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A Grip To Dali

By Peng Chiu Ping Photography by

Despite the fact that Dali has always been a frontier town, it has sustained the political, economic and cultural center of Hunnan people for centuries. In the Han Dynasty it was the capital of Yeyu county; in the Tang , of the Nanzhao , and in the Song Dynasty it was the capital of the Dali Nation . At those times , these were powerful peoples and the city they ruled from had luxuriance enough to be famous all over Southeast Asia . Today , the gorgeous scenery and amazing culture have carried Dali's reputation beyond Asia. The beauty of its surrounding mountains has led European travelers to give it the name "Eastern Geneva". Much of the aboriginal culture that has surrounded Pureh tea for generations is best preserved in Dali, and no trip to Yunnan would be complete without a top at this lovely district.

Dali district is on one of the many stepped plateaus that characterize Western Yunnan. The famous Cang Mountain divides the district into two distinct geographies: the colder and more poignant mountains that guard the Western skies and the more 'temperate and flat planes of the East. Most of the areas natural resources come from the latter. The district is considered an autonomous region, with more than 25 different tribes of aboriginal people calling Dali home, The Han, Bai, Yi, Miao and Naxi represent the largest portions of this population. Among them, the Bai tribe is the largest. The Bai tribe refer to themselves as "Baizi" or "Bainiminjia". In the Song Dynasty, the Hans who lived around Erhai formed into, what is now known as the Bai tribe. At that time, others in the area called them "White Barbarians (白蠻) ". In 1956, the government established a Bai District and formally recognized the aboriginal group. More Bai people live in Dali than anywhere else in China. There are currently more than 1.3 million. Like most of China, the primary religions are Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism, though some aspects of traditional Shamanism are still present. The Bai that live in the Western mountains build wood houses from the local trees, while the ones on the eastern planes reside in clay-tiled dwellings.

The Bai tribe have three traditional ways of making and serving tea to guests, called "bitter tea (苦茶) sweet tea (甜茶), and tea with a long aftertaste (回味茶)".The first, bitter tea is baked." It's sometimes also called "fighting tea". It tastes bitter by glass teacup at first and then sweet in the back of the mouth. The Bai believe it quenches thirst and helps keep one awake. The second, sweet tea is made by adding walnuts, sugar, honey and ginger to the liquor and is usually a kind of desert. The last tea has a long aftertaste due to the addition of pepper. These three ways of making tea date back to the Tang Dynasty. Traditionally, the Bai people drank bitter tea at home everyday, treated guests to sweet tea and tasted all three teas at festival or wedding celebrations. Today, one can taste all three kinds of tea at various cultural performances around Dali, usually as refreshment cultural dance.

There are more than 130 scenic stops in Dali and all are gorgeous. Visitors interested in photography, nature or both will find it difficult to budget their time. We decided to visit the more famous and easily accessible sights.

Xiaguan Winds

Mountains and monsoons from the Indian Ocean blow through the passes along the Xi-er River, as well as cold-air currents coming down Mt. Cang along the Eighteen Streams surround Xiaguan. These two currents of wind have been at war here every Fall and Winter for centuries, giving the battlefield its name. The winds are very strong, but often not cold and without any sand or dust.

The Shang Guan Flowers

According to a Yuan Dynasty legend, this area had a strange, mystical tree whose blossoms where white, as large as lotuses, and had an aroma so wonderful it could spread for miles. The wood from the trees was often made into beads that officers wore when going to court, so the tree was given the name "Palace Pearl Flower (朝珠花)", Today the people of Shang Guan still plat Mulan and Magnolias, surrounding the area with a lush beauty.

Mount Cang

The flowers of the plains are indeed beautiful, but nothing matches the majesty of these snow-capped The old Sky Garret is a building located on an island in the east of Erhai. It faces the old city of Dali and Mt. Cang beyond, offering the best views of the entire district in one location. Little Putuo is another island in the east of Erhai. It looks like a golden seal floating on the water and according to legend is where Guanyin comes to protect her followers and ward off evil spirits. The name comes from the fact that some ancients felt that it resembled the legendary Mountain Putuo in the South Seas. Nanzhao Island is in the Northeast of Erhai. It is a cultural and scenic spot on most tours. The water and scenery is lovely and there are many aboriginal performances and shop.

The Ancient City of Dali

The old city of Dali has gone by many names over the years: Yeyu, Zi-jing, and at one time Zhongho. It is located almost right between Cang Mountain and Erhai. The old city itself is only about four square kilometers, but more than twenty thousand people call it home, including seventeen different tribes of aboriginal people. The city was formed in the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century A.D. For dive-hundred years it was an important economic, cultural and political center in Yunnan. The streets of the city, when viewed from above are straight, like a chess board. Almost all the roofs are blue and the walls are made of cobblestone, both of which lend Dali a unique architectural character.

Walking around the city is worthwhile enough to bring tourists from all over China. The people here landscape their properties with local flowers, streams fro Mt. Cang flow all through the city on their way to Erhai-and together with the unique architecture lend Dali breathtaking views at most every comer. The air here is fresh, the city clean and the climate always mild.

There are many sights to see in the city, beyond the beauty and culture of the city itself. Any visitor will have plenty of things to do while here, including cultural activities, shopping, music, tea and visits to any of the sites in and around the city. We had spent quite a bit of time outside Dali city admiring the natural scenery, so we decided to just focus on the more famous local sites.

Sky Dragon Town

In the Western part of the city, closer to Mt. Cang this seven-hundred acre park boasts ancient city walls and a gate, as well as the old palace and royal buildings. There is a lot of Bai cultural events held hear every day. One can shop or watch a dancing show, visit traditional Bai settlements or just relax and enjoy the view of the old city with the mountains covering the horizon.

Butterfly Park

This small pond was originally called the "Bottomless Pool". According to legend, a young pair of Bai lovers fell into this pool and transformed into butterflies, before flying off into the sky; and afterwards people started calling it "Butterfly Spring." At the end of Spring, there is a butterfly festival held here with traditional dances and music.

The Three Towers of Chongsheng Temple

These towers are located in the Northwest of the ancient city. The largest of the three is named Qianxun. It is 69 meters high. The other two are in I the north and. south of the city, and are both 43 meters high. There are two Buddha statues on every floor of the taller tower, one facing east and one west. Four copper birds flank the top. The Bai believe that they keep evil spirits away.

Traveling through Yunnan is in part so rewarding because the culture, scenery and lifestyle all change so much from region to region. The quaint quietness of Dali was so rewarding after having been to more hectic places further south. We found the area mostly quiet and relaxing with lots to do in the way of nature, hiking and stunning views that were often beyond our attempts to photograph. Being interested in the life ways of the aboriginals in Yunnan, who represent the oldest connection to Puerh tea in the region, we found Dali also to be informative and entertaining. Sipping Tang Dynasty tea in a simple and quiet cafe surrounded by gorgeous mountain views, without any plans for the afternoon, were the moments we found to be the most charming during our visit there.