Reed Flute Cave
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Reed Flute Cave, South Central China, China

Also known as: Art Palace of Nature

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Reed Flute Cave is one of southern China's most popular tourism spots. This fantastic cave is the highly-decorative result of an ancient underground lake; dripping, seeping water is still creating the fantastic stalactites, stalagmites and limestone pillars that produce its fantasy landscapes. Pools of water within the cave produce dramatic reflections of the formations bathed in colored lights. The cave takes its name from the special type of reeds that grow near it which are highly prized by local artisans for making reed flutes. Although not an international tourism destination until the 1960s, Reed Flute Cave has been visited for over a thousand years. Over 70 inscriptions painted in ink on the walls of the cave testify to its attraction to travelers as early as the Tang Dynasty in 792 AD.

Only three miles northwest of the city center of Guilin, Reed Flute Cave is on every tour itinerary in the area. The entrance lies partway up Guangming (Bright Light) Hill in a residential area. Near the entrance, small artificial lakes allow for fishing and bamboo rafting. A series of steps climb from the parking area to the mouth of the cave, where visitors embark on a tour route about a quarter of a mile long. Spectacular formations are highlighted in colored light and shadow, allowing visitors to see the interpretation for which each formation is named. Such legendary and interpretive names as Virgin Forest, Dragon Pagoda, Crystal Palace, and Flower and Fruit Mountain are highlighted with dramatic lighting which takes full advantage of the reflective properties of the underground pools of water. With the usual Chinese love of natural symbolism, the fanciful names and unique colored lighting rightly earn Reed Flue Cave its nickname as Art Palace of Nature. The landscape created is surreal, serene and highly fanciful.

Understanding how Reed Flute Cave was formed leads to a better understanding of one of the other fantastic natural phenomena of the Guilin area, the karst hills. These unusual rock formations pierce the sky like dragons' teeth over large areas of the local landscape. The result is a scenic backdrop suitable for a Tolkien epic, hardly believable but entirely the work of nature. The area served as scenic background for some of the Star Wars films, testimony to the skyline's other-worldly profile. Although karst limestone underlies many areas of the world, in this particular part of Guangxi Province the limestone formed millions of years ago when the area was submerged under the ocean.

The collision of the Indian and Eurasian continental plates that thrust up the huge Himalayan mountains also forced this land mass upward above sea level. The work of millions of monsoon rains eroded away the softer types of limestone, leaving the sharp tooth-like peaks of the karst hills. This same action thrust up Guangming Hill, leaving the underground lake it contained above the level of the surrounding land. Water seeping through the porous limestone deposited the dissolved lime with every drop, creating the fantastic formations in places like Reed Flute Cave. Although these caves often exist in areas with a karst base, Reed Flute Cave is one of the world's best examples of nature's transformational abilities.

Reed Flute Cave, the karst hills, the beautiful Li River and the ancient Ling Canal are some of the better-known local tourist attractions. Built in 214 BC under the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the Ling Canal connected the Li River to the Xiang River and facilitated transportation, commerce and irrigation in a time of few roads. So well designed was the project that it still performs its irrigation function well. Visitors often take walking tours around the City of Guilin, visiting the two small lakes at its center, walking along the Li River with its many bridges, and visiting cultural and natural sights along the way. Boat tours on the Li River are a popular way to see more of the unique scenery of this area. Those with more time for sightseeing often rent a bicycle and leisurely pedal through the nearby countryside, past small farms, rice paddies and tiny villages.

There are plenty of sights to see in Guilin itself: settled as early as 310 BC, the area has a long history as a cultural and economic center. One not-to-be-missed sight is the Jingjiang Palace & Mausoleum. The official residence of Prince Jingjiang of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it is a miniature of the Forbidden City. The Li River Folk Custom Center showcases the customs, food and dance of the many different ethnic groups inhabiting the Li River region. Located in the heart of the city, the Two Rivers Four Lakes Scenic Area features peaceful landscapes highlighting the twin pagodas located in the middle of the lake. The Moon Pagoda can be reached by one of the 19 bridges within the area, but the Sun Pagoda can only be reached via an underwater passage from the Moon Pagoda. An evening cruise boat tour of the area highlights the many pagodas and buildings which are lit with colored lights at night, traditional music, dancing fountains and performances of the Guilin Opera.

There are many forms of lodgings available around Guilin, from guest houses and youth hostels to small hotels and large international chains. First-time visitors might be better served to select a better-known hotel chain for their first visit as many smaller, locally-owned lodgings may provide sleeping mats rather than western-style beds. All types of restaurants, tea houses, cafes and street food are available to tempt the taste buds. Shopping facilities range from major malls to small local shops and stalls. Venders near Reed Flute Cave sell the traditional reed flutes the cave is named for which make great souvenirs. Come and immerse yourself in the surprising landscape that surrounds Reed Flute Cave. Such fantasy scenery is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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