The Karst Caverns of Yixing

Yixing, a city on the shores of Lake Taihu, is best known for the famous red pottery teapots made there. However, it is becoming more and more well known for the two wondrous karst caverns found here. Among the finest in the county, they are the Shanjuan and Zhanggong Caverns.

The Shanjuan Cavern are said have gotten their name from a poet named Shanjuan. Four to five thousand years ago, the Huanghe(Yellow)River valley was ruled by a succession of famous chieftains-Yao, Shun and Yu. Yao abdicated in favor of Shun, and Shun in turn tried to give the position to the poet Shanjuan. Shanjuan refused, saying “I am free to go wherever I please between heaven and earth, what do I want with the throne!” he came south to live in seclusion in this cavern.

Approximately five thousand square meters in area, the Shaniuan caverns arc divided into the upper cavern, the middle cavern and the lower and water caverns. They fire a veritable fairyland to wander through. enter through the middle cavern and the first thing you see is the“Foundation Pillar”, a massive seven meter high stalagmite. It is thought to have taken”thousand years for it to reach this present size. On the walls flanking the entrance you can make out carved inscriptions; the earliest is a poem by a sixth century scholar. As the cave widens, you enter a rock chamber known as the Lion and Elephant Arena.

Approximately fifty by twenty meters in size, it is able to accommodate about l 800 visitors at a time. On either side are two large natural rocks, one bearing a striking resemblance to a lion, the other an elephant.

Through a slit in the wall, the passage leads to the snail-shell-shaped upper cavern. It is filled with mist most of the time and maintains a temperature of about 23 degrees centigrade, winter and summer. Through the mist, weird stalactites drop from the ceiling. Some look like horses some like dragons. Water seeping out along the wails collects in pools. The two bigger ones are said to have been the baths of two Chinese mythical figures: Pan Ku who created heaven and earth and Nu Wa who mended heaven when and it cracked.

A winding tunnel leads from the upper to the lower cavern. Strange sounds can be heard as one walks down the stone stairs. First it is the sound of distant waves and breakers, then wind and thunder, then rolling war drums and finally a herd of gal- looing horses. You have crossed time four thresholds: Breaker Gate, Wind and Thunder Gate. War Drum Gate and Ten-Thousand Horses Gate. The source of these strange sounds is a waterfall found at the end of the tunnel just as one enters the lower cavern. The water crashes down a wall in a foaming torrent its reverberations subtly modified by the acoustics of the tunnel. The roar once scared a monk away.

The lower cavern is narrow and about l80 meters long. There are stalactites of all shapes and sizes suspended in the vault. To your tight, a swirl of water plunges from a spring, flowing through twists and turns into a waterway at the bottom known as the Water Cavern. You can take a rowboat to explore tile eerie recesses, the mysterious silence broken only by the soft paddling of the oars and the music of water drops falling from the ceiling into the stream.