Yunnan Province

return to kunming & an afternoon at yunnan nationalities village

Saturday, February 14:  This morning, we decide to forgo the return bus to Kunming.  Instead, we pay 500 yuan (~$80) to hire a driver to drive us back.  It turns out our driver is a middle-aged Chinese woman accompanied by her husband or boyfriend; it seems they’re going on a day outing to Kunming.  Lucky for them, we pay for their day trip, and even though it costs us a lot, it allows us to avoid the hassle of dealing with Chinese buses and the East Kunming bus station.  A win-win situation.

It takes the couple quite a long time to find our hotel as they are relying on a GPS system, which they can’t seem to follow properly.  Several arguments between them ensue when they can’t agree on a direction, and we try to signal to them which direction they should follow, which is clearly obvious on the GPS!

Our hotel is near Dianchi Lake, which is supposed to be quite nice, but we really never see the entire lake.  The couple drops us at our hotel, The Dianchi Garden Hotel and Spa, which has lovely grounds. However, there is no heat in the room, making for a freezing last day in Kunming.

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Our room at Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Our room at Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

We have a Chinese lunch in the “Western” restaurant (there is no Western food on the menu) overlooking this atrium.

The atrium at Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

The atrium at Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

From our hotel, we walk 400 meters to the Yunnan Nationalities Museum.  We have to walk through a touristy village before we enter the museum, which turns out to be a kind of theme park, much like Disneyland but with no rides.  Alex is still looking for a miniature container to take back as a gift for a friend, and I buy yet another scarf, one of too many I’ve bought on this trip!

Entrance to Yunnan Nationalities Village

Entrance to Yunnan Nationalities Village

The first place we come to is a Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery.  According to a sign at the park: “After propagating to the Tibetan-inhabited regions during the 7th century, Buddhism gradually established the Tibetan-language inherited religious system known as “Tibetan Buddhism,” which was passed down to later generations. Owing to dissimilar channels of inheritance, Tibetan Buddhism branched into different schools, which include the Ningma (Red Sect), the Geju (White Sect), the Gelu (Yellow Sect), and the Saga (Hua Sect). To integrate the cultural essence of different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, two “living Buddhas” were invited to preside over the construction, consecration and opening of the Buddhist shrine, which was bestowed with the name ‘Fusonglin Lamasery.’ Each year, two lamas are dispatched to the lamasery to host the Buddhist rites, making it a Tibetan Buddhist shrine in the true sense to help visitors learn about the religion and Buddhist culture of the Tibetan-inhabited areas.”

Prayer flags at the Buddhist temple at the Yunnan Nationalities Village

Prayer flags at the Buddhist temple at the Yunnan Nationalities Village

Prayer wheels at the Buddhist temple at Yunnan Nationalities Village

Prayer wheels at the Buddhist temple at Yunnan Nationalities Village

More prayer flags

More prayer flags

Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

Buddhist museum

Buddhist museum

Buddhist museum

Buddhist museum

Prayer wheels

Prayer wheels

Buddhist prayer flags at the Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

Buddhist prayer flags at the Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

Sadly, we’re not allowed to take photographs inside this beautiful lamasery.  However, when I notice a Chinese guy sneaking a photo, I take one sneakily too.  Not only does it come out a total blur, but I get yelled at as well. 🙂

a peek inside the Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

a peek inside the Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery

Prayer flags

Prayer flags

Beasts of burden

Beasts of burden

After leaving the lamasery, Alex finds a place where it’s possible to zip-line over the lake, which he is thrilled to experience.

Alex zip-lines across the lake

Alex zip-lines across the lake

Alex flying

Alex flying

the young men operating the zip-line

the young men operating the zip-line

At Sun and Moon Square, a sign tells us that the four totem poles on the square symbolize the “white stupa” in the Hani ancestors’ village “Reluopuchu,” which the Hani legends claim to be the ethnic origin of the Hani minority. The totem poles are depicted with patterns depicting the Hani history of birth, village construction, homeland-defending battles, tortuous migration, and creation of the terraced paddy field culture, whereas the patterns on the relief sculpture wall vividly portray the classical Hani legends and the Hani mythological system.

The Sun & Moon Square

The Sun & Moon Square

At Sun & Moon Square

At Sun & Moon Square

Totems

Totems

Totem carvings

Totem carvings

Totems

Totems

Building on the grounds

Building on the grounds

Craftsman at Yunnan Nationalities Village

Craftsman at Yunnan Nationalities Village

At the entrance to another village at the museum, we find this information: All De’ang Minority people worship Theravada Buddhism, which is commonly referred to as the “Little Vehicle Buddhism.”  It is common practice for the De’ang people to build a Buddhist temple in every village they inhabit which is locally called “the scripture-reading house.”  

According to the De’ang custom, any stranger entering the De’ang village must first go to the temple to pay tribute to the Buddha, by which the visitor shows esteem for the De’ang religion. The Buddhist hall normally consists of three terraces, the first of which is the seat of the top Buddhist disciple who has converted to Buddhism for years, the second terrace is the seat of married males, and the third, the seat of women and children.

De'ang Minority Buddhist Temple

De’ang Minority Buddhist Temple

At the De'ang Minority Buddhist Temple

At the De’ang Minority Buddhist Temple

De'ang Minority Buddhist Temple

De’ang Minority Buddhist Temple

After leaving the De’ang Village, we come across this poor elephant who looks very unhappy.  Alex especially is upset by the elephant’s apparent mistreatment by his handlers.

an unhappy elephant

an unhappy elephant

According to information at the entrance to another village: “With a population numbering 130,000, the Jingpo minority people mainly inhabit areas in Yunnan’s Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture.  The Jingpo people worship the primitive religion which claims “all things on earth have souls,” believes in the existence of ghosts and gods, and esteems the Jingpo ancestors. The most important annual celebration of the Jingpo people is the spectacular Munao Zongge Festival, which normally falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month.  When this festival comes, the Jingpo folks form long queues to dance around the tall mascot boards known as the ‘Munao Shidong.’ The number of participants dancing the grandest Munao Zongge Dance even added up to tens of thousands, and for this reason the event has won the name of ‘dance of ten thousand dancers.'”

In Yunnan Nationalities Village, “the Jingpo Village occupies 15 mu of land, on which are constructed diversified kinds of spacious houses and the exquisite, magnificent ‘headman’s mansion.’ Architectures of the village are focused on portraying structural features and layout patterns of the Jingpo-style housing, which could be represented by the ganlan-style houses and the “inverted T-shaped houses.”  The tall “Munao Shidong” boards erected in the center of the square are decorated with patterns and carvings, which symbolize Jingpo people’s will to keep united and forge ahead, as well as their brave and steadfast personalities.”

Costumes in the Jingpo Village

Costumes in the Jingpo Village

The Munao Shidong consists of “4 Shidong poles with which the Jingpo people worship the solar god. The top of the two poles in the middle are painted with sun-shaped patterns which embody males, whereas the tops of the two poles on both sides are painted with moon-shaped patterns which represent females.  The sky-pointed lines painted on the top of the right “lunar Shidong pole” suggest the channels through which humans communicate with heaven and the crossed swords between the two “solar Shidong poles” signify the industrious and brave virtues of the Jingpo people. The S-shaped pattern formed by the Shidong poles represents the dancing steps by which the Jingpo ancestor Nenggong Kangjia led his followers to dance the Munao Zongge, and the hardships the Jingpo ancestors suffered in their southward migration.”

The Munao Shidong

The Munao Shidong

costumed characters at Munao Shidong

costumed characters in the Jingpo Village

A girl drying some kind of food

A girl drying some kind of food

alley of lanterns

alley of lanterns

lake at Yunnan Nationalities Village

lake at Yunnan Nationalities Village

Dainchi Lake at Yunnan Nationalities Village

Dainchi Lake at Yunnan Nationalities Village

After all our walking, Alex and I are fizzling out.  Like all Chinese parks, this one is huge and sprawling.  Everything is always done on a grand scale in China, except the toilets.

We come upon a Yi Village and find this information at the entrance:  Numbering 4.71 million, the Yi minority is Yunnan’s largest minority group in terms of population and areas of distribution.  The Yi people mostly live in compact communities along the Jinsha River and Yuanjiang River reaches, or in the hinterland of the Ailao Mountain and Wuliang Mountain.  A minority group keen on singing and dancing, the Yi people are extremely well-known for their dage, tiaoye, dasanxian (large 3-stringed guitar), and diejiao dances. Torch Festival is the Yi people’s biggest annual celebration that shows the most distinctive ethnic minority features. 

Major parts of the Yi Village include the relief sculpture wall showing three tigers and the tiger-head figure representing the Neizushi or the founder of the Yi religion, all of which symbolize the “tiger- and eagle-worshiping” culture of the Yi minority people. The totem poles on the Solar Calendar Square are richly decorated with imageries of the sun, tiger, fire and the Eight Diagrams, around which are 10 moon-shaped sculptures that face different directions. On the outer circumference of the square are stone carvings of the 12 shengxiao (12 animals that represent the 12 Earthly Branches, used to symbolize the year in which a person is born).  

