Dali Gate
Dali (12 hour night bus ride from Kunming on a relatively new highway) is a thousand-year-old city and one of the most charming and relaxing spots in China. Located in northwest Yunnan Province about five kilometers uphill from Lake Erhai, it is small town with a dusty medieval atmosphere and a beautiful setting, with Cangshan mountain on one side of the town and the lake on the other. Stone houses with green courtyards line cobblestone streets. Two ancient city gates and parts of an ancient walls still stand and three ancient pagodas grace a hill overlooking the city. Dali has been the location for many famous Chinese films, including Five Golden Flowers .

Dali was the historic center of the Nanzhao (649-902) and Dali (937-1253) kingdoms, the later of which was described by Marco Polo (1254-1324). Today, Dali is the economic and cultural center of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, with mountains to the east, west and south and Erhai Lake in the center. Dali has a wonderful geographical location and agreeable climate. The city is divided into two areas, the Ancient Town and the New District. Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture covers an area of nearly 30,000 square kilometers and is home to 13 ethnic groups include Yi, Hui, Miao and Naxi as well as Bai, who are by far the most numerous.

In the last couple decades it has become a popular destination for budget travelers. Many come to relax but others come to explore beautiful, clear Lake Erhai, the 12,000-foot-high sometimes snow-capped mountains and ethnic minority villages which are nearby. Bikes can be rented and there are a lot of good bicycling and hiking opportunities in the area. Many of the people that live are Dali are members of the Bai minority.

The Bai people mainly inhabit Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. The average altitude of that area is between 1200 meters to 1300 meters, and the southeast part is a little lower than the northwest. 4000-meter-high Blue Mountain lies in the very center and divides it into an eastern and a western part with different natural and geographical environments. The west part has many high mountains and deep valleys, whereas the east is much flatter. The Erhai Lake lies on the east side of the Blue Mountain. Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture has a mild climate in most of its areas. The yearly average temperature of 16 degrees Celsius. Dali has four seasons, with relatively mild summers and winters.

Marijuana plants grow wild. Hemp seed are a local snack. Usually what you see local people smoking is not marijuana but hand-rolled cigarettes made with northern Yunnan tobacco. Bai women are very industrious. They work the streets in their traditional clothes and headresses and sell all manner of things from their wicker basket backpacks.

Tourist Office: Dali Tourist Bureau, 11 Xinfu Rd, 671000 Dali, Yunnan, China, tel. (0)-872-212-1246 Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Maps of Dali: chinamaps.org ; Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Admission: Cangshan Mountain: 30 yuan; Ehai Lake: 140 yuan (includes travel boat ticket) Butterfly Spring: 60 yuan; Nanzhao Island: 50 yuan; Jizu Mountain: 60 yuan; Shibao Mountain: 30 yuan; Ancient Town: free Getting There: Dali is accessible by train, bus or car from Kunming and Lijiang. There is now fast-train service between Kunming, Dali and Lijiang that is connected to other cities of China. Take a train from Kunming Railway Station or a bus from Kunming West Bus Station to Dali. .Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Bai Ethnic Group

Bai girl
The Bai are one of Yunnan's largest and most prosperous minorities. They live most famously at the foot the Blue Mountain and on the edges of the Erhai Lake in Dali, Yunnan Province. Bai means white. The name Bai appears to have been selected centuries ago because of the white sheepskins they wore and to distinguish them from the Wuman (with wu meaning “black”) who lived near them. The Bai are also known as the Baihuo, Man, Baini, Baizi, Baizu, Bo, Bozi, Cuan, Minjia and Sou. In China, they are known for the movie Five Golden Flowers, a Chinese romantic musical film released in 1959. In addition to those around Dali in Yunnan Province, there are a few in specific areas of Guizhou, Sichuan and Hunan Provinces."Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

The Bai people mainly live in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Lijiang, Bijiang, Baoshan, Nanhua, Yuanjiang, Kunming and An'ning in Yunnan Province. Others are also scattered in Dayong and Sangzhi of Hunan Province, Bijie of Guizhou, Liangshan of Sichuan and some other places. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Bai people live mainly on farming. Some earn income from fishing, livestock raising, tourism and handicraft industries. The main food crops are paddy rice, wheat and corn. Their main cash crops are sugar cane, tobacco and tea. The Bai is one of the minorities of southwest China that has been in contact with the Chinese people for the longest period of time and have received many cultural influences from the Chinese. This has been due, in part, to the accessibility of the lands they inhabit, their peaceful character and the similarity of their rice culture to that of the Chinese. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

History of Dali

Dali pagodas
Dali was the capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom during the Tang Dynasty (618–906) and of the Dali Kingdom during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). For hundreds of years it has been a gateway to cultural, commercial and trade exchanges between China and the Southeast and South Asian region. The southwestern Silk Road and the Tea and Horse Route met at Dali, and it was from there that Sichuan Shu brocade and Yunnan Pu'er Tea were exported to India and Afghanistan. Since that time Dali has maintained its reputation as an "ancient capital at the crossroads of Asian culture."

