Dali, Yunnan: At the Crossroads of the Silk Road

Erhai Lake in Dali, Yunnan

Erhai Lake in Dali, Yunnan

In ancient times, many western travelers on the Southwest Silk-Horse Road made their way to the city of Dali. Imagine walking through the bustling streets of stalls selling many exotic goods and the mingling of languages in the background. It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of international trade and influence. Today, the primary industries of the city are agriculture and tourism. According to our tour guide, Hao, the city is picturesque at all times of the year.

August 11, 2012

Attraction List:

  • Bai people’s village: Tie-dye cloth, wax, tea ceremony, and marriage ceremony
  • Yao people’s village: Happy Embroidery school
  • Commoner bird fishing on the Erhai Lake
  • Three Pagodas of Chongsheng and Reflection Pond

The Bai people are the predominant ethnic group in western China (mainly Yunnan province). We had the opportunity to visit an authentic village, where the Bai people are known to produce tie-dye cloth, wax, metal works, and tea leaves. Our first stop was at the tie-dye cloth makers.

Tie dye equipment in the Bao people's village, Dali, Yunnan

Tie dye equipment in the Bao people’s village, Dali, Yunnan

The cotton is first spun into a reasonably-sized piece of cloth. Then, a basin filled with the deep blue-indigo dye is prepared; several colors are also available too but the blue is the most popular. The cloth is then bunched together and tied together with bits of string before soaked in the dye. After several hours, the cloth is taken out of the basin, untangled of the string, and hung on a clothesline to dry. The end result is a beautiful cloth that is often used to make blankets, table cloths, dresses, handkerchiefs, and more.

Beautiful cloths in various patterns and designs dyed in rich colors, Dali, Yunnan

Beautiful cloths in various patterns and designs dyed in rich colors, Dali, Yunnan

During our time in the village, we were able to understand more of Bai people’s lifestyle. Women dress in colorful, flowing dresses spun from handmade cloth and wear headdresses of silver with tassels or a hair ornament. Unmarried, young women would have two white tassels. If a man were to touch one of her tassels, it signified that he wished to marry the young lady. Married women do not wear tassels; instead they have their hair bounded up in a modest hairstyle.

An unmarried young lady of the Bai people, Dali, Yunnan

An unmarried young lady of the Bai people, Dali, Yunnan

The tea and marriage ceremony are two extra attractions, which require an additional charge of 60 RMB to the entrance fee. The story begins with two families hoping to make a match between their children, the eventual meeting of the couple, and the wedding celebration.

Marriage and tea ceremony of the Bai people in the village, Dali, Yunnan

Marriage and tea ceremony of the Bai people in the village, Dali, Yunnan

The people dance and sing joyously sharing their jubilation. Afterwards, we went tea tasting. We tried various teas, such as pu’er tea, chrysanthemum tea, and teas for various ailments, including colds and hypertension.
Following our visit to the village, we went to the old town, where we took a rest at Clare’s Café and then visited the bustling market.

A busy market in Dali, Yunnan

A busy market in Dali, Yunnan

We also visited the Yao people’s village, where they have an embroidery school. We watched several young girls and women stitch elaborate scenes with handmade silk thread. The silk thread is made from silkworm cocoons that are raised by the school.

The young ladies of the Happy Embroidery School hard at work, Dali, Yunnan

The young ladies of the Happy Embroidery School hard at work, Dali, Yunnan

After our visit, we had lunch in the village: a simple meal of stir-fried pork and chicken with peppers, steamed rice and vegetables.

Lunch of meat and vegetables, Dali, Yunnan

Lunch of meat and vegetables, Dali, Yunnan

The fisherman claims the fishy prize from the cormorant bird at Erhai Lake, Dali, Yunnan

The fisherman claims the fishy prize from the cormorant bird at Erhai Lake, Dali, Yunnan

Our guide took us for an exciting excursion on a boat in the Erhai Lake to watch the local fishermen using cormorant birds to fish.

Named for its shape like an ear, the lake is known for its beautiful mountainous scenery and pavilions that many poets have described in ancient times. Legend has it that a jade cabbage– its color from the jade color of the lake– can be found below the lake’s surface.  Oh, and you can try paddling the boat too if your captain lets you.

The Three Pagodas of Reflection Pond, Dali, Yunnan

The Three Pagodas of Reflection Pond, Dali, Yunnan

Following the peaceful boat ride, we headed to see the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng. A picturesque sight that depicted three Buddhist pagodas positioned in a triangle. Historically the three towers faced several natural disasters—wind and earthquakes—but fortunately remained standing albeit slanted.

Qianxun Tower of the Three Pagodas, Dali, Yunnan

Qianxun Tower of the Three Pagodas, Dali, Yunnan

The large Tang-style tower (Qianxun Tower) has 16 floors, while the two smaller towers have 10 floors. Each tower is adorned with a roc that guards Dali from major flooding.

According to folklore, the dragon of Dali (river) respects the tower but fears the roc; therefore, the roc prevents flooding.
We were able to go into one of the towers and take a tour of the altars and Buddhist statues.

The Buddhist temples nearby the Three Pagodas, Dali, Yunnan

The Buddhist temples nearby the Three Pagodas, Dali, Yunnan

Prayers to Buddha and the Bodhisattva, Dali, Yunnan

Prayers to Buddha and the Bodhisattva, Dali, Yunnan

Additional Comments

While the sights visited were pleasant, our tour of Dali felt rushed since the next day we had to leave for Lijiang. We did not have enough time to visit the Butterfly Spring, where in ancient times, two Bai lovers drowned themselves in the nearby pond and became a pair of butterflies to escape feudalism. The sight, according to my aunt, is very poetic and inspiring.

Reference

Dali Travel Group. (2007). The Chongsheng Temple And The Three-Pagoda Culture Tourist Area. Retrieved from http://www.dalisanta.net/publish/english/

 

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