Tiger sculpture wall in the Yi village

Tiger sculpture wall in the Yi village

The Tiger Head figure

The Tiger Head figure

I find a description of the Solar Calendar:  The Solar Calendar divides a year into five seasons. Each season has two months; one is male and the other is female. Each month has 36 days; a year has 10 months. And in a year, there are 5-6 other “New Year celebrating days.” It is simple and easy to remember. In the Solar Calendar year there are carved stone statues for the twelve animals symbolizing the year in which a person is born and ten “solar-lunar balls” which symbolize the source of life. In the center is the totem pillar which the Yi minority people worship.

Solar Calendar Square

Solar Calendar Square

Since I was born in 1955 and Alex was born in 1991, we share the sheep symbol.

The sheep

The sheep

Inside of the Tiger Head sits Founder Bimo. According to a placard beside the sculpture: “‘Bimo’ is the transliteration of a Yi language term in which ‘bi’ means ‘chanting scriptures’ and ‘mo’ means an ‘elder with profound learning.’ For the Yi people, Bimos are priests who not only preside over ceremonies, prayer-saying and sacrifice-offering rites, but also sort out and teach the Yi language and author and hand-copy Yi language classics and literature. The Yi people believe Bimos have special talents to communicate with gods and ghosts, offer guidance to earthly things, command people’s souls and manage culture. Bimos play a vitally important role in the Yi people’s activities, including births, weddings, funerals, disease-treatment, festivals, hunting and farming.

“Legend has it that the Yi-minority language was invented by Founder Bimo.  The Bimo statue enshrined here has shown Yi people’s folk customs such as esteeming knowledge and worshiping the eagle and tiger.”

Founder Bimo

Founder Bimo

We also wander around and find a village fashioned after buildings we saw in Dali, with paintings on the walls.

Model of Dali homes

Model of Dali homes

And we find a model of the Three Pagodas of Dali; we saw the real thing in Dali.

Models of the Three Pagodas of Dali

Models of the Three Pagodas of Dali

After this, we feel we can’t walk another step, except that we have to walk back to the entrance to the museum and then the 400 meters back to our hotel.  Oh dear.

Prayer flags

Prayer flags

It’s a long haul, but we finally make it back to the hotel where we eat a dinner of egg rolls and a shrimp and pepper stir-fry. Then we take a little walk around the grounds.

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Dianchi Garden Hotel & Spa

Tomorrow at around noon, Alex will fly from Kunming via Beijing back to Virginia.  At around the same time, I will fly onward to Mandalay, Myanmar.  Since I don’t want to haul all my winter clothes around in the 90+ degree heat of Myanmar, I pack some of my winter stuff into a duffel I have brought along just for that purpose.  Alex will take it to the U.S. with him tomorrow.  Luckily, that will lighten my burden a little.  It was tough packing for this holiday because I had to pack cold weather and hot weather clothing.

There’s nothing much to do at the hotel, and we’re both exhausted from all our walking, so we go to bed quite early, shivering under the comforters in our non-heated room.

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Categories: Asia, China, Dainty Garden Hotel & Spa, Kunming, Travel, Yunnan Nationalities Museum, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 19 Comments

exploring the fringes of the stone forest {part 2}

Friday, February 13:  After Alex and I emerge from the dense inside of the Major Stone Forest Scenic Area, we head to the perimeter road to retrace our minibus ride on foot.  The sky is blue, the air is crisp, and wispy clouds are sweeping across the sky, making the Stone Forest more picturesque than it already is.  We enjoy walking around and stopping in the grassy areas to enjoy the views.

Stone Forest

Stone Forest

We learn a lot from the placards in the park: The Stone Forest is composed of stone pillars of varying heights. The higher ones are called stone forest and the shorter ones stone teeth.  The Stone Forest evolves from underground. The carbonate rock was initially eroded by groundwater; and then, embryonic stone teeth took shape underground.  After they were exposed above ground during tectonic uplift, they became stone teeth.  When these stone teeth grew higher, they became stone forest.  We can imagine that the stone forest’s development is a dynamic process; the stone teeth today may become stone forest in the future.

We continue to walk and come to the Bushaoshan Scenic Area on the eastern side of the Major Stone Forest Area.  It covers one and half square kilometers. Bushao Mountain was named after the posts for the patrolling guards of uprising farmers in the late Qing dynasty.  The rock peaks and pillars spread out in picturesque disorder, together with the surrounding pine forest, creating gorgeous natural scenery.  Due to its relatively high elevation (the highest peak at 1,796 m), you can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire surroundings of the Major and Minor Stone Forest.

Buoshan Scenic Forest

Bushaoshan Scenic Area

Bushaoshan Scenic Area

Bushaoshan Scenic Area

Peaks and pinnacles

Peaks and pinnacles

Bushaoshan Scenic Area

Bushaoshan Scenic Area

We’re getting exhausted from our travel this morning from Kunming.  We also did a lot of climbing up and down on the steps in the dense part of the Stone Forest, and now we’re covering a lot of ground as well.  Alex lies down on the grass to take a break.

Alex takes a rest

Alex takes a rest

Bushaoshan

Bushaoshan

stone forest and stone teeth

stone forest and stone teeth

Bushaoshan Scenic Area

Bushaoshan Scenic Area

Lone peaks

Lone peaks

sparsely arranged

sparsely arranged

moody stone forest

moody stone forest

clouds and colors

clouds and colors

Bushaoshan

Bushaoshan

Peaks and bushes and stones

Peaks and bushes and stones

lone figure

lone figure

There are some peaks in the park the Chinese call “imaginal stones.”  They are stones that look like imaginary characters:  This isolated stone column is very like a figure, wearing a cowl-like hat worn in winter, with a packsack on his shoulder and a whip in his left hand, urging the flock of sheep.  This is the “Shepherd Suwu.”  Suwu was the diplomatic envoy sent by Emperor Hanwu to Xiongnu.  He was put under arrest and became a shepherd for 19 years.

Shepherd Suwu

Shepherd Suwu

Shepherd Suwu

Shepherd Suwu stands tall to the right

Shepherd Suwu

Shepherd Suwu

A towering stone column looks like an old man who is hunchbacked, wearing a robe and standing on the field with his hands clasped behind his back.  He looks like a “calm wanderer,” deep in thought and satisfaction.

Calm wanderer

Calm wanderer

calm wanderer

calm wanderer

There is a tall rock column and short one, very like the figures of a mother bringing her child along.  The front one is the mother, looking perfectly calm, kindly and decorous with a youngster of Sani nationality behind her.  They are wandering slowly among the stone columns; the formation is called Wandering Mother with Child.

Wandering Mother with Child

Wandering Mother with Child

Unusual shapes

Unusual shapes

In general, the color of the Stone Forest is light gray. But you may also find red, brown and yellow patches on the rock pillars.  However, these are not the original color of the rock, which is whitish gray.  After the rock is outcropped and exposed, it is subjected to weathering and colonization of microorganisms, in particular the growth of algae.  These processes have changed the color of the rock surface.

the path into the forest

the path into the forest

Panorama view of the Stone Forest

Panorama view of the Stone Forest

Some near-horizontal lines are commonly seen on the rocks in the Stone Forest.  These lines are the bedding of rocks. Bedding is the intrinsic feature of carbonate rock that developed through gradual bottom-up deposition, stratum by stratum, in the process of carbonate rock formation in oceanic water.  As growth rings are to a tree, bedding is to limestone.  A bedding plane generally aligns parallel to water surface, below which the rock deposits.  When the carbonate rock undergoes weathering and erosion, fissures are likely to form along the bedding plane.  They are the horizontal lines we see today.  One of the critical conditions for the stone forest’s evolution is that the bedding plane should retain its original near-horizontal alignment.  In the case of a large inclination angle, the stone pillar will slide and collapse along the bedding plane.

Horizontal lines

Horizontal lines

horizontal lines in the stone forest

horizontal lines in the stone forest

horizontal lines in the forest

horizontal lines in the forest

A sign in the park lists the world renowned sites of stone forest landform as being 1) Stone Forest of Yunnan, China; 2) Bemarsha, Madagascar; 3) Gunung Mulu, Malaysia; and 4) Mt. Kaijende, Papua New Guinea.

The Stone Forest of Yunnan has been inscribed upon the World Heritage List of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural Land Natural Heritage.  Inscription on this list confirms the outstanding universal value of a cultural or natural property which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity.

The Wannianlingzhi (Eternal Mushroom) Scenic Area sits on the west side of the Major Stone Forest Scenic Area and covers about 3 square kilometers. The area features expansive and undulating landscape. High and low rock pillars are scattered sparsely among haystack hills and corroded depressions. The rocks present distinctive strata due to intensive stratification.  A great many mushroom-like pillars of varying sizes tapering toward the peak were formed as a result of corrosion and rock crush, hence the name Wannianlingzhi (Eternal Mushroom).