In the A.D. sixth and seventh century, the area around Dali developed very quickly. The tribes inhabiting the Erhai Basin joined together to create political entities that become to be known as the Six Zhaos (Kingdoms). Among them was the Mengshe zhao—also called Nanzhao for being the southerner of these kingdoms. Established by Xinuolou in 649 in the present city of Weishan, it became the most powerful of these kingdoms. By 737 the other five zhaos were under the rule of Piluoge, who is considered the founder of the Nanzhao Kingdom. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

After the Ming emperors consolidated their power in the Central Plains, China began exerting itself more in Yunnan. More Han Chinese immigrants arrived in the region. For the most part Chinese and Bai cohabit the region peacefully. Dali was the main political, economic and trading center in Yunnan. There were occasional uprisings.In 1874, a Hui Muslim named Du Wenxiu united the Bai, Naxi, Yi and Dai in a rebellion against the Qing dynasty. The rebellion was brutally put down in 1892. Missionaries arrived when the Burma Road was constructed nearby in 1937-38. In 1956, the Dali Baizu Autonomous Region was created under the Communists.

Visiting Dali

CRI reports: Dali is one of Yunnan's most popular tourist destinations, both for its historic sites and the 'Foreigners' Street' that features Western-style food, music, and English-speaking business owners. It attracts travelers from all over, mostly from China and other parts of Asia, but also many others from Europe and the Americas. A famous traveller Arthur Miranda used to say that, "Once a traveller comes to Dali, he never wants to leave." In his book which listed his top 50 "must-see" places he put Dali at number three. [Source: CRI March 26, 2009]

“The night on which we arrived, we stayed in a bar. The owner of the bar was a middle-aged woman. She was thin, tall and sexy. She smiled gently and invited us to drink wine. Jazz, Rock and Flamenco poured out of the speakers, mingling with the local music, which is played on a pipe made from a fluted, two-lobed, dried gourd. It was an experience that we'd never had before and it was a side of life that was rarely seen in big cities like Beijing.

“The next day we rose early to get a glimpse of this ancient city in southwest China. We found it was possible to eat all kinds of food, Tibetan, local, Chinese, Korean and Pizza! Many travelers walked around with surprised, excited looks on their faces. The smiles and endearing good nature of the native people could be felt all around.

Sights In and Around Dali

Popular sights in and around Dali include the Dali Museum (with some archeological artifacts and exhibits on the Bai people), the Three Pagodas, Canshan Mountain, Jizushan (a sacred Buddhist mountain), Cibuhu Lake, Guantong Temple, Guanyintan Temple, Butterfly Spring, Shaping Market, the Bai village of Xizhou and numerous mountains villages and fishing settlements. A number of village have weekly markets. There is a particularly good one in Shaping, 30 kilometers from Dali, on Mondays.

According to CRI: The Ancient City “was established in 1382 AD during the Ming Dynasty as the capital of the Dali kingdom. The layout of the ancient city resembles a chessboard. There are five streets stretching from south to north, and 8 lanes from east to west, all paved with blue slab stones. Along them are typical Bai houses which have stone walls and dark blue tile roofs. Streams from the Cangshan Mountain flow through the streets and lanes and around the city into the Erhai Lake. [Source: CRI March 26, 2009]

“A stroll through the ancient city is like unrolling a poetic scroll. The streets are lined with shops selling Bai ethnic batiks, preserved fruits and tobacco. In the Jade market you can always find a group of visitors fascinated with Dali's marble handicrafts, particularly those fashioned into the four treasures of the study ?C the writing brush, ink stick, ink slab and paper, as well as standing and hanging screens, vases, wine cups, incense burners and other decorations.”

Bai Villages (near Dali) are famous for their unique homes and pagodas. There are about 1.5 million Bai living in the Dali area. Their unique houses have grey brick walls, tiled roofs and beams decorated with paintings of birds, flowers and mountains. The towers in the villages which have roofs with upturned eaves are also impressive.

Chicken Foot Mountain (five hour bus ride from Dali) is named after scratch-like outcrops of rock that streak down the mountain. A popular destination for Buddhist pilgrims from China and Tibet, the summit of the mountain contains a 7th-century monastery filled with chanting monks, incense and offerings. It takes about four hours to reach the monastery by foot. The monks let guests stay in simple beds with electric blankets for US$2.00 a night.

