Dali In A Day

29th August 2017

Dali coming to life in the morningThis morning, Teddy promises us a tour of the old town on foot. As we head off, he explains that the south side of town is for tourists and the north for locals – and that’s where we’re heading. To a market – and what a market! Before we started travelling, I’d never really seen the fascination with markets (they’re not that big a thing in the UK for one thing). But having been in markets all around the world, I now love the colours and the insight that they give into local life. Dali’s market instantly made it into my Top 5 markets. Later, Janet said that I was just walking around with a big grin on my face.

Chicken anyone?The market was covered and expansive, loosely divided into sections – one for noodles; for fish; poultry; vegies. No hard borders but suddenly you’d just find yourself looking at a different sort of produce. Everything looked fresh and well presented even if some of the presentation was distinctly odd. (Dead) chickens in a plastic bag with their feet sticking out of the top, or (live) fish in plastic crates with air lines bubbling in the water and the fish flapping despondently. Anyway, some good photo opportunities especially as some of the vendors were happy to have their photo taken.

Not landscape paintingsBy the time we are done in the market and head on to the Three Pagodas, the skies open and the rain comes down – so right decision to wear shorts and sandals. The rain gets heavier and we seek shelter outside a marble workshop. Its only then that we realise that what we have assumed to be landscape paintings on display in shops are actually framed slices of marble with patterns that look like a landscape. Teddy explains that Dali marble is famous in China and that this is a sought-after effect. Won’t fit in our backpacks though!

Making the best of the rainThe rain relents and so our tour around the park surrounding the 3 Pagodas isn’t as wet as that around the Golden Palace in Kyoto – we do feel a bit fated though. Apparently, the pagodas are original (but restored) dating back to the 9th century. Whereas Buddhist pagodas traditionally have an odd number of layers, the large pagoda here is 10 stories and square in section (with the smaller pagodas being octagonal).

Three pagodas and grey skiesOne benefit of the rain is that it keeps the size of the crowd down. Though there is still a bottleneck at the photo spot in the reflecting pool – even if the rain means that there is no reflection to be seen. It doesn’t help that Teddy shows us photos with a blue sky with perfect reflections that he took on his phone last week. We think that we might have to make do with reflections in the puddles when Teddy says that there is another reflecting pool just down the road. This time, not only has the rain paused but we have the pool to ourselves. Win!

Better success in the unofficial reflecting poolCatholic ChurchWe’re now outside the town walls on the opposite side from the South Gate which is our next destination. Our 10k step target for the day is already well beaten so we’re happy when Teddy says he’ll call a taxi. Janet & I are all for one of the little red tuk-tuk-alikes but Teddy vetoes it and insists on a proper car. Spoilsport.

After waiting out another downpour, we head on foot through the South Gate and back into town with Teddy pointing out some of the landmarks. We don’t really stop anywhere until we get to the Catholic Church which is another of the must-see attractions in Dali (though it only seems to be ‘must-see’ for westerners as it was deserted). The church itself was similar to any number of temples that we’ve seen – but with a cross on top to add to the incongruity. It was also nothing like as ostentatious as those we saw in Central America last year.

Holding up the mountainIn the afternoon, it is back into the car for a 30min drive out to the Yunling mountains – actually the foothills of the Himalayas. Looking at the map, we are far to the south east of China surprisingly close to Tibet to the NW and Laos to the south. We take a cable car up Cangshan Mountain to around 2600m altitude. Our primary purpose is a walk along the Jade Belt path which runs some 15km along the side of the mountains.

No swimming at the waterfallFirst though, there are the attractions around the cable car station – a giant Chinese chess set and a nearby waterfall. The Jade Belt path is a short climb from the station but sufficient to deter most of the crowd. This is surprising only in that the path is very well paved and maintained. Had we felt the urge, about 4.5km along the path is another cable car that would take us to the summit of Cangshan at 3900m. After our exertions this morning, neither we nor Teddy feel the inclination and we content ourselves with a half-hour stroll admiring the forest (and the fire hydrants) before turning around and heading back. There were only a few people and nearly as many pheasants and squirrels to keep us company. Really very pleasant and relaxing.

Jade Belt path around the mountainThere are definitely pros and cons to Teddy – we’re not fans of his driving nor of his habit of stepping in front of us with his phone camera when we get to tourist sights. However, his choice of restaurants and food for us to eat has been consistently good – and he’s covered the cost of a beer or two for us in the evening which is an unexpected bonus.

The sun is starting to set as we finish dinner and so we decide to head off – not just for some dusk photography but also to investigate some of the places we scooted past with Teddy this morning. The obvious place for the former was atop the South Gate both looking back across town but also at the now illuminated pavilion above the gate.

South Gate pavillion at nightInside the Cultural CentreAn example of the latter is when we come across the entrance for the Cultural Centre. By now we are at 25k steps for the day and I could be persuaded to give it a miss. Tempted by the lights inside, Janet votes to poke our noses in. Once again, this is a good call. The Centre is divided into sections with different exhibits in each – calligraphy in one building, pictures in another, an exercise class ongoing in a large hall. Not that we really paid attention as it was photos that we were after and the results were worth our little detour.

Beating the crowds to the archwayHowever, we still didn’t feel that we had exhausted the photo opportunities in Dali and so set a 7am alarm for a final, pre-breakfast photo shoot. Our prime targets were the Landscape Hotel itself and the pavilion half way between Foreigner St and the South Gate. This pavilion was originally built as a guest house for VIP travellers. As ever, the streets are so much quieter at this time of morning – free from tourists and only the locals on their way to work. We had the pavilion to ourselves so I’m not sure why we struggled to get great pictures of it. (I suspect that a drone would work well). We did better at the waterway with the ‘O’ gateway which was constantly crowded during the day.

All in all, Dali has a very different feel from Kunming and despite the tackiness and the crowds of Chinese tourists we’re glad to have been here.

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