We walk briefly into this scenic area, and we can see the “eternal mushrooms” on the hill in the distance, but we’re too tired to walk all the way up to it.  We end our detour in the midst of farmland and rolling hills and return to the perimeter road.

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

One of the “eternal mushrooms” met an early demise.

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

a non-eternal mushroom in the Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area

We leave the Wannianlingzhi Scenic Area and head back to the perimeter road, where by now we’re exhausted.  We keep seeing the tour minibuses zip past on the road, going in the opposite direction.  We try to flag several down, but they are all filled to the brim with people and keep zooming past.  Our legs are killing us by now, and we’re utterly exhausted, but we have no choice but to keep walking.

walking back to the entrance along the perimeter road

walking back to the entrance along the perimeter road

The Stone Forest from the perimeter road

The Stone Forest from the perimeter road

more stone forest

more stone forest

reflections

reflections

more reflections

more reflections

Alex takes a rest

Alex takes a rest

cloud halo

cloud haloes

Finally, we make our way back to the park entrance.  We still have to walk the 500 meters back to our hotel.  The whole excursion has been tiring, but it’s been a gorgeous day full of stunning scenery, and we’re exhausted in a good way.

When we return to the hotel, we head immediately to the hotel restaurant and get a kitchen worker’s attention.  We’re the only ones there, but the woman takes our food order after we make our choices using my WayGo translation app.  We’re so happy to finally have a meal to eat, having eaten just some bread snacks in the park.

Tomorrow, we’ll head back to Kunming.  We’ve decided we’re going to have a driver take us back, no matter the cost, just to avoid the bus and that East Kunming bus station.

Categories: Asia, China, karst, Karst landform, Kunming, Shilin, Stone Forest, Travel, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

an expedition to the stone forest {part 1}

Friday, February 13:  We check out of our hotel early to head to Kunming’s East Bus Station.  I’ve seen big bus stations before,  notably in Istanbul, but this is by far the most sprawling and chaotic bus station I’ve encountered in China.  The lines are 20-30 people deep at about 15 ticket counters, and they’re moving slowly.  We never imagined we’d have so much trouble getting a bus ticket to Shilin, home of the Stone Forest.

The bathrooms in this bus station are of the horrible trough variety, and even Alex, who hardly gets phased by bathroom things, says, crinkiing up his nose, that the men’s room is the most disgusting place he has ever seen.

We’re the first ones on the bus at 10:00 a.m. As this is the kind of bus that doesn’t leave until it’s full, we sit and wait for an hour, until 11:00, before we finally take off.  As we’re on the east side of Kunming, we’re in countryside almost immediately, and we enjoy the green hills and blue skies, dotted with some nice suburban apartments, on the 1 1/2 hour bus ride to Shilin.

We’re dumped at some kind of depot in Shilin, near the entrance to the park, but we need to find our hotel and check in.  We’d also like to get some lunch.  We find a taxi after much hassle, as no one at this depot speaks English; we’re then taken to the Stone Forest Holiday Inn, where we find that no one at the hotel speaks English.  The hotel seems far removed from anywhere else, and though we try to find out about a restaurant, we cannot get any information from the staff, who all just look at us as if we’re creatures from Mars.  We finally give up and ask about the entrance to the park.  We’re waved to the right direction outside the hotel.  We start walking, not having any clue how far we have to walk to the entrance.  Finally, after about 500 meters, we come upon the entrance to the Stone Forest.

Entrance to the Stone Forest

Entrance to the Stone Forest

All waterways lead to the Stone Forest

All waterways lead to the Stone Forest

Just inside the entrance, after paying our combined entrance fee of 360 yuan (~$58), we see the usual hordes of Chinese tourists along with this pretty little pond.

Little pond immediately upon entering the Stone Forest

Little pond immediately upon entering the Stone Forest

Our first priority is to find a restaurant.  Usually Chinese parks have all kinds of places to eat, but we can’t find anything here.  We follow the crowds along a road lined with buildings that seem to have no purpose.  We come to a spot where people are queuing up to get on small open-air minibuses, and we hop on one of them.  We take a ride counterclockwise around the perimeter of the park, enjoying the scenery along the way.  We’re determined to get off if we see any kind of food kiosk.

We find a food stand along the road in front of the Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area.  We find some bread snacks and sit on a beautiful green lawn among the karst formations to enjoy our small and insufficient picnic.

The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area

The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area

A placard in the park tells the origins of the word karst:  Karst was initially a transliteration of the German term karst.  Originally, karst was the name of a limestone area in the Istria Peninsula of Slovenia in Europe where limestone is widespread. At the end of the 19th century, Czechoslovakian scholar J. Cvijic researched the grotesque limestone landform and termed it karst.  Since then, karst has become international geological jargon referring to the dissolution process and morphological features occurring in carbonate rock.  In China, karst is also called Yangong.

After our picnic, we head into a dense karst area where we can climb to a viewing pavilion.

The Stone Forest

The Stone Forest

Limestone pinnacles

Limestone pinnacles

view from above

view from above

view from the minibus around the Stone Forest

Stone Forest

views from the perimeter road

Stone Forest karst landform

The Stone Forest

The Stone Forest

Stone Forest

Stone Forest

Odd-shaped pinnacles

Odd-shaped pinnacles

peak ecstasy

peak ecstasy

Back to our picnic area, we find a sign introducing The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area:  It is well known for its elegance.  The rich peaks and pillars are distributed in delicate spatial configurations amidst trees and meadows.

The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area

The Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area

The Minor Stone Forest

The Minor Stone Forest

We head across a small pool into the Major Stone Forest area, which is a dense forest of karst pinnacles with stone walkways and steps built through it.

I love how Chinese signs at tourist attractions are so romanticized.  A sign here says: This tiny water pool is called Lotus Flower Pool with majestic Major Stone Forest to its south and beautiful Minor Stone Forest to the north.  This water pool is encompassed by fragrant magnolia, carpet-like lawn, and evergreen ivy.  Thousands of red carps are swimming in the clean water.

Lotus Flower Pool

Lotus Flower Pool

odd-shaped peaks

odd-shaped peaks

Another sign we find in a green valley informs us: On the left side of the gorges, green vines have fully covered the rock, whereas not a single vine has grown on the right side.  As the legend goes, this is where Ashima and her lover Ahei chanted their songs of love accompanied by wooden and leaf musical instruments, hence the name “The Lovers Valley.” It was once the shooting set for The Monkey King Subdues Thrice the White-bone Demon in the TV series Journey to the West.

Lovers Valley

Lovers Valley

Lovers Valley

Lovers Valley

Major Stone Forest peaks

Major Stone Forest peaks

As we wander further into the depths of the pinnacles, the crowds thin out considerably and we have the Stone Forest almost to ourselves.

Inside Major Stone Forest

Inside Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

In the depths

In the depths

Inside Major Stone Forest

Inside Major Stone Forest

Steps in Major Stone Forest

Steps in Major Stone Forest

Alex climbing in the Stone Forest

Alex climbing in the Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

A Thread of the Sky refers to those deep and narrow rock cracks and channels.  They developed along the vertical cracks (joints) due to water erosion.  When you walk into these locations, only a thread of the sky can be seen from below as the surrounding precipitous rocks block almost all the incoming daylight.

Inside the Major Stone Forest

Inside the Major Stone Forest

Gnarly trees in the Major Stone Forest

Gnarly trees in the Major Stone Forest

Red rocks in the Major Stone Forest

Red rocks in the Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

Major Stone Forest

At the bottom of the rock wall, there’s a cavity whose dimension allows a person to crawl in and out. It’s called Rock Prison. Says the sign: Inside is a steep and narrow valley surrounded by high-rising peaks that may even block flappy birds.  According to legend, during Yianfeng Emperor’s reign in Qing Dynasty, it was the location for Zhao Fa, leader of the ethnic Yi people’s insurgent forces, to imprison his prisoners of war.  It was once the shooting set for The Monkey King’s Imprisonment under the Five-Finger Mountains by Gautana Buddha.

Alex at the entrance to Rock Prison

Alex at the entrance to Rock Prison

We emerge from the depths of the Major Stone Forest and begin to walk back along the perimeter road in a clockwise direction, returning over the same territory where we rode the minibus earlier in a counterclockwise direction.  Now we can enjoy some closer views of the areas we zipped past.

Categories: karst, Karst landform, Kunming, Shilin, Stone Forest, Travel, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

a flight to kunming & an afternoon at yuantong temple

Thursday, February 12:  At mid-morning, we have a flight from Dali to Kunming that is delayed by nearly an hour.  So far, of all the flights we’ve taken in China, it’s the norm that the plane has departed late, at least by a half-hour.  Of course, any delay is frustrating, as airports are notoriously boring.  The small Dali airport is especially so.

