A Tale of Two Yunnan Cities

Known as the hometown of Princess Peacock, Yunan Province is where the largest ethnic minority population lives in China. Apart from its capital city Kunming, the host city of the ’99 International Horticultural Expo, Dali and Lijiang are two cities with exceptionally appealing landscape and strong ethnic aroma.

Located between Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mountain, Dali is the capital city of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. The city was built in 1382 as a city of the ancient states of Nanzhao and Dali. The wind of Xiaguan, the flower of Shangguan, the snow of the Cangshan Mountain and the moon of the Erhai Lake make up the Top Four Scenes in Dali.

Stretching from north to south, the Cangshan Mountain is 3,500 meters above sea level with its main peak at 4,122 meters high. Snow covers the mountain top all year round and the melted water forms streams flowing down the valley into the Erhai Lake. The thickly-forested mountain always looks green and moist, and in autumn, belts of cloud skirts the mountain side, lingering for days on end. The Clear and Green Stream, the Dragon and Phoenix Cave and the Zhonghesi Temple are the main scenic spots of Cangshan Mountain.

Erhai Lake is a plateau fault limn. Legend has it that at the bottom of the lake grows a tremendous jade cabbage and the jade juice secreted by it forms the water of the Erhai Lake. In the bright moonlight, the smooth Erhai Lake presents the mirror image of the white Cangshan Mountain snow, creating the famous scene called “Jade Erhai Lake and the Silver Cangshan Mountain”. Erhai Lake is reputed for the three islands, four shoals, eight scenes and nine bends. A cruise around the lake at night will give you the full taste of its charisma.

The architecture of Dali is still featured with a traditional pattern of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, with five east-west streets and eight north-south lanes, all paved with gray flagstone and with brooks flowing alongside them. The first impression left by the houses of the Bai ethnic group is its orderliness and grandiose. Each has three white plastered walls and roofs of gray tiles, with the front gate shielded by a screen wall. Decorated with bracket sets and cordons, the front gate never fails to get noticed. The screen wall on the other hand is where the eyes of the visitors linger. In the center of the screen wall usually embeds a big marble stone of the Cangshan Mountain, surrounded by calligraphy and paintings. In front of the screen wall stands a small flower bed. The screen wall, together with the mosaic-covered ground constitutes the living space of the Bai people. As a matter of fact, the dwelling is where a Bai person’s total income went in days gone by.

In ancient times, Dali was mostly known for its countless towers. Among them, the most magnificent ones should be the three pagodas in the Chongshengsi Temple. The main pagoda of the three, the 16-tiered Qianxun Pagoda, stands in the middle, and the two adjacent pagodas are 10 stories high. The Qianxun Pagoda was hollow and once equipped with a ladder for people to climb. Seem from the top of the pagoda, the Erhai Lake decorated with white sails and green shoals and the Cangshan Mountain skirted by clusters of clouds are all within a clear view.

About 26 km away from the ancient city of Dali lies the Butterfly Spring. The spring water squeezes its way out of white sand and pebbles and then pours into a 2-square-meter pond walled with white marble banister. The pond is surrounded by thick foliage, among which the most notable is an ancient tree called the Butterfly Tree for its shape like the wings of a butterfly. In the season when the Butterfly Tree is in blossom, thousands of butterflies, both palm-big and bee-sized ones, gather at the Butterfly Spring. The butterflies resting on the Butterfly Tree then form a colorful ribbon down to the spring by linking their feelers one by one. When they have reached the surface of the spring, the butterflies then scatter to all sides and start the game all over again.

Dali is the dwelling place of the Bai ethnic group. White is the color of honor for the Bai people. Men prefer to wear white shirts and women like to wear earrings and bracelets. Maidens have braids and tie bright red strings on their white turbans. Between the 15th and the 21st day of the third month of the lunar calendar, the traditional festival of the Third Month Street is held annually, with horse racing, singing and dancing and trading activities as the main events.

Set off from Dali, take the Yunnan-Tibetan highway, drive northward for 400 km, and you will reach Lijiang, another ancient city of historical and cultural heritage. It is a land of mystery and elegance.

Dayan Town, the center of Lijiang, is on UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage List. It is surrounded by the Lion Mountain to the west and by the Elephant Mountain and the Golden Rainbow Mountain to the north. To its south and east stretch fertile fields for miles on end. It is an intact ancient city inhabited mostly by people of the Naxi ethnic group.

A bird’s eye view at the top of the Lion Mountain gives you a full picture of the city. From the central square of the city spread four main streets which then split into dozens of streets and lanes, creating the pattern of a web. In the center of each street or lane lies a space that serves as the neighborhood fair in the daytime and as the resting place for the mornings and evenings. Paved with natural colorful stone slabs, the streets neither get muddy on rainy days nor turn dusty in dry weather. The branches and blossoms stick out from the roofs or walls of the shops and houses, projecting mottled shadows on the stone-paved lanes. Stone is the common foundation of the house and timber as the material. Most houses have a screen wall in the front and some have a quadruple courtyard.

Lijiang is favored with plentiful sunshine, an easterly wind and clear spring water within easy access to every family. Willow trees and flowing springs make you imagine that you might be in a city by the water in Southeast China. Occasionally, couples of Naxi women can be seen walking along the streets, wearing broad-sleeved-and-broad-waisted blouses, long trousers inside frillies and boat-shaped embroidered shoes.

The ancestors of the Naxi ethnic group created the mysterious Dongba Culture focused on the Dongba Religion. According to the legend, the founder of the Dongba Religion, with his supernatural abilities learned from the deities, killed the monster and the ghosts, bringing peace to the local people. Dongba believers practice witchcraft and are skilled in medicine. The Dongba Culture in turn fostered the world-renowned Dongba Civilization, as can be found in the Dongba Script reputed as the only surviving hieroglyph in the world. Various aspects of the Dongba Civilization such as the appealing Dongba music, the vivid and romantic Dongba literature, the unique Dongba paintings and the wild and warm Dongba dances are all evidence to its profoundness. So tourists interested in folk customs will not be disappointed by the city.

In the eyes of the Naxi folks, happiness is derived from a unity with nature, and the chief pursuit lies in music and painting. As the Naxi women do most of the labor, the men have plenty of free time to develop their abilities in music, painting and poetry. In the twilight, a group of elderly Naxi people can be found singing in the street by the river. One man does the solo and all the others serve as the chorus. Though the Naxi language is beyond the comprehension of outsiders, their love of life is clearly written all over their faces.

The Yulong Snow Mountain that pierces into the sky is an permanent background of the city. With its altitude above 4,500 meters, the north-south mountain has 12 peaks, the main peak reaching 5,596 meters.

The best place to appreciate the Yulong Snow Mountain is the Spruce Ground, a highland ranch with breath-taking beauty. The green grass, yellow flowers and straight spruce trees seem to whisper to you an ancient legend. It goes like this: On the Yulong Snow Mountain lives a couple of gods of love who dominate a kingdom of love. True lovers who cannot be united in the earthly world can go to the Spruce Ground and cry out the name of the gods of love who will then take the lovers to the flower land and grant them an everlasting happy life.

From: www. china.org.cn

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