Another day in Dali. It was a bit overcast, but we decided to go check out the national park going up the mountain. It turns out it was a bit of a hike from where we are staying and took us a while to get there. As we walked the weather closed in on the peak, and when we finally arrived at the entrance to the park we decided not to bother with going up the mountain as all we would see is fog. There are three ancient pagodas nearby and we could see them in the distance, so we decided to walk over to them. Again they are further than you think.
Walking though different streets the one main feature we noticed was the corners of buildings. They had intricate drawings of geometric designs and flowers. The quality of these vary greatly and there are some stunning ones, but mostly black on a whitewashed wall. The design on the apex was always more detailed and could contain dragons or other symbols, and create quite a striking look.
The pagodas would occasionally pop in and out of view as we walked, but for the last half of the walk we couldn’t see them at all, and were worried that we could miss them. Not possible. From the main roads (There is a high road below the mountain and a low road above the lake) they loom above everything and the area around them has been well cleared.
When we got there, we walked up from the wrong direction and came to the tourist stalls. This was a display on how many people they can expect, as there were at least a couple of hundred wooden stalls set up for people to sell their trinkets. Less than half of them were being used though. On making our way to the gate, we were told that we had to go to the main entrance to buy our tickets, so we walked along the massive wall to the entrance.
On seeing the entrance price, we debated whether to enter or not. Stuff it. Its a temple complex that is brand new, 2 ancient pagodas (that look kinda cool from the distance) and one new one smack bang in the middle. So we walked around the outside. This was also pointless as they have the aforementioned wall, and planted tall trees to block your view. Still, we got a couple of glimpses and depending on how stunningly beautiful the temples are we probably made the right choice. Why pay $20+ each for a touristy temple when the old ones are $2 if not free? We are not as interested in the new ones as the old. Yet this seems to be how China likes its tourism. There is no value in the old.
From the front entrance we walked down the main boulevard to the lower road and a granite depository. Here large slabs of stone are sculpted and carved to be sold on to private people and businesses. Then catching a shared van out to Xizhou old town. This is a recreation of an old Bai traditional village.
We are not that sure of how much is traditional, and the style is almost the same as Dali old town (An expert would probably be able to point out all the differences, but to us uninitiated plebs it is identical) yet it was worth a walk around, seeing all the different drum shops, scarves, and other knick-knacks.
You can go into one of the refurbished family houses for a few yuan (and a lot more if you want to watch a traditional dance and tea tasting) which is good for a look at the way buildings were made around central courtyards. Most of the bottom building was tea shops, but there were some areas explaining the different use of rooms, although most seemed reserved for ancestor worship rather than kitchens, dining rooms or even bedrooms. We think these were all converted into places to have tea. Then there is a larger meeting hall that the performances are held in. The costumes are stunning, and we think that the Bai people were a beautiful caramel colour that works really well.
The main square was selling old style Bai pizzas, which is a flat circular piece of dough with filling. Interesting to watch it being cooked between what could have been two plow shears with coals on the top and bottom. Trying to buy one we were basically told to push off. They are happy to have us watch them cook, but the pizzas are being sold to the local shops for 1 yuan, and we were expected to then buy them for 10! (They do taste good though!)
Walking down a few of the older side streets we came across an old lady that invited us into her courtyard for a look around. She spoke some English, but was handicapped due to a cleft pallet. She was really sweet,pointing out all the different features and details around her. From the goods in front of the door, it appears as if she makes the small trinkets to then sell to the other stalls in the main streets (Either that or her family runs one of the shops, as it is unlikely that many tourists get to see this part of town). Feeling for her, we picked up a couple of bells entwined with friendship bands and made our way back out.
The old town is very quickly replaced by modern China within a street or two, and you are back in busy, dusty streets with cars going every which way. Calling it the end, we walked back up and caught the bus back to town. Worth going to see, but in reality, not that different to parts of Dali.