At Dali Airport waiting for our flight to Kunming

At Dali Airport waiting for our flight to Kunming

Inspired by the multitudes of Chinese selfies: Alex & me on the plane to Kunming

Inspired by the multitudes of Chinese selfies: Alex & me on the plane to Kunming

Finally, we take off for our one hour flight, but by the time we arrive in Kunming to the Kai Wah Plaza Hotel, it’s well after lunchtime.  We enjoy a meal in a huge banquet room where we’re the only customers.

Our hotel in Kunming, Kai Wah Plaza

Our hotel in Kunming, Kai Wah Plaza

Soon after lunch, we take a taxi to the fabulous Yuantong Temple.  This temple is considered to be Yunnan’s grandest and most important Buddhist site.  While most Buddhist temples are built on a hill, you enter Yuantong Temple from above and descend along a gently sloping garden path. Giant cypress trees, flowers and tropical foliage line the garden path to the temple making for peaceful yet impressive entry.

Entrance gate to Yuantong Si

Entrance gate to Yuantong Si

King Yimouxun of the Nanzhao Kingdom built the temple during the late 8th and early 9th century during the Tang Dynasty, and the restorations  performed from the Qing Dynasty onward have not changed its unique mixed architectural style of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties.

Yuantong Si

Yuantong Si

It’s notable that this temple sits right in the midst of Kunming and so is a surprisingly quiet oasis in the center of a Chinese city’s normal bustle and chaos.

Under the eaves at Yuangtong Si

Under the eaves at Yuangtong Si

Yuantong Si

Yuantong Si

 a riot of color under the eaves

a riot of color under the eaves

Inside Yuangtong Si

Inside Yuangtong Si

Colorful eaves

Colorful eaves

Jolly fellow

Jolly fellow

Alex mimes the Buddhist figure

Alex mimes the Buddhist figure

Buddhist figure at Yuangtong Temple

Buddhist figure at Yuangtong Temple

The temple complex is built around Yuantong Hall (Mahavira Hall), which is known as the “Fane on the Water” for it is surrounded by a large pond. A stone bridge, upon which sits an elegant octagonal pavilion, connects Mahavira Hall and the temple entrance. The pavilion is connected to the rest of the complex by various bridges and walkways.  This structure of a Buddhist hall surrounded by water is unique in China.

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

pretty bridge at Yuangtong Temple

pretty bridge at Yuangtong Temple

Details at Yuangtong Temple

Details at Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuantong Temple

Yuantong Temple

The temple is an active site of pilgrimage.  Along with the patronage of the local people of Kunming and Yunnan in general, Buddhists from around the world come here to pay homage, there are special Buddhist services two times each month, and the Buddhist Association of Yunnan Province is located here.

Eaves at Yuangtong Temple

Eaves at Yuangtong Temple

The main hall at Yuangtong Temple

The main hall at Yuangtong Temple

Bridge over the pond and Yuangtong Temple

Bridge over the pond and Yuangtong Temple

The octagonal pavilion sitting atop the stone bridge over the central pond is dedicated to the multi-armed Guanyin and white marble Sakyamuni.

the octagonal pavilion in the center is dedicated to a multi-armed Guanyin

the octagonal pavilion in the center is dedicated to a multi-armed Guanyin

a white marble Sakyamuni in the octagonal pavilion

a white marble Sakyamuni in the octagonal pavilion

Main Hall at Yuangtong Temple

Me in front of the Main Hall at Yuangtong Temple

According to Travel China Guide: Yuantong Temple: Sakyamuni, Amitabha and the Medicine Buddha, all Yuan Dynasty statues, are found in the main hall. The surrounding 500 Buddhist Arhats who are carved in the walls are rare treasures noted for their perfect proportions and lively appearances. Also in this hall are two ten meter high pillars from the Ming Dynasty that are each engraved with a dragon.  Their bodies and claws are extended into the air as if they are ready to fly.

Faded frescos on the back wall of the main hall were painted in the 13th century.

In the main hall, two huge central pillars are wrapped in colorful dragons

In the main hall, two huge central pillars are wrapped in colorful dragons

Behind the main hall is a new annex with a graceful gilded bronze Buddha flanked by peacocks, donated by the Thai government.

the new annex in the back of Yuangtong Temple

the new annex in the back of Yuangtong Temple

curving rooftops on the annex

curving rooftops on the annex

multi-layered roof

multi-layered roof

Inside the annex

Inside the annex

curvature

curvature

Alex and the guards

Alex and the guards

guarding the annex

guarding the annex

Me & the guards

Me & the guards

a little pond filled with turtles and frogs

a little pond filled with turtles and frogs

colorful eaves

colorful eaves

Main Hall at Yuangtong Si

Main Hall at Yuangtong Si

Main gate through the tropical foliage

Main gate through the tropical foliage

The main gate to the temple

The main gate to the temple

incense sticks

incense sticks

After leaving this gorgeous temple, we go next door to a Bank of China, where I need to get $500 (USD) for my trip to Myanmar.  I’ve been told we should have crisp new large US dollars to exchange for the local Myanmar currency, the Myanmar Kyat, in order to get the best exchange rate.  Foreigners in China are only allowed to exchange yuan for a maximum of $500 USD each day.  I only had time before leaving Nanning to get about $500, plus Mike brought me $600 from home, as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get crisp new large US bills from China.

After leaving the bank, it happens to be rush hour.  We cannot for the life of us find a taxi.  We wait and wait, trying to flag down numerous taxis, but they’re all occupied.  We decide if we walk to the major north-south road in Kunming, Beijing Lu, and walk about 10 blocks, we can eventually make our way back to our hotel, which is right on that street.  We walk and walk and walk and we’re getting exhausted from the hike.  Finally, we catch the eye of a three-wheeled taxi.  We show him the address of our hotel from my Chinese translation from Booking.com on my phone, and we’re off for an agreed 15 yuan.  Alex thinks it’s a real adventure as he’s never ridden on a contraption such as this before.

In the bar area of our hotel, we order two pizzas, Mexican and Vegetarian, and share them both.  We are too exhausted from our day of travel to do much else, so we relax in our hotel.  I get some night shots of Kunming from our hotel window.

Downtown Kunming at night from our room at Kai Wah Plaza

Downtown Kunming at night from our room at Kai Wah Plaza

Nighttime view of Kunming from our hotel window

Nighttime view of Kunming from our hotel window

In the morning, we’ll be heading to the Stone Forest in Shilin.  We know it will be a hassle as we have to go to the East Bus station to catch a bus, but little do we know how much of a hassle it will be.

Categories: China, Dali, Kunming, Travel, Yuantong Si, Yuantong Temple, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

a bicycle ride to erhai lake & the three pagodas of dali

Wednesday, February 11:  This is our only day in Dali, and we get a very late start.  First, we sleep in.  I’ve been sick with a cold and cough, and last night I started feeling an earache coming on.  This morning, it’s bad, and I know an earache doesn’t just go away on its own.  I’m going to need some antibiotics to clear up the problem, and my choice is to get some medication today, in Dali, or wait until I get to Myanmar, because we’re going to be in transit every day from now until Sunday, when I fly to Mandalay.

First, we have breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, right off the courtyard below.

Courtyard at Dali Mountain Delights

Courtyard at Dali Mountain Delights

After breakfast, we ask the daughter of the hotel manager, who speaks excellent English, first, where we can find a clinic, and second, where we can rent bicycles. She tells us the hotel has bicycles we can use for free, but when we try them, we find the seats are too low and no matter what we do we can’t raise them.  We need some kind of tool because they seem to be stuck.  She tells us she will walk us into Dali and help us find a clinic and a bike shop.

We walk our bikes into the town and the streets are so congested with a big market that we can hardly move.  Because we are walking with the bicycles, we can’t easily push our way through the crowd.  We are at a standstill for ages.  When we finally emerge from the frenzy, the girl asks directions from a local man.  She looks baffled and as we walk away she tells us she didn’t understand him as he spoke the local dialect, which she doesn’t know. Oh dear, even Chinese people often can’t communicate in China!

After the girl asks several other locals for directions to the clinic, we finally find an open air hole in a wall, where a lot of sick-looking people sit miserably on uncomfortable chairs around the room.  In an adjoining office, also fronting the street, is a doctor talking on the phone and smoking a cigarette. The girl beckons us to follow her directly into the doctor’s office and explains to him that we need an antibiotic for an ear infection.  The doctor doesn’t put down the phone or his cigarette, but grabs a box of something from a shelf, “Rhythromycin,” and shoves it to us over the desk, going back to his conversation after telling the girl how much we owe and that I need to take 3 tablets a day after meals for 2 days.

