The Shilin Stone Forest in the Yunnan Province of China is one of the most otherworldly places on earth, with towering limestone formations that seem like trees suddenly petrified. The Stone Forest is especially important to the Yi people, who have lived in the area for over 2,000 years, and each 24th day of the sixth lunar month (falling sometime in August) they hold the Torch Festival in the shadow of the rock giants.

article-imageStone Forest in 1995 (photograph by Arian Zwegers)

A Yi story holds that one of the pillars of the Stone Forest is in fact a girl named Ashima who turned to stone after she was forbidden from marrying her love. She’s a key figure to the Torch Festival, where many of the young Yi court potential suitors through dance and song. But that’s just one part of the incredibly elaborate festival. 

article-imageDancers at the Torch Festival (photograph by Sarah Jamerson)

There are also pole-climbing competitions, traditional wrestling, and lion dancing (presumably a style of dance, not parading lions). Dancing is central to the festival, and one dance has the men and women facing each other while the men play a traditional stringed instrument and the women clap the beat while kicking in time.

There is also bull fighting, but in this case it’s not some puny human taking on a powerful beast, it is actually two ox battling. But the most staggering spectacle is saved for last. 400 torches are lit and paraded into the form of a fire dragon that casts its glow against the silhouettes of the stone forest in the night. The Stone Forest Torch Festival isn’t the only Yi Torch Festival, but it’s likely the most stunning with its stone landscape. 

A Yi Torch Festival in Dali, China (photograph by jaywei80/Flickr user)

SHILIN STONE FOREST, Yunnan Province, China

Curious Facts of the Week: Helping you build your cocktail party conversation repertoire with a new strange fact every week, and an amazing place to explore its story. See all the Curious Facts here>