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Published: December 4th 2007
Stone forest at night
We have posted a video here: DALI: RICE SHREDDERS
We had seen them on the way into and out of Lunan; these Freaks of Nature
. Towering, grey limestone rocks congregated in one huge park forming the weird and wacky 'Stone Forest'. Outside the park were scores of male and female guides superbly attired in colorful minority dress. Easily one of China's most visited attractions, at RMB 140 per person it was also one of the most expensive.
Guideless, we stepped thru the turnstyles, passed the reflecting pool and into the labyrinthine 'forest'. According to legend, immortals smashed up a mountain into endless, serpentine pathways for lovers in need of privacy. Science debunks this, of course, claiming instead that ages of rain and wind was the culprit. Truth be told, we prefer the legend😊.
Dramatically narrowing passages, a rushing wind in places and the fear of not knowing what dangers lurked around the next corner authenticated this as a real forest. Except, of course, this was not a forest of trees but who ever said that forests should only be of trees? In front, at the back and all around us were mega monoliths. Sometimes we had to turn
sideways and squeeze thru the narrower passages, sometimes we inched down small, rough-cut steps and sometimes we would scramble up to the top. Breathtaking overviews of the congregation rewarded our efforts. The golden rays of the setting sun lanced between the rocks creating the look and feel of another planet. We had to get to highground. But we were lost. One overpass led to another junction of pathways. Another underpass led to a dead-end. The law of large numbers (the greater the number of attempts, the greater the chance of finding the right one) worked out in time and from the perfect vantage point we watched a most unique, ephemeral sunset. Psychedelic lights were already bathing the pool in a mix of colours when we exited and walked in the dark back to Jade.
Early the next morning we did the three hours back to Kunming and from there another five hours to Dali (well, we thought it was Dali). We'd actually arrived at Xiaguan. We wanted nothing to do with big-city Xiaguan and so did most other tourists. But, in an attempt to steal the tourist thunder from nicer, smaller Dali, Xiaguan has rebranded itself as Dali City
and most buses terminated here😱. Furious that we had been so duped, we tried to catch the local bus to the real Dali but it proved more than difficult. You see, it was rush hour and we still had giant backpacks and mobs of fleet-footed citizens beat us to the bus entrance everytime. A scholarly-looking youngster took pity on us. He led us 6 city blocks away to a quieter part of town and we three piled into the bus to Dali. His name was Xiao and he was now, because he had stopped to help us, late for his university class. Despite our insistence, he refused to leave us and he called ahead to inform his tutor that he had Good Samaritan duties to perform. Xiao recommended an outstanding, cheap hotel just outside the city walls and helped us check in before disappearing in the melange of locals, tourists and traffic.
Dali was a little charmer brimming with history. Oh yes, she was! Snuggled up against the flanks of the imposing 4000-meter-high Cang Shan (Jade Green Mountains) and on the western bank of picturesque Lake Erhai Lu, Dali is home to the Bai minority. Back in the 8th
century the Bai had broken the Tang and created the Nanzhao kingdom. But Dali's formidable city walls were no match for Kublai's unstoppable mongols in the 13th century. Today, the original gates stand proud against a rebuilt wall surrounding the city. Temple-like watchtowers with remarkable artistic detail watch over the action. These were brilliantly lit up at night. Water flowed free alongside the cobbled streets and lanes as did masses of tourists. Red lanterns hung in abundance from wooden shops lining Huguo Lu (or Foreigner Street as the locals call it) - the main drag - and thousands of people clogged the streets. Ambiance was plentiful as was lattes, capuccinos, western food and, surprisingly, unsecured wifi.
An elderly Bai lady, with the face of a good grandmother, approached Shanna and offered some traditional earrings and Bai jewellery. When she was done overselling Shanna she turned to Vibert and whispered, all clandestine and conspiratorial: "You want smoke weedy? Make you feel happy. No sad".
"No", was his shocked reply
"Ganja? Marijuana? You come to my house". "NO"
. We couldn't believe that grandma was a persistent drug dealer. We scurried away. But everywhere we went on Foreigner Street nice
old Bai ladies were 'pushing'. Dali was a real charmer indeed.
The next morning we zipped downhill on decent mountain bikes, straight across the main road and into the rice fields. Chinese knew their rice. The grains were thick and golden hanging precariously on healthy green stalks. It was harvesting time and small groups were waist-high in rice. Another group was busy separating the grains from the stalks by means of a custom-made mechanical device. Vibert pitched in. At the end of the rice field was a tiny village completely frozen in time. We could have well have just been teleported 100 years back to a place where grain was dried on house tops and on the roadside; a place where dogs were too mannerly to bark at well-meaning strangers and where one villager passed by the central square every 10 minutes or so. We were loving this. All too soon we had cleared the village and arrived at the commercialized entrance to Erhai Lu from where we could take a boat across the waters and cycle back. We were not so inclined and we ducked back into the other half of the intriguing village and back out to
the main road but not before pedalling thru patches of tomatoes, pak choy and peppers.
The road we chose made a beeline to the Three Pagodas. The largest, 9th century Qianfun Pagoda, stands 70 meters tall and has 16 tiers while the two smaller ones each have 10 tiers and are 42 meters each. Together, they've starred on countless calendars and postcards. The entrance fee was too much and so we huffed and puffed up the side hill to sneak a closer peek or maybe jump the fence. The fence was too high but, for our hardwork, we were rewarded with the best sight ever: a mountain top vegetarian restaurant. Without a thought to price we strode into the upscale restaurant, which commanded views on a remarkable temple and the misty peaks of Cang Shan, and soon we were sipping steaming cups of Pu'er Tea. Our order of mock fish, vegetables and vivi fried rice would go down as the best food we had in all of China. Plus, there was a bonus. The restaurant's second terrace had total panoramic views on the Pagodas which the lake in the background.
To top out the day, we stopped in
Foreigner Street and wifi-ed. To cover the fact that we were 'borrowing' from the unsecured connection, we ordered orange juice. But the orange juice was funny. We both conceded that it must have been 'happy juice'. And so, with throbbing heads, we tucked in. That's what you get for shopping at a place named 'Bad Monkey'.
It was our last day in lovely Dali and walking to bus stop we encountered the most cryptic sentence of our young lives. On whether it was a stroke of incomprehensible genius or sheer lunacy, we may not be suitably qualified to offer an opinion. And so, we turn to you, our readers, to bring your global perspectives to bear as we, collectively, search for and analyse the true meaning behind 'The Ninth Dragon Code'. Tacked to the wall of a real estate development, the code reads: "The Nineth Dragon: Songing suffuse of all living. The estethics of fortune spring from foot measure."
Let's hear your views. Don't be shy now!! A real charmer, this Dali.
😊 Xiao Wu Gui
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