Dali Pagodas

Crows Inn doesn’t do breakfast so we headed for Bakery 88 for breakfast; homemade bread and bagels with mushrooms, avocado and poached eggs or just cream cheese and homemade jam all came with freshly squeezed juice or coffee – delicious! Sitting in the shady garden to eat was another delight, partly because it is quiet and they seem to enforce the smoking ban, unlike most other eateries.

After a leisurely breakfast we navigated our way to the Three Pagodas, perhaps Dàli’s most famous landmark, a couple of km along the main road.  You can just about see them from our roof terrace.

Although we thought the festival might have finished yesterday, everywhere was still very busy;  better when we walked one block back from the main street.  Our Rough Guide book had put us off a bit by saying it cost 121 Yuan to enter the pagoda site the price turned out to be 75 Yuan, half price for Harry and free for Pat, so not so bad after all. The ticket gives you entry to a park containing the ‘Pagoda Reflecting Pond’ as well as the pagoda site itself and the park turned out to be delight – not many visitors seem to come this way.  It provided lovely views and a complete break from the hustle and bustle of the streets so we walked round the pond, enjoying having the place to ourselves, apart from a noisy cuckoo which seems to be following us around.

Peaceful, that is, until just before we were about to leave, when a fiercely arguing Chinese couple appeared…

We walked another kilometre or so to the entrance to the pagoda site, which was much busier.  The whole complex is huge, set on a number of terraces which stretch up into the foothills of the mountains for at least a kilometre. The three pagodas, which give the site its name, are near the bottom of the hill and Chongsheng temple, the largest Han Buddhist temple in China, is at the top.  The largest of the three pagodas, Qiānxú, is 70 tall and is flanked by two smaller ones, each of which has a distinct tilt.

The pagodas were built in the 9th and 10th Centuries of brick, covered in mud plaster, by builders from Xi’an, the capital of the Tang dynasty at the time.  Each of the four faces and 16 tiers of the central pagoda has a carved shrine with a Buddha sitting at the centre of it.  One legend has it that the pagodas were built to deter the dragons which were supposed to have lived in the swamps around Erhai lake before humans arrived there.  More prosaically, pagodas are thought to have evolved from Buddhist stupas, like the ones we saw in Ladakh, which usually contain sacred relics of some sort.

With all this interesting history, the notice board by the pagoda focusses on the fact that the site has an ISO 9001 safety certificate!

Martyn and I climbed more or less to the top of the site and had beautiful views over the lake and beyond. The others climbed as far as the pagodas and sat in the shade to read – two competing cuckoos accompanied us this time. It was, again, very hot and many tourists were being bussed between terraces of the site so it was not as horribly busy as it might have been.

Views down towards the lake and up towards the mountains

Entrance gate to Chongsheng temple

We had spotted some likely noodle spots for lunch but they turned out to be further back towards the guest house than we’d thought and we were pretty hot and tired by the time we found somewhere to sit down.  The meat eaters had ‘Across the bridge’ noodles which were not quite what they’d expected but Sophie said hers were the best beef noodles she’d ever tasted! 

Afterwards Martyn and I headed back to guest house through the back streets while the rest of them went back to Bakery 88 for cheesecake and coffee. We crossed some of the streets back from the main road where a proper local market was going on and managed to buy a pretty tea caddy for 20 Yuan. Neither of us had the stamina for more shopping than that!

Wandering through the back streets was interesting. The Bai were well known for their architecture when Goullart was living in Yunnan in the 1930s and the style remains distinctive.  The old buildings have very curved roofs, like the gates and the pagodas – something to do with warding off evil spirits, which can only travel in straight lines and even modern buildings make a nod to this, with the corners turned up.   Both old and newer houses also feature attractive painted panels and murals on the walls – a far cry from the skyscrapers of Chengdu.

One of the most interesting buildings in the old part of town is the 1920s Roman Catholic Church, which blends Bai architecture with a more typical church interior; the interior, in fact, is much plainer than in many Catholic churches.  The Chinese characters on the wall behind the altar read, according to Ed, ‘God is love’.

In the evening, we succumbed to our second western meal of the holiday; pizzas we watched being cooked in a wood-fired oven and a glass of Australian wine at the Blue Gecko bar.  A change we were all ready for, I think.

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