Next, we go to the bike shop, where the repairman has a tool to help raise the seats on the bike.  Finally, we’re on our way.  We head out the north gate of Dali on a long convoluted road toward Erhai Lake.

views on our bicycle ride

views on our bicycle ride

Once we’re outside the town, the road is straight and slightly downhill, so it’s a breeze.  Of course I know you always have to pay for a downhill ride; on the way back it will be a long slow climb.  We make periodic stops to admire views  of Zhonghe Peak, one of the tallest mountains in the Cangshan range to the west of Dali, and the farmland in the valley.

We’re heading east to the shore of the forty-kilometer-long Erhai, meaning “Ear-shaped sea.”  The east-west width of the lake is roughly 7–8 kilometres (4.3–5.0 mi). Its area is 250 square kilometres (97 sq mi), making it the second largest highland lake of China, after Dianchi Lake in Kunming.

Cangshan Mountain in the distance

Cangshan Mountain in the distance

Alex and our bicycles

Alex and our bicycles

Alex along the roadside

Alex along the roadside

The countryside between Dali and Erhai Lake

The countryside between Dali and Erhai Lake

More of the countryside

More of the countryside

The road ends at a parking lot on the lakeshore; it’s occupied by vendors selling dried fruits.  We buy several bags of kiwi, pineapple and plums.  A dock juts into the lake from the parking lot, but it is closed except to people who are going on a boat cruise, which I’ve heard is a long affair.  We’re too late for that. Instead we look for a path along the shore where we can ride our bikes.  We find a path, but it isn’t very long.  We ride along the shore for a bit, admiring the pretty lane and the lake shore, with gnarly trees growing along its edge.

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Paintings found on many buildings in Dali

Paintings found on many buildings in Dali

Hotels along Erhai Lake

Hotels along Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Alex finds this little pavilion a perfect place to do a handstand.

Pavilion on Erhai Lake

Pavilion on Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

View from the pavilion to the shore

View from the pavilion to the shore

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Shore of Erhai Lake

Shore of Erhai Lake

Trees on the border of Erhai Lake

Trees on the border of Erhai Lake

Boat at Erhai Lake

Boat at Erhai Lake

Boats at Erhai Lake

Boats at Erhai Lake

By this time, it’s quite late in the afternoon and we’re hungry.  We look for a restaurant on the street near the lake.  We wander into the courtyard of this little restaurant, where the menu is all in Chinese.  Luckily I can use my WayGo app to translate the menu.  Though time-consuming, at least we know what we’re ordering.

restaurant at Erhai Lake

restaurant at Erhai Lake

I order an eggplant dish.  It’s soaked in oil, but it’s still tasty.  I know when I get vegetables like this soaked in oil, I’m going to have stomach problems.  Later I do suffer.

Courtyard of the restaurant near Erhai Lake

Courtyard of the restaurant near Erhai Lake

After lunch, it’s a long slow ride back up the hill into Dali, just as I feared it would be.  As we’re riding along, suddenly an artist from Belgium is beside us, riding along with some canvases strapped to his bike.  He tells us he and his wife are living in Dali doing their art.  I know Dali is a haven for westerners; many have become long-time residents who have opened shops, galleries and cafes.  This young man is one of the locals.

By the time we get back to town, our butts are sore and we’re exhausted.  We decide to rest for a bit in the hotel.  Not only do I have the cold and earache, but now my stomach doesn’t feel so good either.

After a while, we head out to walk about 20 minutes north of our hotel to see Dali’s Three Pagodas. We’ve heard it’s expensive to get into the grounds.  We’ve also heard that you cannot go up inside the pagodas.  We’ve pretty much decided we’re not going to pay to get into the grounds, because we’re heard you can see them perfectly well from outside the gates.  We pass some drab parts of Dali (these are outside the old town) and some vendors selling vegetables outside the gates of the pagodas.

business along the walk to the Three Pagodas of Dali

business along the walk to the Three Pagodas of Dali

We get our first glimpse of one of the pagodas from one of the side streets.

First glimpse of one of the three pagodas

First glimpse of one of the three pagodas

When we get to the entrance gate, we can see that the park inside the gate looks quite nice and we decide we should go ahead and pay to go inside.  It’s about 4:30 by this time and the gates close at 5:00.  The woman inside refuses us entry, saying it’s too close to closing time.  I have to say I’m a little disappointed because I’m sure there are some pretty views inside the gates.  Plus our views outside the gate are not that great, contrary to what we’ve been told.  We walk around the outside of the huge gated park, trying to find some good views, but not really getting any great ones.

According to China Highlights: The Three Pagodas of Dali: the Three Pagodas are cream-colored, delicate-looking brick pagodas.  The tallest and oldest of the three, Qianxun, was built during the reign of King Quan Fengyou of the Nanzhao Kingdom, about 1,150 years ago.  The square-shaped pagoda is 16 stories, stands 69.6 meters (227 feet) high, and it is one of the tallest pagodas ever built in China. The other two were built about 100 years later, probably by the Kingdom of Dali. They stand at the foot of Yinglo Peak, one of the high peaks of the nearby Cangshan Mountain range. The tallest pagoda is one of China’s best preserved buildings from the time of the Tang Dynasty; the smaller two pagodas differ in style.

Three pagodas of Dali

Three pagodas of Dali

Three Pagodas of Dali

Three Pagodas of Dali

We’re too exhausted to walk back to Dali Old Town from the pagodas, so we take a taxi to the south gate so we can see more of the town before sundown.

Categories: Asia, Cangshan Mountain, China, Dali, Dali Mountain Delights, Erhai Lake, Three Pagodas of Dali, Travel, Yunnan Province, Zhonghe Peak | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

arrival in dali & a stroll around town

Tuesday, February 10:  At Cato’s Inn in Shaxi, we have our breakfast at the hotel’s detached cafe down the lane.  Afterwards, I print out some of my confirmations for my Myanmar flights and hotels, because I never had time to do it before I left Nanning.  Luckily, Cato’s Inn has a laid-back vibe, and Nancy and Cato are happy to accommodate me.  It’s something that’s been worrying me, so I’m glad to get it done so I can relax.

We don’t get underway until 10:45 a.m. to head to Dali. Cato carries our bags to the bus station on a bicycle cart.  The 45-minute bus ride to Jianchuan is just as winding and bumpy as it was two days ago, but luckily Alex is busily engaged with some of the Chinese passengers and somehow avoids getting motion sickness.  An 18-year-old young man tells us, in decent English, of his dream to study in the U.S. and build robots with his hands.  He’s waiting for offers from U.S. colleges.  He’s from Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, and, like Alex, is traveling with his mother.

Another Chinese young man also chats with Alex about school, getting a driver’s license, the drinking and smoking age in the U.S. and other things young people are concerned about.

At noon in Jianchuan, we get on the bus (36 yuan each).  The driver tells us we’ll arrive in Dali at 2:00, but we don’t get on the expressway until 12:40 and the driver is poking along at a very slow 60-80 km/hour.  It’s 126 km to Dali, so we won’t get there at 2:00.

During our drive I start getting phone calls from our hotel in Dali wondering when we will arrive.  The young lady on the phone tells us it will be difficult to find our hotel, so they want to meet us when the bus arrives.  There is some confusion as to where the bus will stop, but I hand my phone to the bus driver to sort it out.  When we get off the bus, a girl and her mother are waiting in the parking lot to drive us to our hotel, Dali Mountain Delights.  It turns out the hotel is outside of the old town, and I’m a little disappointed as I usually try to book hotels right in the thick of things.  Luckily, it’s not a long walk to Dali’s Old Town.

At the hotel, the girl introduces us to her new puppy, a Border Collie named Dali.  She’s thrilled to have Alex meet the dog, and Alex tells her about our Border Collie, Bailey, who died last summer.  After we put our things into our room, we head out to grab a late lunch in Dali.

We head into town through the Cangshan Gate and follow the directions to the food street.

Dali's West Gate

Dali’s Canghsan Gate

Dali is considered by many to be a haven for cool Chinese tourists and foreign backpackers; Lonely Planet China calls it “China’s closest approximation to bohemia.”  The town is only about four square kilometers, much of which is contained within the remains of its Ming-dynasty walls.

Vegetable cart in Dali

Vegetable cart in Dali

We head for the Western food street, and grab a seat outside at the Yunnan Cafe Bar.

Alex at Yunnan Cafe Bar

Alex at Yunnan Cafe Bar

Our view from the Cafe

Our view from the Cafe

I have a delicious baked potato stuffed with mushrooms, garlic and cheese, and Alex and I share a bunch of French fries.  After this filling lunch, I’m all potatoed out.

Alex again at Yunnan Cafe Bar

Alex again at Yunnan Cafe Bar

We take a walk through the streets, where we notice the green domes of a mosque, unusual in China.

Mosque dome in Dali

Mosque dome in Dali

All through Lijiang, and now here in Dali, there are music stores selling drums, miniature guitars and CDs that look like old 45s.  In all of the stores, there is a mellow local Lijiang song playing; I don’t think the song has an English name and of course I don’t know the Chinese name.  However, I love the song, and soon have it playing inside my head.

