We’d earmarked today for a trip to Ērhāi lake, on which Dàli sits; Ed cycled round it when he was here three years ago but a 25 mile round trip proved a bit optimistic for our motley crew! Martyn went out early and brought back first round of bauzi for everyone then we headed into town for a proper Chinese breakfast – tea eggs, more bauzi, fried bread and more of the filled flaky bread/pastry that we had on our first night here. Today was to be a day of hardcore Chinese food, though we did pop into MacDonalds for some post-breakfast coffees – a sad disappointment, despite the lovely exterior.
From there we headed down to the East side of the old city where Ed had hired a bike last time. The lady who hired this thing to us must have been laughing all the way to the bank – the other bikes were in rather better repair, fortunately!
Crossing the main dual carriageway to head towards the lake was a major challenge – the gap in the barrier between carriageways wasn’t wide enough to ride our mean machine through and traffic here takes no prisoners. After that, fortunately, the roads were fairly quiet and flat. Ed and I took it in turns to co-pilot Pat as we were the only ones short enough to fit in the second seat. It was a bit cool and breezy this morning and we were glad of that once we started cycling.
Cycling out of the town in the direction of the lake we passed through an area full of market gardens of various sizes, presumably irrigated by water from the Green mountains. People were growing potatoes, strawberries, peas, beans, fennel, mustard leaves, pak choi, mint and lots of onions in small, well kept strips of land. The Bai restaurants in town display their ingredients in boxes outside; it’s easy to see why they have a good range of fresh vegetables. A lot of the onions seem to have been allowed to bolt and set seed, which makes me think they are the source of the black onion seeds garnishing some of the breakfast breads.
We cycled straight down to the lake, first of all, through some very narrow village streets, disturbing a couple having their formal wedding pictures taken overlooking the picturesque lake. Ed says people here go to enormous lengths for wedding photos, citing friends of friends who’d travelled from Chengdu to Edinburgh to have photos taken outside the castle! As usual, Martyn took the opportunity to mooch around in the water. Ērhāi lake seems to be nutrient enriched, but nowhere near as polluted as Diānchi, perhaps because of the much smaller population of its catchment. Promisingly, there do also seem to be moves afoot to try and prevent it from becoming more eutrophic.
There were fishermen on the lake too, though using rods and lines rather than the traditional cormorants.
The road around the lake isn’t close to the lake for this section so we cycled back to join it and then another four or so miles along the lake for lunch, with another detour down to the lake itself. Here we found another café selling Australian T-bone steak, like the Blue Gecko, but decided it wasn’t the place for us. The same village had a lot more two and four-seater bicycles for hire, looking rather newer than ours – clearly where folk in the know hire them! We passed several more in use as we cycled on from here.
Along the ‘ring road’ round the lake there are several theme parks/party venues/nature parks, the role of which mostly seems to be providing an attractive backdrop for photos. People take formal photographs much more seriously here than at home. The gardens are very pretty but certainly not natural, with mass plantings of pansies, snapdragons, begonias etc.
More natural, or at least naturalised, and smelling amazing are the roses scrambling over ditches and walls alongside the road. When we did stop for lunch we saw the petals being dried in the sun, presumably for making the rose cakes on sale everywhere.
Lunch was a great find in what ought to have been a complete tourist trap, beside the lake; a small family restaurant where the fish in our fish soup (carp, we think) was straight from the lake that morning and in a holding tank until we ordered it. The broth was delicious, with pickled vegetables as well as the ubiquitous chillies and Sichuan peppercorns but hot enough that we needed two buckets of rice to mop it up.
Cycling back along the lake we watched fishermen sorting their nets and were intrigued by the pine trees growing half submerged in the water. Presumably these are the source of the stumps in the water we’d seen at our first stop. I’m not quite sure how they are surviving with their roots in the water like this. Though the base of the trunk does seem to be thickened, I can’t see any obvious sign of aerial roots. I don’t know how much the lake level fluctuates but it did not look abnormally high.
We tried to find a place where we could get down to the lake to relax for a while but the promised park seemed to be a proper nature reserve with access blocked off so we cycled back to Dali in the increasing heat and enjoyed a beer in the town centre before going back to the guest house. One of the people who didn’t have beer still thought climbing on a rocking horse was a good idea…
After dinner we picked up some fruit for breakfast tomorrow – mangosteens and tiny sharp cherries.