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Dally in Dali


  In 1959, the Chinese romance filmFive Golden Flowers, set in YunnanProvince, created a huge sensationthroughout the country. For manyyears afterwards, the film continued servingas publicity for Dali, the ancient villagewhere the story took place. Strong ethnic flavor,breathtaking scenery, and centuries-oldstructures – to this day, Dali remains a mustvisitas it has been for centuries. And a songfrom the film notes the best time to visit:“Dali in March brings the best scenery.”

  Actually, “Dali” as a place name canrefer to multiple locales. Generally speaking,it either means Dali Bai AutonomousPrefecture in Yunnan Province, or DaliAncient City administered by the prefecture.The prefecture is one of the cradlesfor Yunnan culture. According to historicalrecords, ancestors of the Bai ethnic group began inhabiting this areaaround the 4th Century. DaliAncient City, nestled betweenErhai Lake to its east and CangshanMountain to the west, boasts an illustrioushistory of 1,200 years as theformer capital of an ancient empire.

  Tourism in Dali is accented by imageryof wind, flowers, snow and moon,symbols of romance in Chinese culture.The winds in Dali’s Xiaguan area everyspring and summer are the most notable inthe literal sense. Many are surprised to findthis wind blowing their hats off in front ofthem instead of behind. Flowers are bestrepresented by manglietia fordiana, a commonlocal variety of magnolia. Snow is nostranger to residents of Dali, who live in the shadow of Cangshan Mountain, with peaksaveraging an altitude of about 3,500 meters.The mountaintop is perpetually white withsnow, even in summer. Moon hearkens toErhai Lake. The lake is like a pearl sandwichedbetween Cangshan Mountain andthe valley where the ancient town sits. Inthe evening, one moon dusts the sky withpale light and the other shines from the water.Thus, those visiting Dali in March havethe opportunity to see “wind, flowers, snowand moon” all in a single visit.

  Also, a number of festivals of the Bai,the major regional ethnic group, occur inMarch and April, and the town has recentlyadded more choices for “modern” tourists.Dali Ancient City welcomes travelers withlaidback cafés, friendly guesthouses andeasy access to the beautiful countryside.Most attractions in the ancient town caneasily be explored by bike, and good foodand cheap drinks abound under time-honoredstructures.

  Traditionally, July and August is thepeak tourism season for Dali. But due towarm weather compared to the North andaffordable accommodations, more arestarting to visit Dali in spring.

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