Three Dali Pagodas

The three Dali pagodas (one kilometers northwest of Dali) are three cream-colored, delicate-looking pagodas built to invoke the Buddha's protection against natural disasters. Located at the foot of Yinglo Peak of Cangshan Mountain and facing Erhai Lake, the main pagoda is called Qianxun. Completed in 876, this 16-story pagoda is 67 meters (220) feet tall and has upturned yellow eaves at each story. The yellow eaves contrast beautifully with the white facade of the pagoda. The other two 10-story pagodas and slimmer and each is 46 meters (150 feet) high. All three pagodas are constructed from white bricks. You can't go inside them and paying the entrance fee to see them up close isn't really worth it. They are best admired from a short distance away. The pagodas were once part of a large Buddhist monastery .

The Three Pagodas — one large and two small — are the symbol of the history of Dali. They are arranged on the corners of a symmetrical triangle, which is like that of a Ding (an ancient cooking vessel with three feet). The overall layout is very unified, grand, graceful and harmonious.. The main pagoda, Qianxun Pagoda, contains many Buddha sculptures made of gold, silver or wood and Buddhist scriptures. All three have withstood earthquakess and many years of wind and rain, As the most ancient brick-and-stone buildings in Yunnan, the three towers are very important as Buddhist monuments and relics of the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms.

In terms of architecture style and shape, the three towers are similar to the Xiaoyan (Small Wild Goose) Pagoda in Xian. According to the Museum of Nationalities: “The three towers in Dali are also known as the three towers of Chongsheng (esteem holiness) Temple or Dali's towers of Chongsheng Temple. In front of the highest apex of the Blue Mountain-where Chongsheng Temple used to stand in the northwest of the ancient Dali city-there stands the main tower and the other two towers: one to the north and one to the south. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

“The main tower is larger. It stands in the east part of the temple. Built in the Nanzhao (an ancient kingdom in the Tang dynasty) period of the Tang Dynasty, it is also called Qianxun tower, and its formal name is Fajietonglingmingdaochengta (a tower which leads to the understanding of Buddhism.) The tower is square outside and hollow inside, and each floor of it is bigger than the one above. Made of square bricks, the tower has dense eaves. It has altogether 16 floors and is 69.13 meters tall. In every floor, there are two niches opposite to each other for holding figures of Buddhist gods, and two windows for aeration and lighting. The Sha (the top of a Buddhist tower) of the tower consists of a newel, a baoding (the top point), a baogai (the cover), a Xianglun (a Buddhist wheel-like thing), a lotus-flower seat. If You can get to the top of the tower and overlook the whole ancient Dali city, everything is presented to your eyes. Before your eyes is a majestic picture-the silvery Blue Mountain, the jade Erhai Lake and everything else. It is like a painting of dazzling beauty. The tower base, which is 1.1 meters tall, has two layers: the lower one is rounded with marble railing and columns; the upper one is laid up with bricks and is 2.07 meters tall. The main body of the tower is a structure rounded with thick walls. Each side of the main body has a width from 9.81 meters to 9.85 meters. The walls are about 3.3 meters thick. The sides within the tower are vertical and the upper part is connected with the lower part. There are wooden stairs in the shape of "",by which one could get to the top. On the bricks, there are many engraved Sanskrit and Chinese characters. In each niche and the top, numerous cultural relics like figures of Buddhist gods and written volumes of Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese scripts are stored.

“The other two towers either in the south or north are smaller in size. They were built roughly in the Wudai period (a period after the Tang Empire collapsed) or in the first stage of the Dali Kingdom in the Song dynasty. Both the two towers are 42.19 meters tall and eight-square. Each tower has ten floors. The proportion of each floor, the outline and decorations are all different from the Qianxun Tower (the main tower). The smaller towers have lower bases. And from the second tower up, every floor is of the roughly same length. The outline of the tower is like a taper, and the cross section is a round curve that looks graceful. On all the eight sides of the tower, there are niches of various shapes. On the eaves of the towers, there are Yanglian (upturned lotus) or Tuanlian (holding in a clasp lotus) sculpts as decorations. On the main body of the tower, there are many figures of Buddhist gods, lotuses and vases in relief refined and exquisite shapes, which vary from floor to floor.”

Study of the Three Pagodas and the cultural relics that have been excavated at the site provides significant data for exploring the history, religion, and art of the area. During restoration in the 1990s, we found more than 680 antiques in the main pagoda, the Qianxun Pagoda, including sculptures of Buddha made of gold, silver, wood and crystal; Buddhist writings; and more than 600 medicinal ingredients. These antiquities play an important role in explaining the ancient history of Dali City." Admission to the Dali Pagodas: 120 yuan; Hours Open: 8:00am to 7:00pm. Today, travellers can also visit the Three Pagodas at night, when they are illuminated.

