Dali City is a county-level city in Dali, Yunnan province, China. Dali is located on a fertile plateau between Mount Cangshan to the west and Erhai Lake to the east. It has traditionally been settled by the Bai and Yi minorities. It is also the capital of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture.
Dali is also famous for producing the many types of marble, which are used primarily in construction and for decorative objects. In fact, Dali is so famous for the stone that the name of marble in Chinese is literally “Dali Stone”.
Dali is one of Yunnan’s most popular tourist destinations, both for its historic sites and the “Foreigners’ Street” that features western-style food, music, and English-speaking business owners, making it popular among both western and Chinese tourists.
About the year 738 AD, it became the seat of the Kingdom of Nanzhou. The Nanzhou Kingdom had control of important trade routes to Southeast and South Asia. Its location enabled Dali to prosper as merchandise from China was carried southwards, and as goods from as far as India was carried northwards. It was a major trading centre. The rulers of the Nanzhou became Buddhists, and Bali became a centre for the spread of Buddhism from Southeast and South Asia to the rest of China and East Asia.
After 200 years, The Nanzhou Kingdom was conquered by the Duan Clan. Two hundred years after this, in 1253, the Mongols conquered the city and ended the Dali Kingdom. Under Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan, Dali became an important military outpost for the Mongolians. The Mongolians in turn were defeated, and the Ming dynasty was established.
The Dali Three Pagodas
Three pagodas, about 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) northwest of the ancient city of Dali, occupying a scenic location at the foot of Mount Cangshan facing Erhai Lake, has a history of over 1,800 years. It is a symbol of the history of Dali City, and a record of the development of Buddhism in the area.
As its name implies, Three Pagodas are made of three ancient independent pagodas forming a symmetrical triangle. This is unique in China. A visit to The Three Pagodas should not be missed by any visitor to Dali City.
The middle pagoda, Qianxun Pagoda, 69.13 meters (227 feet) high, is one of the highest pagodas of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), while the other lower two stand to the north and south sides of it. Qianxun Pagoda, now empty, previously could be climbed by ladder from the inside. However the ladder is now broken, and travelers now have no opportunity to climb up.
Many sculptures of Buddha made of gold, silver, wood or crystal, Buddhist readings, and more than 600 various medicinal ingredients were found in Qianxun Pagoda, playing an important role in explaining the ancient history of Dali City. Study of Three Pagodas and the cultural relics that have been excavated at the site provide significant data for exploring the history, religion, and art of the area.
Today, travelers can visit Three Pagodas at night, when it is illuminated providing a fantastic scene. Nearby on the ‘marble street’ there are many folk-craft workshops and stands specializing in marble and brick-painting.
Erhai Lake is the largest highland lake and one of the seven biggest fresh water lakes in China. The lake covers an area of 250 square kilometers and is located about two kilometers east of Dali.
“Er” in Chinese means a human ear and “Hai” means a sea, hence its name Erhai. It is one of the seven biggest fresh water lakes in China and the largest highland lake next to Dianchi Lake (in Kunming). The total storage capacity is 3 billion cubic metres and its elevation 1,972 metres.
The beautiful scenery and limpid waters of Erhai Lake are charming and attractive. The picturesque scenery makes you feel relaxed and happy. During a clear night, the moon is mirrored in the lake and people call it the “Erhai Moon” which is one of the four best sights of Dali. It would be a great pity if people travelling to Dali do not go for a boat ride in the lake, just like people travelling to Kunming without having a glance at the scenery of Xishan (the Western Hills).
The surrounding islands, temples and villages are worth visiting too. Golden Shuttle Island (Jinsuo Dao), and the nearby fishing community of Bai Minority do really deserve a visit with its attractive Bai culture and lifestyle, and because of the rare beauty of the lake and its surrounding scenery.
Cangshan Mountain is a high mountain rising above the city of Dali in the southern province of Yunnan that borders Vietnam. It is a scenic spot and a good hiking area where hikers may bring tents. There are 18 peaks on this mountain that are all over 3,500 meters in altitude, and the highest summit named Malong is 4,122 meters high. The mountain is noted for its very rich and diverse flora.
There is cable car up the mountain, and a road connects various sites of interests. The mountain is a highlight of the Dali area, with numerous springs, ponds and waterfalls, beautiful scenery, hiking trails, a range of ecological zones with thousands of plant species, and scenic views of lakes and the city of Dali.
Yangren Street (Foreigner Street)
Not only Chinese people, but also foreign tourists are attracted by Dali in Yunnan province. They are so absorbed in the ancient customs and the historic culture that they even aspire to live in Dali for a long time. Gradually, there is a road which is full of western tourists inside of Dali City named “Yangren Street (Foreigner Street)”.
If you like shopping, Huguo Road is your best choice. This place gathers a variety of crafts and textiles made by local Bai people. Many antique shops will give you some extra surprises.
What to buy
- Dali Snow Pear
Owing to the climate and the soil condition of Dali, the pears which grow here are much sweeter in flavor, and have thinner skins and more tender flesh. The main growing area for Dali snow pears is on the eastern side of Erhai Lake. Every August and September in the harvest season, people come from all around to Erhai Lake to pick pears and celebrate the harvest.
- Engraved Green Plum
A traditional food of the Bai people is made from dried green plums. These are engraved with various patterns and designs. The fruit can be eaten after months spent soaking in pickling juice made from salt, brown sugar and honey. Having the dual effects of promoting the production of bodily fluids and relieving thirst, as well as displaying artistry, the engraved green plum fruit is both a popular food and a delicate work of art.
- The Compressed Tea (Tuo Cha) of Xia Guan
Due to its resemblance to the shape of a fungus, the compressed tea of Xia Guan is called ‘Tuo Cha’. It enjoys an excellent reputation for its fragrance and cleansing effects. Xiaguan can promote health by refreshing both body and mind and is also an excellent method used for weight-loss.
The tie-dye of the Bai Minority is usually made by stitching patterns on cotton cloth and impregnating them in plant dye. Traditional dyed fabrics have white patterns on a background of indigo and are used for tablecloths, door curtains, hats, clothes, and scarves as well as other items. In Zhoucheng Village, there are many family workshops which make dyed fabrics. Visitors can take minibuses and carriages to the village.
As we know, ethnic minorities are always hospitable and good at dancing and singing, so tourists often have many chances to see their performance. If you like, you can join them and dance with them. As for many western tourists, they are accustomed to choose a better place to drink some beers and chat with friends comfortably, and the cafes and bars on Foreign Street is a perfect place to do so.
大 理 Dali n.
洱 海 Erhai n.
yáng rén jiē
洋 人 街 Yangren Street n.
dà lǐ shí
大 理 石 Marble n.
dà lǐ sān tǎ
大 理 三 塔 Dali Three Pagoda n.
苍 山 Mount cangshan n.
dà lǐ xuě lí
大 理 雪 梨 Dali snow pear n.
脆 梅 Engrave green plum n.
扎 染 Tie-dye n.
xià guān tuó chá
下 关 沱 茶 Xiaguan’s compressed tea n.