Dali has a number of sightseeing attractions that make it worth a visit. The Bai people attribute a distinct cultural charm to the area, with their ancient customs and their creativity in the field of crafts.
A famous historic cultural city of China that was once the capital city of Nanzhao and Dali Regime in ancient China, Dali has sublimely picturesque scenery, consisting of verdant greenery, Erhai Lake (as its centre) and soaring mountains.
Besides this, there are also such scenic spots and historic sites as the three Dali Pagodas, Butterfly spring and others.
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Situated 27 kilometers south of Dali at the foot of Mount Shenmo, is the area commonly known as the ‘Butterfly Spring’. At the first of the peaks of Mount Cangshan a spring rises to form a square-shaped pool that is shaded by dense foliage lining its banks. The pool is some 50sqm overall and above it is an ancient decumbent tree.
This is the famous 'Butterfly Tree', so called as in the short interval as spring turns to summer, its blossom attracts thousands of butterflies. On April 15th the Bai people gather around the tree to celebrate this unforgettable spectacle of nature.
Cormorant fishing has been practiced in China for over a thousand years. While fishing with Cormorant birds is still in existence, it is mostly just a display for tourists. It involves tying a piece of string around the water birds' neck to inhibit them from swallowing their catch. The birds swim along the boat diving for fish. When one is caught, the fisherman hails the bird back to the boat and the fish is then removed from its mouth. Lake Erhai Hu is a popular location for this in Dali and something that all visitors could benefit from seeing, as it is quite fascinating.
Dali was founded in 1383 during the Ming Dynasty and has a history of more than 6,000 years. When the city was first set up, it was entirely enclosed by the city walls and each side had a gate. Over the years, the walls on the east and west sides were destroyed. This ancient city was once a vital communications hub with a dense population and many trade caravans gathered here, making the markets prosperous.
The local government has given high priority to its preservation so Dali Ancient City still retains its original looks. Nowadays the shops here mainly sell locally-made handicrafts: marble products, straw-weaving wares, embroideries, wax printing and other ornaments. Small retailers also sell antiques, paintings, old coins and silverware.
Situated right on the main street near the south gate of the city is the Dali Museum. Here you can find exhibits of marble handicrafts and a small collection of archeological excavations relating to Bai history. The museum is quite small with a minor collection of historic artifacts (bronzes, porcelain) that chart the course of human settlement in the Dali area over the past 7,000 years.
Shibaoshan is a temple with an ancient collection of Buddhist statues. The sculptures represent king-gods who used to have both political and religious power. It's a true miracle that these statues have survived the Cultural Revolution. Over 1,300 years old, the rock carvings represent the spread of Mahayana Buddhism into Yunnan from Tibet. Visitors can spend a day at the grottoes or just hike around the temples through the forest – where there are groups of monkeys.
Situated at the foot of Mount Cangshan facing Erhai Lake, the Three Pagodas have a history dating back over 1,800 years, making them some of the oldest structures in southwest China. Visitors will be inundated with postcards, calendars and various souvenirs of the Pagodas. The tallest of the three – Qianxun Pagoda, featuring 16 tiers – reaches a height of 70 metres.
Built by engineers from Xian in the ninth century, the main pagoda is bordered by two smaller versions measuring 42- metres high with ten tiers. The site is good to visit by night, when illuminated, making for a spectacular scene.
Visitors should note that access to the pagodas does not include actual entry as this is forbidden to all. The Chonsheng Temple that sits behind the Pagodas makes for interesting viewing.
Some 33km from Xiaguan lies the town of Xizhou by the side of Erhai Lake and the Wanhua Brook. The town was a military fortress of the Nanzhao Kingdom and a temporary palace of the King of Nanzhao. The houses here illustrate the strong and unique Bai characteristics in their painted roofs and pillars, upturned eaves, and 'dougong' systems. In recent years, streets and roads have been widened, new markets have been established and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants catering to the needs of tourists.
To reach this temple you must hike up the mountainside that forms Dali’s backdrop. The alternative is a chairlift that takes a fraction of the time but provides less of a workout. Either way the emerging vistas of Dali and Erhai Lake are truly breathtaking.
The small square temple sits behind the Taihe Temple and was used by emperors and their wives as a place for changing clothes.
Once you have reached the temple, either side reveals a trail that winds along the face of the mountains, taking you in and out of steep valleys, past streams and cascading waterfalls.