Chanshan Mountain and Erhai Lake Scenic Spot

Dali Chanshan Mountain and Erhai Lake Scenic Spot was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake are located in the western Yunnan province within the Cangshan Mountain and Erhai lake scenic spot of 960 square kilometers. In the scenic spot there are an ancient town and pretty and lofty Cangshan Mountain and Erhai lake which is as bright and beautiful as a mirror. There are also more than 100 scenic spot in the area. This scenic spot has wonderful natural scenery, long-standing history and culture, numerous historical relics and sites and strong national custom. The Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake lie at the southern end of the Henduanshan mountain range. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“The geological and climatic condition in the Cangshan mountain that looks like a painted screen are complicated where there is a distinct vertical distribution of vegetation with more than 6000 kinds of plants distributed over all 19 peaks and 18 streams. The primeval forest of alpine azalea rolling for a few kilometers adds to a little charm of grand Cangshan Mountain where the unique fourth century glacier made highland rivers. Rocks, spring, clouds and butterflies add to a little mystery of the mountain. The moon is mirrored on the wide Erhai Lake sometimes dotted white sails, which there is grace on the lake as well as strength in the Cangshan Mountain. All of those have formed strange scenery of wind, flowers, snow and the moon in the Cangshan Mountain and Erhai lake scenic spot. Dali in the scenic spot has a long history. Erhai in the Neolithic Age there were sings of human habitation in Dali.

“In history the Kingdom of Nanzhao, the Kingdom of Dali, the Kingdom of Dachanghe, the Kingdom of Datianxing and the Kingdom of Dayining all once made Dali their capital, so Dali is also called onetime capital of the five Kingdoms. In the scenic spot there are two national historical and cultural cities which are the Dali ancient town and Weishan ancient town. Besides there are more than 100 historical relics and sites such as Chongshengsi Three Pagodas in Dali, Dehua Tablet of the Nanzhao Kingdom, Shibaoshan Grottoes of the Nanzhao Kingdom and Bai Nationality has been living in compact communities has unique and strong national custom and rich connotation of national culture. In the respects of natural environment, history, culture and national custom the cangshan mountain and Erhai lake show characteristic connotation and value.”

Cangshan Mountain

Cangshan Mountain, also known as Diancangshan, is located at the southern end of the Yunling Mountains and forms a trailing section of the Hengduan (transversely faulted) Mountains. Cangshan is always jade-green, hence the name. Cangshan Mountain stretches from Shangguan (Upper Pass) in the north to Xiaguan (Lower Pass) in the south, and touches the limpid water of Erhai Lake in the east and reaches the turbulent Heihuijiang River in the west. It measures 42 kilometers from south to north and 20 kilometers from east to west. The mountain range comprises 19 peaks and 18 brooks.[Source: travelchinayunnan.com]

The names of the peaks are as follows: Yunlong Peak, Canglang Peak, Wutai Peak, Lianhua Peak, Baiyun Peak, Heyun Peak, Sanyang Peak, Lanfeng Peak, Xueren Peak, Yingyue Peak, Xiaocen Peak, Zhonghe Peak, Longquan Peak, Yuju Peak, Malong Peak, Shengying Peak, Foding Peak, Ma'er Peak and Xieyang Peak. Malong Peak is the highest, measuring 4,122 meters above sea level, while the rest of the peaks average over 3,500 meters in elevation, and are covered with snow throughout the year.

There are 18 brooks among the peaks. They rush down torrentially into Erhai Lake. From north to south, the 18 brooks are respectively named the Xiayi, Wanhua, Yang, Mangyong, Jing, Lingquan, Baishi, Shuangynan, Yinxian, Mei, Tao, Zhong, Luyu, Long, Qingbi, Mocan, Tingming and Yuangnan Brooks.

The vegetation over Cangshan Mountain has a distinctive distribution and it is a treasure house of more than 3,000 species of plants, mainly consisting of evergreen coniferous trees, shrubs and grasses. In spring and summer, azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons bloom in profusion over an infinite expanse.

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake, also known as Yeyu Pond, Xi'er River and Kunmi River in old times, is named after its shape and expanse. "Er" in Chinese means a human ear and "Hai" means a sea, hence its name Erhai. It is one of the seven biggest fresh water lakes in China and the largest highland lake next to Dianchi Lake (in Kunming). So it was called "Plateau Pearl". The dimension is 41.5 kilometers by 6.9 kilometers. It starts from Jiangwei of Eryuan county in the north and ends at Xiaguan in the south. The total storage capacity is 3 billion cubic meters and its elevation 1,972 meters. [Source: travelchinayunnan.com]

Erhai Lake is a barrier lake formed after a fault foundering of the earth's crust. It originates in Heigushan Mountain of Er'yuan. The water mainly comes from the Miju River and Luoshi River in Er'yuan county, the 18 brooks of Cangshan in the west, and the Boluo River, Fengwei Brook, Yulong Gully and Shitou Brook in the southeast, which converge into a mighty torrent and then flow into Erhai Lake. After that, it again flows into the Lancangjiang River by passing through Tianshengqiao (Natural Bridge) of Xiaguan, where a multistage power station of medium size stand, and the Yangbi River in the west over a distance of more than 20 kilometers.

