erik Nilsson discovers.

It's a legendary love story of rocky romance literally set in stone.

The ethnic Yi fable of Kunming's Stone Forest tells of the gorgeous and glib Ashima, and the poor but kindhearted herder Ahei, who fall in love. But a landlord's covetous son abducts Ashima and hides her in the limestone labyrinth.

Ahei challenges him to singing and wrestling competitions, and triumphs after three days.

But the villain floods the Stone Forest, drowning and fossilizing the lovers.

The tale is Noah meets Lot, Romeo and Juliet meets Legend of Zelda-with Yi characteristics.

Geologists agree the area was once underwater-albeit 200 million years ago. Undercurrents dissolved the seabed to forge the otherworldly dreamscape of thousands of stone spikes that jut skyward. It remains a modern marvel and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was these real forces, rather than magic, that conjured the two karsts said to be Ashima and Ahei.

Yet that doesn't make the story or its setting any less enchanting. (The epic has been made into a national dance drama, novels in several languages and a 1960s film.) The parable continues to shape the way explorers experience the vast area.

The Stone Forest is divided into two routes-"Ahei", or the Major Stone Forest subdivision, and "Ashima", whose "Minor" trek is much easier.

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