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Mekong Tourism Forum 2019: What to see in Dali

Dali in China’s Yunnan Province is the next event location of the annual Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF), which will be held on May 28-29, 2019. For the participants of the two-day event, it will be a challenging task to see as much as possible of the most important tourist attractions around the event hotel in Xiaguan (being next to the Dali Conference Centre) and within the Dali Bai Autonomous Region. The region is most of all dominated by the 19 peaks of the Cangshan Mountain in the west and the Erhai Lake in the east with a height of nearly 2,000 meters.

  1. Xiaguan is the capital of the Dali Bai Autonomous Region and also the seat of the Dali Municipal Government. Xi’er River as the outlet of Erhai Lake runs through the town, which flows to the west into the direction of the Lancang Jiang or Mekong River. Formerly, Xiaguan was the fortified Longweiguan (Dragon’s Tail Fort) during the time of the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdom (653-1253). Today the town is well-known for its windy atmosphere. The very old trade town is located at the crossroads of the old Bonan Road to Myanmar and the Tea and Horses Road, which connects Xishuangbanna in the south of Yunnan with Tibetin the north, and can be reached from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, by highway, railroad and airline. Recommended is to take the new High Speed Train, which needs around some two hours for the journey. Not to be missed is the Erhai Lake Park at the eastern suburb of Xiaguan, which is the largest and most beautiful in Dali and the best place to have a good view of Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake. The General’s Temple is located at the western suburb of Xiaguan and was built in the Ming Dynasty to pay homage to General Li Mi of the Tang Dynasty, who came with an army and Chinese soldiers to conquer theNanzhao Kingdom, but was beaten back by a combined force of Nanzhao and Tibet. The whole army was killed and General Li Mi drowned himself. His off-springs set up the temple in memory of him.
  2. Nanzhao Dehua Stele is located some 7 kilometers away from Xiaguan and was set up in 766 in sandstone. The stele is an important written document to study the history, social system, economy and heritage of Nanzhao and its capital Tai He.
  3. Guan Yin Temple is located farther on the road from Xiaguan to Dali Ancient City. A legend has it that when Han soldiers attacked the region, the Indian Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who became “Guan Yin” in China, appeared as an old lady to carry a huge stone to stop the soldiers. When the soldiers saw such a strong lady, they could not imagine how strong then a man would be in this region. So they withdrew. Later, people built a temple over the huge stone, which today is one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in Dali.
  4. Dali Ancient City is located exactly 13 kilometers north from Xiaguan. It was built in the Ming Dynasty with a circumference of 6 kilometers. The city wall is 8 meters high and 7 meters thick with altogether 4 gate towers. The city was built in a chessboard pattern with flower gardens in every house. West of the city outside is the market place for the annual March Fair, also having a memorial to Kublai Khan, who ended the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdom with the help of Moslems from Central Asia.
  5. A most famous book called “The Tower of Five Glories” about the place and its inhabitants was written by C.P. Fitzgerald (London 1941). From Dali, pilgrimages go to Xizhou old town, Butterfly Spring, Jizu Mountain or on the lake by ship visiting three prominent islands.
  6. Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple is located outside the northwest side of Ancient Dali City and is a must to visit. Started to be built in the Tang Dynasty, the 16-storey middle pagoda is nearly 70 meters high flanked by two other 10-storey ones with a height of 43 meters. These pagodas show the classical style of the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdom. Nearby is the Wang Yongling Marble Museum.
  7. Zhonghe Temple is another must, when sightseeing in Dali. From the west of Ancient Dali City, there is a cable car going up to Zhonghe Peak to visit the Zhonghe Temple, which is with its Yuhuang Palace the most famous Dao sanctuary in Dali. Actually, it is the best place to have a bird’s eye view of Dali AncientCity, the impressive Three Pagodas and scenic Erhai Lake.
  8. Last not least, there is the Dao pilgrimage site of Weibao Shan as cradle of the Nanzhao Kingdom. It is located in the southeastern part of Weishan County, some 55 kilometers south from Xiaguan and 10 kilometers from downtown. As a national forest park, it is one of the most famous natural and cultural scenes in Dali. In one of the many buildings, there is a mural called “Dancing under Pines” that is the only ancient mural to focus on the folk customs of the Yi people, one of the 26 national minorities in Yunnan Province.

There are many more interesting tourism sites to visit such as Shi Bao Shan, which is located at the southwest of Jianchuan County, as well as the Nanzhao Iron Pillar at the western part of Midu County. But these more far away places are not possible to visit, as the participants of the MTF 2019 will not have enough time for their tight scheduled program in Dali. For entertaining highlights during the stay in Dali instead, there is the chance for tasting the Bai Nationality’s three courses of tea, namely the bitter tea, sweet tea and after-flavor tea, trying the culinary cuisine, enjoying songs and dances, as well as marveling on the home industry of tie-dying and also on the special Bai architecture, especially when going on the one day excursion to the old town of Xizhou.

Written by Reinhard Hohler, Chiang Mai (10.05.2015)

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