The beautiful scenery and limpid waters of Erhai Lake are charming and attractive. On the boundless expanse of the lake, there are steamers, sailing boats, flying birds, the Three Islets, the Four Sand Bars, the Five Miniature Lakes and the Nine Curvatures, with their reflections in the placid water, accompanied by Bai girls in bright-colored costumes on the shore or in fishing boats singing the praises of their life. The picturesque scenery makes you feel relaxed and happy.

The white snow over the green Cangshan Mountain and the limpid water of Erhai Lake have earned Dali the fame of "Jade Erhai and Silver Cangshan." During a clear night, the moon is mirrored in the lake and people call it the "Erhai Moon" which is one of the four best sights of Dali. It would be a great pity if people travelling to Dali do not go for a boat ride in the lake, just like people travelling to Kunming without having a glance at the scenery of Xishan (the Western Hills).

Sights Around Erhai Lake

Jinsuodao (Golden Shuttle Island), also called the Island of the Sea, lies in the southeast part of Erhai Lake and stands far apart opposite the Erhai Park at a distance. Lying 13 kilometers away from Xiaguan Harbor, it is one of the scenic spots for a boat ride in the lake. The island is 1,500 meters in length and 20 meters to 500 meters in width. The west is wide and the middle is narrow, so it looks like a shuttle or floating calabash, hence its name. The island is full of caverns and precipitous cliffs. The "Annals of Yunnan" by Fan Zhuo, a historian, recorded that: "The island lies in the centre of the lake, and is embraced by water on the four sides. It was cool and comfortable in summer, and was a summer resort of the royal family of Nanzhao Kingdom."

The island is inhabited by the Bai people whose professions are fishing and water transportation. Rocks are used in building their walls and grey-colored bricks are dominantly used in building their houses. In front of the gate there is a screen wall. The courtyard, decorated with trees and flowers, gives a graceful atmosphere. The island commands a wide view of the lake with Cangshan Mountain as the beautiful background. It is on the island that one can taste the flavor of "fresh fish cooked in fresh water" in the style of the Bai nationality.

Erhai Lake Villages: A total of 17 villages are spread along the Western shore of the Erhai Lake between Xiaguan and Xizhou. Take a tour by bike by riding east from Dali Old Town until you reach the lake in Caicun Village and then north beside the lake shore taking local paths and roads. It is a great opportunity to see village life at its best, meet locals, see the Banyan trees in each village square and admire local architecture. There are three Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bridges along the route.

Cormorant Fishing is done on Erhai Lake and trips to see it are organized for tourists. The cormorants go through a routine of diving, catching fish, surfacing and having the fish taken out of their mouth by the fishermen. A piece of string or twine, a metal ring, a grass string, or a hemp or leather collar is placed around their necks to prevent them from swallowing their fish. The birds often have their wings clipped so they don't fly away and have looped strings attached to their legs that allow them to be retrieved with a pole by the fisherman.

Cormorant fishing boats can carry anywhere from one to 30 birds. On a good day a team of four cormorants can catch about 40 pounds of fish, which are often sold by the fisherman's wife at the local market. The birds are usually given some fish from the day's catch after the day of fishing is over.

Sipping Tea on Erhai Lake Tourist Boat Ride

The CRI reporter wrote: “I am on a boat sailing across Erhai Lake, which is another place symbolic of Dali. Erhai Lake is the largest highland lake in Yunnan only next to Dianchi, as well as one of the seven biggest fresh water lakes in the country. Erhai in Chinese means, "sea shaped like an ear". The name implies that the lake is ear shaped and as large as a sea.) [Source: CRI March 26, 2009]

“The lake covers an area of 250 square kilometers and is located about two kilometers east of Dali. Seen from Cangshan Mountain it lies like a crescent between Cangshan and Dali city. On a sunny day, the crystal waters of Erhai Lake and the snow mantled Cangshan Mountain radiate light, evoking their time honoured description "Silver Cangshan and Jade Erhai".

“On the boat, we are greeted with a warm and unique ceremony; being offered three cups of tea in succession. The first cup of tea is made from local bitter tea leaves. It tastes medicinal. The second looks like soup. It is made from walnuts, cheese and sugar. It tastes sweet. The third cup of tea is made by mixing prickly ash, ginger and Chinese cinnamon with honey and bitter tea. It is pungent, with a distinct aftertaste.