Music store, where the Lijiang famous song is always playing

Music store, where the Lijiang famous song is always playing

There seem to be a lot of fruit juice stands in Dali, and Alex stops to have some fresh pomegranate juice made by this man.  I have him make me a bottle too.  It’s wonderfully refreshing.

the pomegranate juice man

the pomegranate juice man

pomegranates

pomegranates

Of course the locals are out with their vegetables for sale.

vegetables for sale

vegetables for sale

vegetable market on Dali's streets

vegetable market on Dali’s streets

Streets of Dali

Streets of Dali

police mobile

police mobile

fortune tellers

some interesting things are going on!

Dali streets

Dali streets

Later, Alex stops for another fruit juice, this time a pomegranate and kiwi juice that he doesn’t find nearly as tasty as the plain pomegranate juice.

the hippie culture

the hippie culture

We continue to walk around the streets until we come to a foot massage place we’d seen earlier.  Alex has never had a foot massage in his life, and I am ready to be pampered a bit after all our travels.  We go inside and soak our feet only to realize shortly that our two masseuses are deaf and dumb.  One of them is really friendly and smiley. My lively masseuse notices the red scrape on my calf from my bicycle accident. He points at the scrape and then holds up 10 fingers; one by one, he folds them into his palm.  Then he motions as if to wipe away the scrape.  He does this several times and we laugh, knowing he’s right.  Though the scrape looks bad now, it will be gone in 10 days.

He calls it correctly, as the scrape does in fact vanish 10 days after my accident.

another gate

another gate

Alex orders a pomegranate and Kiwi juice

Alex orders a pomegranate and Kiwi juice

a bicycle built for 1 1/2?

a bicycle built for 1 1/2?

textiles in Dali

textiles in Dali

street art in Dali

street art in Dali

Dali architecture

Dali architecture

Another gate to the old town

The Cangshan Gate again

After our foot massages, we go back to the hotel to relax for a bit.  Since we ate a late lunch, neither of us is hungry.  When we go back into town, we decide we’ll look for a place we saw earlier that serves fresh mango desserts.  We walk up and down the street looking for the place, but we miss it on our first pass through.  We walk all the way to the end and then turn around to retrace our steps.  It turns out we find it not far from where we ate lunch and had our foot massages.  In this cozy place, we eat fresh mango with ice cream and tapioca balls.  Delicious!

the mango dessert place

the mango dessert place

Categories: Asia, China, Dali, Dali Mountain Delights, Travel, Yunnan Cafe Bar, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

shibao shan: the fabulous baoxiang temple

Monday, February 9:  Our last stop at Shibao Shan is the fabulous Baoxiang Temple, also known as “Suspending Temple.”  It was built at the end of the 13th century, when Yunnan was formally integrated into the Chinese Empire.

We climb a lot of steps through a monkey community to get to the temple.  We’ve heard the monkeys can be quite aggressive and that people have been injured by them, but we’re lucky that they don’t bother us.

monkeys on the steps to Baoxiang Temple

monkeys on the steps to Baoxiang Temple

Monkey meeting

Monkey meeting

We come to a huge rock where Chinese characters have been carved into the face.  I can imagine it says the name of the temple, but since I can’t read Chinese, I don’t know.

Stone rock carving at entrance to Baoxing Temple

Stone rock carving at entrance to Baoxing Temple

Finally, we pass through the main entrance, flanked by two white elephants.

The first hall we encounter

The first hall we encounter

Immediately, we can see the huge cliff looming over us, with its new statues of Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges.

Buddha on the cliff ledges

Guanyin and Maitreya on the cliff ledges

On either side of the two figures are two smaller temples built into the cliff face.

incense burner

incense burner

New statues of Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

New statues of Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Baoxiang Temple

Baoxiang Temple

Inside the halls are folk figures playing music in the countryside; they are accompanied by wildly patterned dragons and birds.

Inside one of the halls at Baoxiang Temple

Inside one of the halls at Baoxiang Temple

Colorful temple interior at Baoxiang Temple

Colorful temple interior at Baoxiang Temple

Colorful characters at Baoxiang Temple

Colorful characters at Baoxiang Temple

Cliffs above Baoxiang Temple

Cliffs above Baoxiang Temple

fountain at Baoxiang Temple

fountain at Baoxiang Temple

Baoxiang Temple

Baoxiang Temple

Luckily, it’s easy to climb up to the ledges to explore the temples and Buddha figures more closely.

Cliffs at the temple

Cliffs at the temple

Someone has a carefully tended potted garden in one of the temple courtyards down below.

potted garden

potted garden

Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

looking down on the rooftops from the ledges

looking down on the rooftops from the ledges

hall built into the cliff face

hall built into the cliff face

colorful characters in the temple on the rock face

colorful characters in the temple on the rock face

I have always wanted to go to the Datong Hanging Monastery, and since I don’t know if I’ll be able to get there during my time in China, maybe this will serve as the next best thing.

Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Guanyin on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Guanyin on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Baoxiang Temple

Baoxiang Temple

Alex stands beside Guanyin and Maitreya on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Alex stands beside Guanyin and Maitreya on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Looking down from the ledge

Looking down from the ledge

We climb the steps to the ledges and wander around for a long time, enjoying the views over Shibao Shan and the interesting interiors and exteriors of the temples.  There is hardly anyone here, except for us, the monkeys, a few Buddhist worshippers and some temple-minders.

Alex and the temple

Alex and the temple

Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Guanyin and Maitreya, the smiling Buddha, on the cliff ledges at Baoxiang Temple

colorful eaves

colorful eaves

inside another rock-face temple

inside another rock-face temple

colorful painting and character

colorful painting and character

a wise looking man

a wise looking man

Maitreya, the smiling Buddha

Maitreya, the smiling Buddha

on the ledges at Baoxiang Temple

on the ledges at Baoxiang Temple

Another temple built into the ledges

Another temple built into the ledges

colorful temple in the complex

colorful temple in the complex

another pavilion

another pavilion

It’s getting late in the day, so we meet our driver at the bottom of the steps.  He drives us back to Shaxi as the sun is setting.  We walk into the town, go to our hotel for a bit of a rest, and then go out for dinner at Mint Cafe, where we ate lunch earlier today.  I have some egg and vegetable soup because I feel like soup will settle my stomach.  But I add French fries to the order, which probably isn’t helpful.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll leave Shaxi, taking the bus back to Jianchuan (which Alex dreads because of the motion sickness he got on the way here), and then on to Dali. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Baoxiang Temple, China, Mint Cafe, Shaxi, Shibao Shan, Theater, Travel, Xingjiao Temple, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , | 16 Comments

shibao shan: haiyun temple & the shizhongshang grottos

Monday, February 9: After Alex and I walk around Shaxi Old Town and finish our lunch, we go with a hired driver (for 200 yuan) to Shibao Shan, or Stone Treasure Mountain, a nature reserve and religious sanctuary.  It was one of the first to be protected by China in 1982.  There are a good number of well-preserved temples on this mountain, some dating back 1300 years to the once powerful Nanzhao Kingdom during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Our first stop is the Haiyun Temple.  This is an active Buddhist temple where people are bustling about hanging red lanterns for the Chinese New Year.  The people here are friendly, offering us cups of tea, hot freshly roasted walnuts, and a snack that seems to be a cross between a square of styrofoam and a Rice Krispies treat. We are made to feel welcome and end up hanging out here for a while, snacking and enjoying hot drinks with our amiable hosts.

Character at Haiyun Temple

Character at Haiyun Temple

There are a lot of colorful characters at this temple, but I have to say I don’t know who they are.

Buddha in Haiyun Temple

Buddha in Haiyun Temple

More fierce warriors at Haiyun Temple

More fierce warriors at Haiyun Temple

Tough characters

Tough characters

a happy group

a festive group

Inside the main hall of Haiyun Temple

Inside the main hall of Haiyun Temple

We can see a view of Jianchuan, the town where we changed our bus from Lijiang to come to Shaxi, from this mountaintop temple.  Sadly, none of my pictures turn out because we’re facing into the sun.

Trees and blue sky over Haiyun Temple

Trees and blue sky over Haiyun Temple

Some of the colorful characters have strange and inscrutable looks on their faces.

Sarcastic face?

Sarcastic face?

And some of them look incredibly disappointed.

Another of the cast of characters at Haiyun Temple

Another of the cast of characters at Haiyun Temple

Main hall at Haiyun Temple

Main hall at Haiyun Temple

Inside the main hall of Haiyun Temple

Inside the main hall of Haiyun Temple

I love some of the rich paintings on the walls.

Drummer

Musician and drum

painting on the wall

painting on the wall

And, in case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m always captivated by the painted carvings under the flying eaves.

colorful structure

colorful structure

Alex sits down for a while to enjoy the warm fire and the roasted walnuts.

