Prowl­ing an oth­er­worldly un­der­world

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By ERIK NILS­SON in Kun­ming

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.

ERIK NILS­SON / CHINA DAILY

The Bat Cave is host to sta­lac­tites that curl like claws since they’ve been windswept by breezes for eons.

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