“23-year-old Jiang Yanghua is one of the leading performers on the boat. Along with her fellows she sings, dances and performs on the boat as well as offering the Three Cups of Tea service. She tells us that the Three Cups of Tea are very meaningful to the Bai. "The three cups of tea are symbolic of the three stages of one's life journey: going through all kinds of hardships when young, feeling the joy of life when old, and recalling both bitter and happy experiences. In the Bai language, the word for "pungent" sounds the same as the one for "affectionate". The tea is a bond of friendship." To sit and drink the tea, which is served in such a traditional manner, is a rewarding cultural experience, as well as very relaxing and enjoyable. Once you have tasted the third cup of tea, you will not forget the warmth and hospitality of the Bai people.

Butterfly Spring Near Dali

Butterfly Spring (32 kilometers north of Dali) is located at the foot of Yunning Peak of Cangshan Mountain. It gets it name from a unique event that happens here in April every year. When the flowers come out on an ancient camphor tree that stands above the spring thousand of butterflies flock to the tree. There they link themselves head to tail, head to tail and hang like strings of beads from the branches of the tree.

The spring rises to form a square 50-square-meter shaped pool that is shaded by trees and dense foliage. lines its banks. Above the pool is an ancient tree which continues to grow though it is lying on the ground. This is the famous "Butterfly Tree." The butterfly spectacle has inspired a local festival where the Bai people gather at the tree on April 15th for the "Butterfly Meet". The romantic spectacle of the butterflies feeding and mating in such numbers has inspired the Bai to set aside a special courtship day for Bai youth in which they express their love and desire for a partner with traditional antiphonal singing.

According to the Museum of Nationalities:“The Butterfly Spring is located at the foot of the Yunnong Peak of Cangshan Mountain to the north of Dali. Located some 30 kilometers north of Dali, the spring is clear blue with blister rising slowly from the bottom like pearls. The gnarling boughs of an ancient silk tree stretch over its surface. The Butterfly Spring is actually a pool four meters deep and of the size of 20 square meters. The pool is surrounded with marble railing. Beside the spring, there are various building like the Butterfly Tower, eight-corner towers, six-corner towers, the Crescent Pool, and Yongtie (in praise of butterflies) Stele. Together with plenty of flowers and trees thereabout, these building has made the Butterfly Spring more attractive. [Source: Liu Jun,Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

“In the fourth lunar month every year, the tree puts out butterfly-shaped flowers, and swarms of butterflies descend on the tree, linking themselves head against tail into numerous colored ribbon-like strings which keep dangling over the pool. And many others just linger over the water and dance. It makes a dazzling scene when beautiful butterflies gathered here every year.

“A local legend tells the tale of how it was named long ago. A beautiful Bai maiden named Wengu was in love with a young man named Xialang. A local feudal despot wanted to take her as his concubine. The girl refused; she and her lover drowned themselves together in the pool, and emerged from the pool as a pair of butterflies. Every April when butterflies gather, numerous tourists come to the Butterfly Spring. Some young men and girls of the Bai people also come to the spring to court their beloved ones. According to the analysis of some botanists, the fantastic spectacle of the Butterfly Spring can be explained as that silk trees and some other balmy trees produce an odor that attracts butterflies from neighboring areas in the end of spring and beginning of summer.”

Shaxi: A New Model of Tourism Development?

Shaxi (120 kilometers north of Dali) is a small town located in Jianchuan county, Dali Prefecture — about halfway between Dali and Lijiang — occupied mostly by members of the Yi and Bai minorities. It “was unknown to the outside world until 2001, when the World Monuments Fund placed the Shaxi Market Area on their list of 100 most endangered sites.The archaeological history of Shaxi can be traced back 2400 years. Ancient graveyards at Aofeng mountain and a copper mine at Huacong mountain nearby prove that Shaxi was a base for bronze smelting by 400 B.C. Shaxi was one of the original sites of bronze culture, for which Yunnan is so well known. The recorded history of Shaxi can be traced back to the Nanzhao Kingdom period (649-920), at which time it was already a prosperous market on the ancient tea and horse caravan route. Today, the ancient square, theater, temples, guest houses and shops in Shaxi are still in their original shape. [Source: Sam Mitchell, Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

Sam Mitchell wrote in Ethnic China: :Tourism development in minority areas is growing so fast that the Yunnan government has made it one of the pillar industries in Yunnan, supported by special government policies. This rapid development in tourism is due to the beautiful natural environment and rich cultural diversity of this special province. But, in many areas of Yunnan, tourism is developing so fast that it has drawn concern among many. Large groups of tourists come to one small area, eroding the experience. People do not learn much from their travels. Urban and rural minority people do not increase mutual understanding from this model of tourism. Major tourist sites pay most attention to the development of restaurants, hotels and entertainment facilities. Some places fabricate their cultures in order to attract more tourists. Commercialization devours the local cultures. *\