Alex eats hot walnuts with the locals

Alex eats hot walnuts with the locals

Courtyard at Haiyun Temple

Courtyard at Haiyun Temple

flower power

flower power

Haiyun Temple

Haiyun Temple

Alex full of walnuts

Alex full of walnuts

festive red flower

festive red flower

We finally tear ourselves away from the warm hospitality of Haiyun Temple to head to Shizhong Temple, also known as Stone Bell Temple.

the gate at the entrance to the path to Shizhong Temple

the gate at the entrance to the path to Shizhong Temple

We hike down a seemingly infinite number of steps and then on a paved trail about 500 meters to the temple.  We walk through dense forest until the vista opens up, offering sweeping views of the valley and surrounding mountains.

View on the path to Shizhong Temple (Stone Bell Temple)

View on the path to Shizhong Temple (Stone Bell Temple)

When we get near the entrance, we find some strange, organ-shaped rock formations.

Shibao Shan got its name, “Shibao,” from the surfaces of the red rocks on the mountain that look like a tortoise’ s back; these rocks sometimes appear to be lions, sometimes elephants, and sometimes clocks.

rocks on the path to Shizhong Temple

rocks on the path to Shizhong Temple

When we hand over our tickets, we’re told “No photos.”  Signs everywhere instruct the same. I really hate it when places don’t allow you to take photos.  I can understand if they don’t want you to use a flash, as I know light can damage artwork.  But I feel it is uncalled for to prohibit all photos.

Shizhong Temple is home to the Shizhongshang Grottos. The Shibao Shan rock carvings represent the spread of Mahayana Buddhism from Tibet into Yunnan. Representations of the bodhisattva Guanyin and other Buddhist images are carved into the rocky mountainside.  They’re magnificent cultural relics, but of course you’ll just have to imagine them since I can’t take photos.

At Shizhong Temple

At Shizhong Temple

It seems the “no photo” signs are specifically meant for the grottos.  I do respectfully obey the rules, even though I don’t like it one bit.  However, I do take some photos of the outside of the temples.

Shizhong Temple

Shizhong Temple

walkway up to Shizhong Temple and the grottos

walkway up to Shizhong Temple and the grottos

Across the valley, we can see more temples and unusual rock formations.

view across the valley from the temple

view across the valley from the temple

There are paths going off in all directions here, but we decide to take one to Watching Bell Terrace.  We can see the pavilion on the hilltop, so we traipse off in that direction.

Watching Bell Terrace

Watching Bell Terrace

From the terrace, we see more lovely views of the mountains and rock outcroppings.

View from Watching Bell Terrace

View from Watching Bell Terrace

Watching Bell Terrace

Watching Bell Terrace

View over the mountains to Watching Bell Terrace

View over the mountains to Watching Bell Terrace

View across the valley to interesting stone formations

View across the valley to interesting stone formations

Finally, we head back toward Shizhong Temple, where we see a strange brain-shaped rock formation.  I don’t know if this is natural or man-made.

a brainy rock formation

a brainy rock formation

On the way out of Shizhong Temple

On the way out of Shizhong Temple

We hike back through the forest and climb the endless steps; we’re hot and exhausted by the time we arrive back to the main gate.  Then we head to my favorite temple in Shibao Shan, the “Suspending Temple,” also called the Baoxiang Temple.

The Baoxiang Temple was built on a ledge of a nearly vertical cliff and can only be reached by a long flight of stairs.

Categories: Asia, China, Haiyun Temple, Shaxi, Shibao Shan, Shizhong Temple, Shizhongshang Grottos, Stone Bell Temple, Stone Treasure Mountain, Travel, Watching Bell Terrace, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

a morning stroll around shaxi

Monday, February 9:  After having a good Western breakfast of homemade bread and bacon and eggs, we take a walk around the old town of Shaxi.  As we walk down the street, we see this pretty little nook, but we don’t know what the business is.  It never seems to be open.

A cute little nook on the street in Shaxi

A cute little nook on the street in Shaxi

In the Market Square, the two most significant buildings face off against each other across the square, the Theater and Xingjiao Temple.  First, we stop at Xingjiao Temple. We pay the entrance fee and go inside.

Entrance to Xingjiao Temple

Entrance to Xingjiao Temple

Inside and to the left of a courtyard is Tian Wang Dian, translated as the Heavenly Wings Hall, also known as the Second Hall.  It is a column-and-beam structure.

Tian Wang Dian, or the Heavenly Wings Hall

Tian Wang Dian, or the Heavenly Wings Hall

The courtyard is leafy and shady.

courtyard at Xingjiao Temple

courtyard at Xingjiao Temple

Da Xiong Bao Dian, or the Main Hall, is the last building on the axis at the end of the courtyard.  It is made of timber frame, creating the skeleton of the hall.  The bracket construction keeps the structure together and is flexible, making it earthquake resistant.

Looking at Daxiong Bao Dian, or the Main Hall

Looking at Daxiong Bao Dian, or the Main Hall

In May of 2010, the Main Hall was renovated and the five Buddhas were remodeled.  It is said the five statues from north to south are Ratnasambhava Buddha, Ayshobhya Buddha, Vairocana Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, and Amoghasiddhi Buddha.  This is one of the major Buddha combinations in Tantric Buddhism.

Three of the five Buddhas in Da Xiong Bao Dian

Three of the five Buddhas in Da Xiong Bao Dian

The inside and outside walls of the hall are decorated with paintings from the Ming Dynasty (1417 A.D.).  The paintings are representative of Tantric Buddhism and are an embodiment of the ancient Bai style of painting, containing both local and national characteristics.

Painting from the Ming Dynasty in Da Xiong Bao Dian

Painting from the Ming Dynasty in Da Xiong Bao Dian

The restoration is not only of historical significance but, as many villages are still Buddhist, the restoration has also brought enormous cultural and religious significance.

Da Xiong Bao Dian

Da Xiong Bao Dian

We return to the square after leaving the temple, and we come across a lively wedding party. Some of the stragglers are setting off firecrackers.

A wedding party on the streets of Shaxi

A wedding party on the streets of Shaxi

the stragglers at the wedding party

the stragglers at the wedding party

We continue walking to the east, in hopes of finding the Bai Temple. The town’s streets are delightfully clean with moss-edged streams running through them.

Shaxi street

Shaxi street

Shaxi street

Shaxi street

Finally, we reach the Bai Temple on the northeast corner of town.

Bai Temple

Bai Temple

Entrance to the Bai Temple

Entrance to the Bai Temple

Chinese ladies at the Bai Temple

Chinese ladies at the Bai Temple

Inside the Main Hall are some very colorful characters.

Characters in the Bai Temple

Characters in the Bai Temple

Inside the Bai Temple

Inside the Bai Temple

Inside the Bai Temple

Inside the Bai Temple

In the Bai Temple

In the Bai Temple

Important Bai personage

Important Bai personage

And outside, we find incense burning and old ladies preparing offerings for the gods inside.

incense

incense

Inside the Bai Temple

Inside the Bai Temple

As we leave the Bai Temple, we come across a boisterous group riding by in a truck.  The driver makes a drinking motion and waves for us to follow them.  We can’t join them, sadly, because we have a driver picking us up soon, and we just have time to grab some lunch before we meet him.  The driver will take us this afternoon up to Shibao Shan, or Stone Treasure Mountain.

Some folks going to the wedding

Some folks going to the wedding

We come across a pretty little bridge and stream on the east edge of town.

a little bridge on the outskirts of the town

a little bridge on the outskirts of the town

on the edge of town

on the edge of town

Alex on the bridge

Alex on the bridge

Shaxi street

Shaxi street

horsemen in the square

horsemen in the square

We stop for lunch at the Mint Cafe.  I order a tuna sandwich, which surprisingly comes with corn in it.  Alex has beef and mushrooms on rice.  When we return to the hotel, I have a bout of diarrhea; I promptly take an Imodium.  I end up with stomach cramps for the rest of the day.

delivery man

delivery man

Another view of the Xingjiao Temple

Another view of the Xingjiao Temple

Soon after lunch, we head up to Shibao Shan, a nature reserve and religious site that was one of the first to be officially protected by China in 1982.

Categories: Asia, Bai Temple, China, Da Xiong Bao Dian, Heavenly Wings Hall, Main Hall, Mint Cafe, Shaxi, Tantric Buddhism, Tian Wang Dian, Travel, Xingjiao Temple, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , | 24 Comments

a bicycle ride to white dragon pool {& a tumble into a briar patch}

Sunday, February 8: After lunch, we borrow some bicycles from our hotel and head 8 km out-of-town in search of Bailong Tan, or White Dragon Pool.  This pool is formed by a clear underground spring and is believed to be sacred to the local Bai people.  It supplies drinking water to the villages in the Shaxi Valley.

We have a map in hand from the hotel, and Nancy has pointed us in the direction we need to go.  After a couple of wrong turns and a bit of a long haul getting out of the town limits, we’re riding south in rolling countryside, with terraced hills and farmland in every shade of green and brown.  We ride mostly downhill through this picturesque countryside, passing through a few small villages, and I’m thinking that returning to Shaxi is going to be a grueling gradual uphill climb.

