Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dali: China's Scenic Gem

Dali, located in Yunnan Province is famous for its Old Town and beautiful natural surroundings.  Dali is comprised of two cities; the historic Dali Old Town (Gucheng) and Dali New City (Xiaguan). Dali Old Town is one of the most popular tourist destinations for domestic travelers as well as foreigners traveling the China backpacking circuit. Although Dali used to outnumber neighboring Lijiang with most foreign visitors, Lijiang’s well preserved Old Town has become more of a tourist attraction in recent years.  What sets Dali apart from Lijiang is its beautiful location sandwiched between Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mountain.
 Old Town is actually a miniature city laid out in an easy-to-navigate grid pattern offering an assortment of activities; however, the most interesting places lay outside Old Town’s four walls. A good way to get an overview of the town is to walk atop the historic walls surrounding the city. Compared to Xian, Dali’s historic wall is petite as it only takes about an hour to leisurely walk. 
Another fun walk is from the South Gate (Nan Men) to the North Gate (Bei Men) exploring the city streets along the way. Near the South Gate is the famous Dali Municipal Museum. The museum opened in 1987 and houses a small collection of Bai artifacts excavated from the surrounding area as well as stone steles, jade, and Dali’s world famous marble carvings. Another spot that literally cannot be missed is Yangren Jie (Foreigner’s Street) located between the North and South Gate and one of the most popular places in town. In recent years, Foreigner’s Street has become a smaller version of the famous Khao San Road of Thailand offering everything from banana pancakes and café lattes to Mexican burritos and hippie style clothes. Foreigner’s street is popular with foreign travelers as they get a taste of home and can get lost for hours relaxing at one of the many outdoor cafés and with domestic travelers as they are able to snap photos of foreigners in their “natural habitat”. It’s really quite a scene that should not be missed.
The best way to explore the beauty surrounding Dali Old Town is to rent a bike. Jim’s Tibetan Guesthouse and Peace café is a wonderful resource for maps, lists of must-see sites and a reliable place to rent a bike. Once outside Old Town, the possibilities are endless for adventure and relaxation. Dali is one of the few tourist destinations where you can truly enjoy the quiet side of China.
 Erhai Hu (Ear Shaped Lake) is one of the highlights of a visit to Dali. Erhai Hu is the seventh biggest freshwater lake in China and sits 1973m above sea level and covers 250 sq km. The best way to explore the lake’s Bai villages, traditional fishing villages, temples and markets is by bike or hopping on one of the many ferries that crisscross the lake. Popular stops on the ferry are Wase and Shaping for their colorful Bai markets and Putuo Island and Lesser Putao Temple, a very picturesque spot. For the more adventurous types, a day trip by bike to Shaping and back or a 58 km ride around the lake to Wase will surely get your heart racing as you travel along the busy lakeside road. If you are looking for more of a relaxed bike ride, take the secondary road to the west of the lakeside road and stop at the small temples and out of the way villages as you enjoy the jade colored waters of Erhai Hu.
 The Cangshan Mountain and its 18 peaks located near the shores of Erhai Hu, rise high above Dali and often have a picture perfect reflection in the clear and still waters of Erhai Hu. The mountain is famous for its 3000 different types of plants, crystal clear ponds and waterfalls, hiking trails, natural marble, and views of Erhai Hu and the entire Dali Prefecture.  Travel up the mountain is easy by cable car at either the base of Gantong or Zhonghe Temples. The cable car takes about a half hour as opposed to hiking up the mountain which is a sweaty 2-3 hours. Once atop the mountain you can walk between the two temples via the Cloud Path, a 20 km scenic hike, or take the chairlift that connects the two. For a special stay, behind Zhonghe Temple are guesthouses for those who want to spend the night in absolute peace and quiet.  
 East of the foot of the tenth peak is the world famous Three Pagodas, the symbol of Dali, built in 824-840 AD. Qianxun Pagoda, the tallest of the three, is 16 tiers high with a white marble sitting Buddha statue at the center of each tier. The two pagodas that flank Qianxun, built about 100 years later, are 10 stories high and also have a Buddha statue on each floor. The designers of the pagodas came from Xi’an and are said to have designed the pagoda after the famous Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
Dali has risen to the top of China’s must see list yet it still remains one of the last tourist destinations where visitors can escape hectic city life. The city’s location between Erhai Hu and Cangchan Mountain make it one of China’s most spectacular natural beauties. Spend a week relaxing and getting lost in its city streets and on its many scenic trails and you’ll leave truly happy and relaxed.

No comments:

Post a Comment