Thursday, May 31, 2018

Anthodites, Dragons, and Something Sacred: Panlong Cave in Yunfu, China

Exit of Panlong Cave in Yunfu
The exit for Panlong Cave in Yunfu

The biggest attraction at the Panlong Lake Scene Area in Yunfu is inside the karst topography that gives the area much of its beauty — Panlong Cave (蟠龙洞), from which the lake and scenic area ultimately derive their names. Regular tickets cost 35 yuan (about U.S. $5.45) and tour guides take groups of visitors through the cave.

As the tour guide will note, one of the cave's claims to fame is its "stone flowers". After a bit of online research, I believe the formal name for them is "anthodites". As described in the Universities Space Research Association's Earth Science Picture of the Day blog post, anthodites aren't very common:
Anthodites are a relatively rare mineral formation found only in certain caves, such as Skyline Caverns near Front Royal, Virginia. They're normally nearly pure white in color and usually consist of radiating bunches of needle-like crystals of calcium carbonate. Their mode of formation is not well understood, but they presumably form in air-filled chambers by the slow precipitation of calcium carbonate from thin films of water that are held to their surface by capillary attraction.
A sign inside Panlong Cave leaves no doubt as to the quality of its own anthodites:

In short, they are claimed to be the best. I will leave it up to anthodite experts to debate this further if need be.

You can't get very close to the anthodites, which is probably a good thing for their preservation.

anthodites at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

So here is a cropped version of the above photo with some clear examples.

anthodites at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

There are some other special structures in the cave as well.

Alien residue at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

But it is something else which inspired the cave's name. The cave twists and turns in such a way that has been compared to a twisting dragon. And "panlong" means "coiling dragon". In a similar spirit, many structures in the cave are said to resemble dragons in some way or another. The guide will be sure to point many of these out to you. It is like identifying objects in the shape of clouds. I don't have any good dragon photos, but I do have one of the Dragon Door.

Dragon Door at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

While the dragon shapes might be easy to miss, the twisting path is not. I have visited a number of caves in the past, and found it both remarkable and enjoyably disorienting as we twisted and turned over several levels.

Panlong Cave in Yunfu

twisting path at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

metal stairs at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

Walking past and over water from a underground stream is an added touch.

underground river at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

Towards the end of the tour through the cave is a structure named "Longmu's Return" that I feel safe safe saying isn't the result of completely natural processes.

Longmu Returns sculpture at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

From The Tao of Craft by Benebell Wen:
"Long Mu" means "Mother of Dragons." Long Mu was born human, as a woman named Wen Long Ji (溫龍姬), and became an orphan after her parents drowned in a great flood. She then came to raise five orphaned baby dragons to adulthood, who were loyal to their human mother until her death. Long Mu was later deified for mothering the five dragons. She is venerated as the goddess of motherhood, parenthood, fertility, and filial piety.
There is a box for giving money to the goddess.

Overall, the anthodites and coiling multilevel route are enough to recommend a visit to people who make their way to Yunfu. But if that's not enough to entice, perhaps one of the first sights in the tour through the cave will seal the deal.

Ladies and gentleman, the Sacred Cock:

Sacred Cock at Panlong Cave in Yunfu

The lighting and glass panel don't make it easy to take a great photo, but if you look closely you may make out the form of a chicken, a sacred one at that. How many caves have one of these?

Why it is with the dragons was not explained. But you can ask if you visit Panlong Cave in Yunfu.

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