“The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has helped to restore some of the ancient buildings with funding from the World Monument Fund. But, the Swiss worry that, after they leave, what will happen to Shaxi? If the Shaxi people want to preserve their cultural heritage and improve their lives, a new model for future tourism development must be created and put forward for the local government, local people, tourists, schools and tourism institutes to consider. Tourism in Yunnan is pursuing a model of mass tourism everywhere. Such commercialized tourism has made business people, often from outside, the greatest beneficiaries. If done correctly, tourism in Shaxi can promote social development in a healthy way, good for both environmental and cultural preservation. Tourism can not only make money, but contribute to the sustainable development of the minority areas and preserve indigenous knowledge for the younger generation. *\

“The major concepts of this new model of ethnic tourism are: 1) To maintain the farmland environment of Shaxi and provide a relaxing experience for urban people. Farmland, forests, rivers and ancient buildings must be well protected. Local people should still live in the old town, farming, raising animals and trading. 2) Local people should be guided in appropriate ways of running small businesses and knowledgeable people must be trained, not just as guides, but as teachers able to introduce Shaxi's history and agricultural culture to the tourists. The number of the tourists should be limited and the local people should benefit from this new model of tourism development. 3) Shaxi should receive students to experience rural life and establish Shaxi as an educational base for indigenous knowledge. Nowadays young students in the cities don't understand minority people's rural lives and how agriculture functions. They understand material comfort and don't even understand where their food comes from. As the gap between the cities and the countryside increases, greater understanding is necessary. If schools can send students to Shaxi for a week, where they can eat, sleep, work, and communicate with the local people, this can help promote this understanding . 4) To enable foreign students or scholars to study rural China and Bai culture. Shaxi can learn to arrange homestays or serve as facilitators for a variety of study topics. 5) To encourage local people to continue to produce their indigenous arts and handicrafts. The local people can introduce these art forms to tourists by demonstrating their production. 6) A hiking route for backpackers can be established between Shaxi and the Buddhist temples and Nanzhao kingdom shrines of nearby Shibaoshan and the traditional village of Ma Pingguan. *\

“Chinese Mahayana and Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism co-exist in the Xingjiao temple in Shaxi. The Shibaoshan rock grottoes in the beautiful wooded mountains behind Shaxi record the history of the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms and include many Buddhist figures, reflected the cultural interchange between the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms and the Tang dynasty, Tibet, and fascinatingly, the influence of Indian Buddhist sculptural styles and motifs is striking. This contact between India and the Nanzhao kingdom and on into China along what is known as the "southern silk road" has been little studied and our center hopes to provide space and facilities for doing research on ancient spiritual traditions, history, and the cross-cultural contact between the various peoples who passed through Shaxi. *\

“Small ancient towns in Yunnan like Shaxi should become relaxed places outside the red dust of urban society and a base for cultural education. Tourists or students can obtain and learn from what they can often not get in other, more crowded, tourist spots. They can experience rural life, learn about the history of the region and the Bai or other peoples. This new model of tourism development can be implemented in other ethnic minority communities as the future as Yunnan's tourism continues to expand and develop.” *\

Sideng Street in Shaxi

Sideng Street (in Shaxi) is the only bazaar along the Tea and Horse Route that has survived relatively intact. From the Neolithic age to Ming and Qing dynasties, the tough geography and environment around the town made it an important communication center on the route. People had to pass the town before heading north to Tibet and south to the Central Plains. As time went by, Shaxi became a distribution center where businessmen from Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia exchanged goods. Fur and feathers and Tibetan herbs were transported on horseback from Tibet to the town and exchanged for much-needed goods like salt and tea.

Sideng Street was one of the busy bazaars in Shaxi Town and the only well-preserved trading center along the historic route. It was included in the 2002 World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites on October 11, 2001 by the World Monuments Fund. There used to be three gates of Sideng Street complex, but now only the east gate remains. The imprints of horses' hoofs can still be seen there.

In today's Sideng Street complex, the Bai ethnic-style buildings, with the structure of shops in the front and yard in the back, are standing alongside the stone-slab roads. In the east of the complex, there is an intact ancient theater built during the Qing Dynasty, a stage and a pavilion with three layers of eaves. In the west of the complex, there is a Buddhist Temple from the Bai ethnic group called Xingjiao Temple. Built in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty, the temple has more than 20 murals painted by Zhang Bao, a famous Bai painter. It is a miracle that the architecture of the temple is still in good condition after 600 years.

