Hunan is a rather mountainous place, even containing the stone pillar landscape of Zhangjiajie… It is interesting geologically, but somehow, I did not expect caves – until we visited the White Dragon Cave (Bailongdong).
It is not outright caving; this cave is just a show cave – but was it ever interesting!
Up and In
At the parking area, there is also the ticket booth for entrance tickets. On the other side of the road, the walkway up to the entrance goes up the little mountain, through forest. In the heat of a Hunan summer, it is not the easiest of a climb; it goes up for quite a bit.
Up top at the entrance, though, one can wait at the rock outcropping that will lead into the cave. Temperatures there are already much more comfortable. Enough people around, a guard opens the metal gate at the entrance, tickets are checked, and a guide starts the tour.
Bailongdong is a strange mixture.
Bailongdong – White Dragon Cave
The paths underfoot have been poured in concrete to such an extent that I often found myself wondering how much of the structures all around are natural. The lighting put in is often rather fanciful.
The diversity of geological structures inside, of stalactites and stalagmites not just having grown from dripping water, but in waves and outgrowths from certain cracks in the stone, is amazing.
Many times, smaller passageways open out onto halls in the mountain, some high, some wide, some opening up onto other ones.
As usual, cavers (or were those later creators of the show cave?) could not resist naming different structures in peculiar ways…
“The Kiss” comes together, but had me thinking “Alien” more than “Klimt”; the “Peanut King” was very fittingly named; the “Root of Life,” well, was rather graphic.
Everybody went through the cave in the group, as instructed… only I couldn’t resist sometimes lagging behind. It was comfortably cool (once used to it) for everyone, but it was also amazing to spend a little time when the others had gone on into the next hall.
Cave Home Alone
Suddenly, there was hardly any sound anymore except the dripping of water. All quiet and cool and calm. And getting slightly disconcerting, especially imagining this situation without electric light strung all throughout it.
The path goes on and on for quite a while, through a plethora of halls and passages that are all similar and all different. The exit is quite a bit further down the mountain and nearly at another side of it – and getting to the exit of the cave is a bit of a shock.
Like the reverse of a sauna visit (if you end it the traditional way, jumping into a pool of ice-cold water), summer heat suddenly rises to envelop you again.
As it turned out, there are many caves all around. Many of them are being opened to visitors, but they are not yet there.
Yuwangdong – King Yu’s Cave
Not far away was an interesting example: Yuwangdong, the cave of King Yu.
The parking area around it was very nicely built; the path to the cave entrance, with a river rushing below, at the foot of the mountainside, was well-done… Only the cave entrance was also closed, and in spite of the rubber boots standing there, it was unclear when it got opened for visitors.
This cave, the story goes, was only recently explored by a team of (or including?) English cavers. It needed specialists because, well: Where Bailong Cave only has few small areas with water inside, the cave of King Yu – who controlled the raging flood waters – is a wet cave.
The river one hears below the entrance? It actually emerges from the mountain, out of the cave system, right there.