On the Burma Road to Dalí

A ten-hour bus ride west of Kunming, near the Yunnan border to Burma and Tibet lies the small, walled town of Dalí. Inhabited by colorful Bai people it has a long history. But it is its old-fashioned charm and Buddhist ambiance that made it into a haven of the backpack-children.

 Barbara and I set out from Kunming in total darkness. The sun rose as we passed the backside of Xi Shan — the West Montains overlooking Lake Dian Hu. It was once again October and the rice harvest was in full swing.  

 Our mini-bus on the Burma Road.


 Soon the road climbed into the colorful West Yunnan hill country. These pictures were taken from the moving bus.


 Eventually the road climbs another thousand meters affording wonderful views of the West Yunnan landscape....


 ... with its villages, fields, and fish ponds.



 Late in the afternoon we changed buses in Xiaguan at the southern most tip of Lake Erhai Hu — Ear-Sea Lake. A half-hour later we were in Dali town. Zung Shen San Ta — The Three Pagodas are Dali's landmark. Forty minutes on foot lies Erhai Hu. which fills the entire valley except for a fertile strip of land at the feet of the 4000-m-high Cang Shan Mountains.  

 Our destiny was Dali Guesthouse Number 2, where we found a bare room with an even barer private shower. Her one can meet all the foreigners — too many for some people, but an interesting mixture of adventurers. The guy with the shorts had come all the way from Lhasa, almost 3000 kilometers on terrible roads — by bicycle! One day over dinner at Lisa's he described his harrowing adventures, how he had fooled the Chinese at the check points along the forbidden road, or taken his bike apart and carried it piece-wise across a living land slide. A five-week trip.... Another night we met a lady curator for textiles from San Francisco who had researched Lijiang, another day's travel farther north. (Cornelius spent a couple of days there in 1989).  

  For breakfast and dinner everyone congrated at Lisa's Café, where you could order Swiss Muesli and Yunnan coffee in four languages. The German menu is seen on the wall. Lisa, about 24, was an amazing woman who had her whole family working in the kitchen while she, in fluent American English, worked the foreign crowd: "Beer? Get it yourself. It's in the frige..." The two cheerful Bai girls sold combs and silver bangles but would also braid the blond hair of their customers.... 

 Babies are carried in colorful wraps embroidered with chrysanthemums. We were tempted to buy one, but had no suitable grandchildren at the time. The baby wears a wool cap with rabbit ears another popular item among the Bai. 

 Literally a hundred brooks water the plains below the mountains. Washing the laundry is done at he street side while the baby snoozes contently. The rule of one child per couple does not apply to the minorities in China, nowhere did we see so many young children as here.  

 Since ancient times Dali has been famous for the marble from the quarries which dot the Can Shan Mountains. The terraces around the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and the processional streets in the Forbidden City were constructed with marble, which had been carried on the backs of porters from Dali. This woman turns out marble vases on a lathe whose screach could be heard for miles.

 Rice harvesting baskets in the back yard of a house in Dali. The big basket is used for "threshing" the rice in the field (for an example see further down).  

 Corn fields (maize) and abandoned tea bushes up-hill of town.


 The foothills of Can Shan are terraced and in between the dead are buried—in the irregular area in the left middle ground.  

 Barbara peeling a mandarine which, because Chinese food serves no fresh vegetables or fruit, we ate by the pound.


 On one excursion we investigated the Three Pagodas, which definitely look their best from the distance. 

 Barbara's photo of the leaning round tower.


 And another one of the rectangular step-pyramid. They were built in the 10th century and carry different Mahayana Buddhas on each level, but their interior is not accessible. 

 The Bai villages still have an impressive traditional architecture very different from Chinese villages. One finds the colorful native clothes for sale everywhere. The "strings" on the rack at right are not wool but noodles hung to dry.  

 Three Bai girls doing their laundry at Hudie Quan — Butterfly Springs, which is a popular attraction for the many Chinese tourists of the area.  

 We rented heavy, hard-to-pedal Flying-Pigeon-Bikes from this enterprising youth in Dali and...


...on a most magnificent day rode on a strong wind north along the old road.

 Peasants harvesting and threshing rice by the old-fashioned method of hitting the sheaves several times onto the inner rim of a big basket, the grain collects in the basket, the straw is set up in shocks for drying. 

 Wind in the poplars. The blue Can Shan Mountains in the distance.


Excursion on Erhai Hu

One day we joined a Chinese tour of Erhai Hu.

 Lake shore near Dali.


 A Bai fisherman checking his eel traps near Shaping


 The high point of the excursion was (after all we were still in China!) a plentiful banquet in Shaping (included in the price) after which a rusty motorboat took us south, along the length of the lake to Xiaguan, where a bus waited for our return to Dali. On the way we visited a Guanjin sanctury on Putuo Dao Island and...  

 ...the Luoguan Temple near the village of Haidong on the eastern shore of the lake. Following the shrill sing-song of a woman I discovered this improbable sanctuary upstairs. Who are these red-cheeked Chinese gods? Surly not Buddhas. Members of the Daoist pantheon? Bai deities? Who is Luoguan? The woman was, of course, collecting money. 


Market Day at Shapin

Every Monday is market day in Shaping — Sandflat at the northern end of Erhai Hu, where to people come from the entire valley and beyond. The most colorful market after Kashgar's famous affair in Xinjiang (which Cornelius saw, and I did not).





 Two young Bai women and Barbara in blue from behind. Like the Tibetans the Bai carry heavy loads with head bands.


 Parked horses and baskets.


 Lime kilns in the wastelands above the market.


  The "interior decorators" selling "rugs" and wardrobes.


 In a sinister corner horses and other animals are sold by the men.


 Did you guess right?—Noodles!


 Blue and orange, persimmons (the hard variety)


 A boy leading a blind man. His grandfather?

 Amazingly flexible woven fish-traps for eels....


 ...and butterfly wings....