Tengchong and Its Hot Sea and Volcanoes

Tengchong (250 kilometers west of Dali, in Baoshan, on the border with Myanmar) was once a communications hub of the Silk Road. As a cultural and historical city, it is now a trading post for rubies. Tenchong is also well known for its hot sea and cluster of about 70 volcanoes. The hot sea is actually a group geothermal springs.

Tengchong used to be an important stop on the “Southern Silk Road”, a trade route linking Burma, India and China's Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. In the old days, large amounts of tobacco, alcohol, silk and tea from Yunnan were exported, and cotton, jade ware and jewels were imported from Burma. Many people from the region went to Burma and the neighboring countries for business.The volcano cluster is in Tengchong Volcanic Geological Park. There plenty of interesting rock formations and landscapes. Among the most popular spots are Dakongshan, Xiaokongshan and Heikongshan

One traveler to the area wrote: “The moment we got out of the newly built Tengchong airport, we felt the light, soft breeze. Over 70 percent of Tengchong county is lush with greenery. The favorable weather conditions ensure people's wardrobes need only be stocked with light shirts and trousers throughout the four seasons. On the way to Heshun, everywhere we could see flowers and trees. I was really looking forward to seeing the town, where you can listen to the sound of blossoming, get up with the sun, see cows trudging the streets and enjoy an astonishingly quiet night's sleep. [Source: CRI August 14, 2009]

Admission: The Thermal Sea: 60 yuan; Location: Qingshui Township, 10.5 kilometers south of Tengchong County Town;; Admission: The Volcano Park: 40 yuan; Location: Mazhan Township, 12 kilometers north of Tengchong County Town Getting There: By Bus: Minibuses run from Baoshan bus stations to Tengchong County Long-Distance Sleeper Buses from Kunming are available. Prices are not particularly set and your ticket to Tengchong can be negotiated.

Heshun Town

Heshun Town (near Tengchong, 200 kilometers west of Dali) is an ancient town. known for its quadrangle courtyards that have been built into the town's hills. Attractions include the Xianhe a wetland, The memorial of Ai Siqi, the Thousand-Hand Kwan-yin ancient trees, The Bridge of Double Rainbow and the Dragon Pool. The town is situated at an elevation of 1,580 meters (5,180 feet) and has a population of 6,560 people.

Heshun was an important stop on the Southern Silk Road” and Tea and Horse Route. Today, this traditional village has preserved much of its rich heritage, and the architecture and folk customs that existed before the Ming and Qing dynasties still flourish in Heshun. It is amazing that there is such a splendid Chinese village in the border area. The classical ancestral halls, temples, memorial archways, pavilions, stone fences and folk houses with white walls and black tiles record the flourishing history and traditional culture of the village. There are poplar and willow trees by the river and the beautiful lotus flowers in the ponds.

One traveler wrote: “When the car stopped at the gate of Heshun and we gathered our luggage, we were startled by the beauty of the traditional white housing in front of us. Its rich cultural heritage was uplifting to all of us. We were told, different from Zhouzhuang in southern China, Heshun is a living town, and people live here following an original lifestyle. [Source: CRI August 14, 2009]

“We rushed to the hostel through alleys. The hostess served us fresh mango and told us she enjoyed her current life very much. Since opening the hostel, she had made many friends, and never allowed her life to become too busy; another main concept of other Heshuners we would come to discover. Once she got a jade bracelet with a small black spot inside. She took the bracelet to a craftsman in the morning to have gold inlay the spot. In the evening, she went there to ask how it was going. While the hostess told us the story, she made us Tieguanyin tea.

"Ge Niang Slope," a place where Heshun's young men bid farewell to their families. When they set their foot on the slope, it also meant that they would be "weaned from their parents" and shoulder the responsibilities for the whole family. Since ancient times, many young men had to leave their hometown and go to Myanmar, Thailand or India. Most of them worked in the jade trade to try to make their fortunes. Some returned with untold riches, while others were never seen again.”

Museum of Handcraft Paper (Gaoligong, 300 kilometers west of Dali) is an interesting museum in an interesting building. Located close to a village at the foot of Gaoligong Mountain, in the province of Yunnan, an area of significant Muslim presence. It provides exhibition space for ancient paper craft and artefacts produced locally. Six galleries clustered around a courtyard form a micro-village. The exhibition is extended through displays of paper-craft in the village. Texture is articulated through local materials, formal expression and visual connection with the landscape. The spatial experience of the village is consolidated within the museum. Interior spaces alternate between galleries and views beyond. Accommodation on upper levels includes offices, tea and guest rooms. Local timber, bamboo, handcrafted paper, low energy-consuming and decomposable natural materials are used. [Source: Aga Khan Architecture https://www.akdn.org/architecture]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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