You didn’t think I was finished with Shaxi and the valleys of western Yunnan did you?
As a site central to the power of the Dali and Nanzhao kings, the region was a center of flowering culture – on mercifully preserved in the hardest substance of all – pure rock. Nanzhao artisans went to great lengths to carve their leaders, courts, and religious iconography into the mountains surrounding the valley. One of the most spectacular regions is known as Shibaoshan – Stone Treasure Mountain. In several groups – both labeled and preserved and visible to any free roaming hiker, artists carved saints, boddhistavas, kings, princes and beasts into the mountains. At Shibaoshan itself, the carvings are now protected under traditional-style Chinese awnings with pathways along the rock face. Some of my favorite carvings were not those protected in the main temple grottoes but rather were scattered about on the mountainsides – sometimes visible only after a bit of bushwhacking. My tour guide thought I was nuts to go walking about like that but she did not stop me.
Considered evidence of an earlier matriarchal society, one of the carvings is particularly provocative. You will know it when you see it. Local women offer prayers here for increased fertility.
The grottoes of Shibaoshan can be reached easily by taxi or minibus from Shaxi village. Any of the guest houses should be able to arrange a ride for you – if they do not offer the service themselves.
Just inside the gate to the main Shibaoshan grottoes is the Mantou mountain and Stone Bell. The Mantou Mountain is so-named because the way the rocks have eroded and cracked makes one of the rock faces look remarkably like a pile of Mantou (steamed bread). In the morning light the resemblance is quite striking. The stone bell is itself worth a view and lends its name (Shizhong) to the entire complex.