In one of the villages, a mass of people have just been released from school or work.  Groups of older men, as well as teenage boys and girls, are on the move in the streets.  Some of the teenage boys in the village say something to us and start chasing after us.  I feel a little vulnerable here away from the tourist town of Shaxi, but at least Alex is with me.  We pick up our pace and soon outride the mischief-makers.  For some reason, this makes me feel a little uneasy.

Nancy has told us when we get to the bridge, we need to cross over it and head uphill to find White Dragon Pool.   We’ve been on the same road for the whole ride, but at the bridge we turn left and cross over.  It isn’t long before we have to get off our bikes and walk up the hill, as the incline is so steep.  I’m such a wimpy bicyclist. 🙂

countryside around Shaxi

countryside around Shaxi

a picturesque bridge

a picturesque bridge

As we walk up the curving road along the edge of the hill, we look back over the countryside through which we just rode.

a little river

a little river

countryside of Shaxi

countryside of Shaxi

Terraces are carved into the surrounding hillsides, making them look highly manicured.

rolling hills around Shaxi

rolling hills around Shaxi

countryside with a rounded bridge

countryside with a rounded bridge

farmland around Shaxi

farmland & villages around Shaxi

Near the top of the hill is a big stone carved with Chinese calligraphy.  The sign sits in the middle of a fork in the road; one of the forks heads north to Shaxi (the road we just rode south on), and the other fork goes further up the  mountain to our left, heading north on the opposite side of the valley.  Chinese people are posing for selfies and pictures of each other in front of the sign, so we figure it must be important, possibly the sign to White Dragon Pool.  We take the fork further up the mountain.

At one point we see another stone carved in calligraphy, but the little road leading up the mountain to the right of this stone is just a gravel track and doesn’t look like it could be anything as important as the White Dragon Pool.  We pass it by, thinking we still must have a way to go.

We’re now riding north and we can see the valley below us to our left, along with the villages we just passed through.  We have some fabulous views of the mountains, the valley with its tan, brown and green farmland, some of which is terraced.

farmland in the valley

farmland in the valley

terraced fields

terraced fields

Even though it’s breezy and cool, a glorious day all around, Alex and I have worked up a sweat bicycling, so we keep peeling off layers.  We end up rolling up our jeans to cool off.

Alex & his bicycle

Alex & his bicycle

me and my bicycle

me and my bicycle

It’s a fabulous ride.  The road is perfect for bicycling, smooth and newly paved, and it rises and falls gently, making for some easy downhill cruising with enough momentum to get up the next hill easily.  We have so much fun!

pretty fields

pretty fields

wispy clouds

wispy clouds

farmland

farmland

After a while, we start to wonder if maybe we’ve gone too far.  Quite a distance to the north, we see a man walking along the road.  We show him our map, asking about White Dragon Pool.  He points us in the direction from which we just came.  So we turn around and head back.  I tell Alex I bet it was that stone sign we saw along the way.

looking up from the road

looking up from the road

terraces

terraces

Here’s the view of the road back over the route we just rode.

the road on a ridge overlooking the valley

the road on a ridge overlooking the valley

Finally we come to the stone sign.  We ride up the steep gravely road to the right, where we park our bikes beside a little canal (much like an Omani falaj) and a ploughed field.

our biking road

our biking road

I have to say this doesn’t look like a famous place.  It looks like a place out in the middle of the boondocks.

our bicycles

our bicycles

Alex decides he’ll run ahead and see if there is a pool.  He runs along the canal for some distance.  When he returns, he says he didn’t see anything; he thinks we should just walk along the canal.  Where there is water, there must be a source.

In this picture below, where Alex is running back to meet me, notice the tree and the briar patch on the left, between the canal walkway and the steep road downhill.  When we leave this place, little do I know that I will have a little accident in this briar patch. 🙂

Alex runs back from running ahead to check out the pool

Alex runs back from running ahead to check out the pool

We leave our bikes and walk along the canal, finally coming to this little pool.  It seems neglected and overgrown, and certainly not what we expected.  A dirty, grumpy-looking old man is picking up branches, but he interrupts his chore and walks boldly up to us, circling around us as if we’re some kind of enemy combatants. We don’t know what he wants, or who he is, but he certainly doesn’t seem to like the look of us!  He is giving us the evil eye big time.

White Dragon Pool

White Dragon Pool

a big old tree hanging over White Dragon Pool

a big old tree hanging over White Dragon Pool

Bridge over White Dragon Pool

Bridge over White Dragon Pool

Alex, being the fitness nut he is, feels compelled to climb on the branches of a big tree overhanging the pool.  Suddenly, the old man, who has been following us at a safe distance, starts waving his arms and yelling something at Alex in Chinese.

Alex in the tree

Alex in the tree

Alex tells the man we’re descended from monkeys and are meant to climb.  Of course the old man can’t understand a word of English.  Alex is upset that this man, who does not seem to be working here in any official capacity, has appointed himself as the guardian of this place.  He has been nothing but unfriendly and threatening to us the whole time.  Not that of course he could physically do anything to us.

bicycle & bridge

bicycle & bridge

White Dragon Pool

White Dragon Pool

little temple

little temple

Here’s a picture of the little old man who has made it his business to harass us.  You can’t see him very well.  Maybe it’s for the best. He’s a very unpleasant character.

the grumpy old man

the grumpy old man

temple

temple

Before leaving, I walk down a little path along another branch of the canal.  There really isn’t much to see, so I turn around and we go back to our bikes.

path and water canal

path and water canal

We are decidedly unimpressed by this place.  We head back to our bicycles and Alex does one parting handstand before we leave.

Alex does his signature handstand

Alex does his signature handstand

Alex gets on his bicycle and immediately heads down the steep hill.  Lagging behind, I also get on my bicycle. Rather, I attempt to get on.  I’m straddling the bike at the top of the hill and wondering if maybe I should walk it down.  The hill looks awfully steep.  I feel a little unsteady, but I lift my feet from the ground and put them on the pedals.

Immediately, I lose my balance, and fall face down into the briar patch. This happens in a split second.  I don’t even have time to break my fall.  I yell out something I won’t repeat here.  I’m lucky I didn’t poke an eye out, with all those brambles and branches poking in every direction!  I holler to Alex who comes back up the hill and helps pull me out of the briars, which are sticking to me all over the place.  I look down and see I have a nasty scrape on my right calf.  Yikes.  I can tell that’s going to hurt.

I’m pretty shaken by that tumble, but I dust myself off, walk my bicycle down the hill and get back on.  We see a little shop near the entrance to the pond; we stop here to buy some water, so I can wash off my scrape.  Then I guzzle down some of the water.  We hop back on the bikes and continue back down to the fork, and then back toward Shaxi by way of the road in the valley.

heading back to Shaxi

heading back to Shaxi

There’s a pretty little rounded bridge that we stop to take pictures of.

looking down at the pretty bridge

looking down at the pretty bridge

a stop by the bridge

a stop by the bridge

curvature

curvature

Finally, we head back down the road through the farmland and villages and back to Shaxi.  As I thought, it’s more difficult going back as it’s almost all uphill.  As we’re riding, my scrape is beginning to burn.

farmland

farmland

tower and tree

tower and tree

terraced hills

terraced hills

Back at our hotel, we turn in our bikes to Nancy and Cato.   I show Nancy my nasty scrape, and Cato immediately goes to check out the bike; I suppose he’s thinking I may have damaged it.  Nancy thinks I should see a doctor, but I’ve had plenty of scrapes such as these in my life.  I know that as long as I keep it clean and wait, it will heal.  Luckily, Nancy has some rubbing alcohol and some bandages.  Back in our room, I wash the scrape thoroughly and put on the bandages.

our hotel room at Dali Shaxi Cato's Inn

our hotel room at Dali Shaxi Cato’s Inn

Our room at Cato's Inn

Our room at Cato’s Inn

After a bit of a rest, we head out to the main square, where we see the old stage again in the waning light.

Old theater in Shaxi's square

Old theater in Shaxi’s square

the old theater

the old theater

We pick one of the restaurants on the perimeter of the square, the Old Tree Cafe, where I order eggs with tomatoes and Alex orders pork dumplings.  I have a Carlsberg beer, while Alex gets a fruit juice.

restaurant where we eat dinner

Dinner at the Old Tree Cafe

After dinner, we head back to our hotel.  We’re both exhausted from our day of travel and our long bike ride.

in Shaxi's square at dusk

in Shaxi’s square at dusk

another restaurant in the square

another restaurant in the square

Tomorrow, we’ll explore more of the town and Shibao Shan, or Stone Treasure Mountain.

Categories: Asia, Bailong Tan, China, Dali Shaxi Cato's Inn, Old Tree Cafe, Shaxi, Theater, Travel, White Dragon Pool, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

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