Dali is a little present waiting for you after a strenuous journey by road. It offers a lake store dotted with rustic villages, mountain-sphere of a backpacker’ s retreat.
Which tourists choke its streets today, centuries ago Dali was visited by flocks of foreign invaders, who coveted this little town for its favorable location near the Silk Road. Legend goes that Piluoge, an 8th century prince from Tunnan, invited his rivals to a feast, burnt them alive, then set out to merge six small Dai kingdoms into the powerful Nanzhao Kingdom. Dali, called Taihe at the time, became the capital of this powerful kingdom, which dominated northern Yunnan and upper Myanmar. From here, the ruler of Nanzhao controlled the trade route to India until the kingdom fell in the 13th century under the attack of the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan.
Set against the stunning mountain backdrop of Cang Shan in northwest Yunnan Province, lackadaisical Dali holds very little to remind the visitor of its turbulent past. In the revitalized town of Old Dali , a backpacker’ s paradise of cappuccinos and pizza joints alternate with traditional shops selling tea,. Chinese medicine and handicrafts. The cobbled streets of the old town are filled with the patter of feet as tourists and locals alike take leisurely jaunts through the small town. Be aware that the nearly town of Xiaguan is also called Dali City. Don’ t end up in the middle of Xiaguan wondering why the small town has suddenly turned into a mid-sized gray city.
While a modern brush has touched Dali, this quaint town perched 1,900m above sea level still retains much of its charm. Architecture is often Bai-inspired. The Bais, an ethnic minority, form the majority in Dali vis-a-vis the Han. Hui. Yi and Tibetan ethnic groups. The indigenous Bai community has grown long roots here. They number over a million today.
Their cultural influences are found in Dali Town, and in surrounding villages, especially around the Erhai Lake region, just east of Dali. Their homes are often two-story stone and wood abodes, topped by double-tiered roofs with wooden folding doors and ornamental windowpanes. Being artistically inclined. Bais love to decorate their walls with elegant wash paintings. Courtyards are very popular and well-tended. Bai women adore flowers and camellia and bougainvillea plants are a common feature at home. It also gives the nickname “Golden Flowers”.
To fully appreciate Bai-style architecture, cuisine, their fragrant tea and distinctive culture, head for Xizhou and Zhoucheng. The Yan, Hou and Zhou Compounds in Xizhou, a photogenic village 12 miles (20km) north of Dali, are good example of the Bai flair for architecture and elegant living. Zhoucheng Village, some 19 miles (30km) north of Dali, has made a specialty of “tie-dying”, Bai women are masters of this folk art. Using a special dye called banlangen , the women paint designs of animals and flowers on fabric tied with threads. The threads are cut, and these colorful handkerchiefs, blouses, and scarves flutter like flaming banners in the courtyards as they dry in the sun.
Several superb natural and cultural sights are outside “old” Dali’ s walled city gates. Be adventurous and be ready to move distances. A 10-minute bicycle ride from Dali takes you to the shores of the breathtaking Erhai Lake. On its eastern banks is Wase Village where souvenir hunters thrive every five days. You can ride around the lake and meander through Xizhou. Zhoucheng and Shaping villages. The isle in the center is rocky Putuo Island, which retains a Buddhist population and several ruins, including the Lesser Putuo Temple. For a short island trip, hop onto a boat from Caicun dock some 3 miles (5km) east of Dali and watch trained cormorants with nooses around their necks pick the day’ s catch.
Board a passenger ferry at 9am from Xiaguan Erhai Lake Docks. Skim along the eastern side of Erhai Lake and catch a glimpse of Golden Spindle Island, Putuo Island, Guanyin Ge and Nanzhao Fengqing Island. The ferry finally rests on the west bank of Erhai Lake near Butterfly Springs, where thousands of butterflies congregate in springtime. From here, hop onto a bus to tour Butterfly Springs, the old city of Dali and the Temple of the Three Pagodas, then head back to Xiaguan at 4:30pm. Several travel agencies in Xiaguan offer this tour, which costs around RMB 180. The price includes boat fare, admission, bus fare, lunch, a Bai “three courses of tea” on the boat and a Chinese-speaking guide. A half-day tour, which does not include lunch, is also available. This tour stops at the west bank and casts about RMB90.
For an aerial view of the lake, head to the top of Zhonghe Temple. The 20-minute cable car ride to the temple gates is RMB 35 and the cobalt Erhai Lake sprawls below. As your cable car skims the canopies of pine forests, you’ ll pass over old cemeteries.
An obvious landmark is the Temple of the Three Pagodas, situated northwest of Dali. The original structures were built in the 9th century but destroyed by a fire in the 19th century, While being rebuilt in 1978, 600 relics dating from the pagodas, adding to their prestige. The tallest, called Pagoda of the Thousand Searches, stands 230 feet (70m)high and is comprised of 16 levels, and flanked by two ten-story octagonal pagodas. These structures, scriptures and precious objects, they also invoked Buddha’ s protection against natural disasters. The marble stele in front of the Pagoda of the Thousand Searchers bears the characters “Young Zhen Shan Chuan” which means. “Forever subdue the mountains and rivers.” Just behind them is the Temple of the Exalted One., which is a museum detailing the history and construction of the pagodas.
Follow the trail near the pagodas if you want to do some hiking. At the end of the 6-mile(10km) trail through pine forests are several natural pools and a waterfall waiting to soothe tired feet . If that hike gets your adrenaline pumping, and you’ re looking out for more adventure, trek around stunning Cang Shan’ s 19 peaks, soaring 13,120 feet (4,000m)high. Your meanderings may take you to the forgotten. Yita Temple. Within the temple walls is a mysterious 10th century pagoda completely seated in the quiet landscape.
Two major remnants of ancient Dali are its North Gate and South Gate, with their Qing-styled towers rising above the gateway in vibrant hues. Leading from the North Gate is the main thoroughfare. Fuxing Lu, along which lies the Tower of the Five Glories. This central bell tower was once the south gate of the original town, Huguo Lu, known to locals as Foreigner’ s Street, is another Dali attraction. This stretch pulses with souvenir shops, guesthouses, internet and food cafe -this backpackers’ haven that has spilled into neighboring streets like Bo’ ai Lu and Fuxing Lu.