Prowling an otherworldly underworld
Jiuxiang is a portal to the realm beneath ours — that is, not only below the Earth’s surface but also deep into our subconscious.
Locals view the cavern complex’s formations like a Rorschach test, identifying the shapes of mythical beings, everyday objects and everything in between in the stalactites, stalagmites and columns.
White Elephant Cave, for instance, takes its appellation from its perceived resemblance to said pachyderm. Its entrance is believed to look like a key — the loophole of which unlocks sunrises every morning. It’s spanned by a natural bridge, upon which a man appears to pore over a book while facing a tortoise.
The aerosol that wafts from where the river jets into the cave below imbues the scene with a misty mystique and occasionally paints rainbows.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see the Fairy Paddies, a 100-square-meter terrace of flowstone pools that tumble 10 meters from their highest point.
The geological park claims it’s the world’s largest such formation. Some pools created by the rock dams are big enough to bathe in. Others are “microscopic”, signage says.
The Fairy Party Hall is occupied by a huddle of columns likened to a mingling of deities. One stalactite is said to resemble a hanging roast duck— perhaps slung for their divine feast.
The Jade Flowers are neither jade nor flowers but rather merely resemble blooms made from the mineral.
Andthe “teeth” that jut from the mouths of caverns make it seem as if you’re walking into the jaws of Earth itself.
The 5,000-square-meter Lion Square just inside one cavern’s entrance takes its appellation from the big-catshaped stone guarding its opening. It occasionally hosts concerts, andis arguably one of the most exceptional features of Kunming’s underground music scene, in every sense.
The Bat Cave, however, isn’t named for the shapes of its formations — they all have their own respective anthropomorphic designations — but for the nocturnal flying mammals that once made it their home. Neither they — nor Bruce Wayne — can be found there today.
The cavern is, however, host to stalactites that curl like claws since they’ve been windswept by breezes for eons.
The subterranean Twin Waterfalls are likened to a pair of star-crossed lovers, who tragically leap from the crest to blend into one another in a churning pool below.
They gush near “Lover’s Gorge”, as Yincui Canyon is colloquially known, because local lovebirds used to croon ballads to each other from opposite sides. The tradition emulates a legend in which the Dragon King’s third daughter and a local lad serenaded each other from its cliff tops.
Visitors don construction helmets to protect them from tumbling stones to raft along the Yincui River that rips over a kilometer through the mountains before it burrows into the honeycomb of caverns.
The stalactites that dribble down the precipices outside the entrance are compared to “dragons soaring toward the sky”.
The 54-square-kilometer complex is a series of caves within caves, bored five tiers deep into the planet’s crust.
A local saying goes: “You couldn’t count the number of chambers in Jiuxiang in a lifetime.” (Actually, there are about a hundred.)
Still, spelunkers can hike dozens in a couple of hours. They canal so make the journey seated in bamboo sedan chairs.
The place is so much like a movie scene that it served as a shooting set for such films as Little Big Soldier, The Huada Chronicles: Blade of the Rose and The Myth.
This again proves how its entrances are gateways to worlds so ethereal that they seem to belong to the realm of fiction.
But visitors find they offer a chance to discover reality, albeit very different from above the surface.
The Bat Cave is host to stalactites that curl like claws since they’ve been windswept by breezes for eons.