Dali, under the administration of Xiaguan City, Yunnan Province, is on the slope of Diancang Mountain by Erhai Lake. The scenic beauty of the area is reminiscent of Switzerland. The Nanzhao State of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Dali State of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) both had their capital here. Today, Dali is the home of the Bai nationality in Yunnan.
The name Dali comes form the Chinese word for marble Dali stone, because for centuries Dali has produced the best marble in China. Dali is also known for its Tuocha tea, a special kind of tea whose leaves are compressed in the shape of a bowl, and the famous Ersi tea.
Dali has a warm and humid climate and fertile soil, and its frost-free period lasts 310 days, most suitable for the growth of flowers and other plants. The people of the Bai nationality love flowers, and nearly every household has a garden. In spring, when the weather is still quite cool, camellias bloom in great profusion throughout the town.
The annual Flower Festival of Dali falls on the fourteenth day of the second month of the lunar calendar. Every household places many potted plants in front of the house on the morning of the festival, and the whole town becomes a sea of colorful flowers. Villagers from surrounding areas come to the town I their Sunday best to see the flowers. The noted Italian traveler Marco Polo came to Dali in 1287 and described the flower festival in his Travels of Marco Polo.
Three Pagodas of Worshipping the Sage Temple (Chongshengsisanta)
These three pagodas are arranged in a triangle on the slope of Cangshan Mountain to the northwest of Dali. The largest of the three, Qianxun Pagoda, was built when the area was ruled by the State of Nanzhao during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It has sixteen levels and is sixty-nine meters high. A golden bird cast in bronze hangs on each of the four corners at the top of the pagoda; according to legend, these birds ward off the demons in Erhai Lake. There is a Buddha statue in the shrine on each level of the pagoda. On the front wall of the pagoda, a panel of a marble bears the inscription Yong Zhen Shan Chuan (Rule over the Mountains and Rivers Forever). The two smaller pagodas on the north and south were built during the Five Dynasties (907-960). These are solid brick octagonal structures with ten levels, measuring forty-two meters high.
Snake Bone Pagoda
A thirty-nine-meter-square structure with a bronze gourd-shaped top, this pagoda is north of Yangpi Village at the foot of Ma‘er Peak, three kilometers north of the city town of Xiaguan. It was built later than the Three Pagodas of Worshipping the Sage Temple, in a simple but powerful architectural style. There is a moving legend associated with this pagoda. It says that long, long ago, during the reign of the State of Nanzhao, a monster with a lion‘s head and a snake‘s body lived at the foot of Ma‘er Peak on Cangshan Mountain. The monster terrorized the area, stirring up storms in Erhai Lake and eating people and animals. A mason called Duan Chicheng was determined to kill the monster and save the people. He jumped into the surging Erhai Lake and swam into monster‘s mouth. Once inside the monster‘s body, he took out the daggers he had brought with him and cut the vital organs of the snake monster into pieces, whereupon he himself died too. When the people cut open the monster, they found the mason‘s remains and buried him by Ma‘er Peak. To commemorate the hero who had died for the benefit of the people, a pagoda was built with bricks made from the monster‘s bones, and that‘s why it is called the Snake Bone Pagoda.
This spring is twenty kilometers north of Dali on the slope of Yunnong Peak. Springwater gushes out from the roots of a tree and flows into a clear pond. Beside the pond there is a huge camphor tree whose blossoms in April and May resemble butterflies, when thousands of real butterflies are attracted to the beautiful pool, too. Legend has it that the pond was originally called Bottomless Pond and that a pretty girl by the name of Wen Gu lived close by. Wen Gu was deeply in love with Xia Lang, who lived on Cangshan Mountain, and the two young people made solemn pledges of love by the Bottomless Pond. But the local despot Yu Wang wanted to have Wen Gu as his concubine. Finally, determined not to surrender, the lovers drowned themselves in the pond. Suddenly, a crack appeared at the bottom of the pool and a pair of beautiful butterflies emerged from the water. A host of other butterflies arrived and danced around them, and ever since the pond has been called Butterfly Spring.