The Western Hills of Kunming
Our friend Dave suggested that we visited the Western Hills today. This historical place is 15 km west of Kunming City, and right next to Dianchi Lake. Initially, I thought the lake was the sea, it is massive. Then my brain clicked in place, and I remembered that Kunming is landlocked.
After an hour's journey, we queued for our entry tickets to the Western Hills of Kunming. Luckily a young lady explained the various options that we could purchase. We didn’t have an excessive amount of time, so went for the bus ride up the hill for 15 minutes which took us to a cable car, not before stopping to fill our stomachs.
The cable car resembled a typical ski lift where we hopped on the moving seats and pulled over the barrier. Over the Xishan Forest, we had fabulous views of Kunming City, Lake Dianchi and over to our right, through the trees, the Guanghan Temple.
After our ride, we found the path for our descent. What we weren’t expecting was such a fantastic journey down winding stone pathways, through tunnels, passed pavilions and temples built during the Qing Dynasty. The views up here were spectacular, and as I leant over the stone barrier, I was astonished at the sheer drop of the mountainside.
These 66.5 m long Longmen grottoes took 72 years to be built between 1782 and 1854. Not surprisingly, they are not in the most convenient of places, 2,300 m above sea level, literally cut in the side of the mountain face. I have read that the stonemasons received the same amount of rice for each measure of stone they worked on for their payment – a hard life.
Within these caves, which are the biggest Taoist grottoes in Yunnan (are there many?), there were many stone chambers with relief carvings all sculptured from the rock. One of these is the Datiange with three Taoist Gods, including the God of literature and exams in the centre. Sadly the brush he was holding has no point. It’s said that the carver broke this by accident and with such remorse, he threw himself over the cliff edge to his death.
We arrived at the Dragon Gate. There is an old saying that says “Once you set your foot on the Dragon Gate, your fortune is to come” Woohoo – I look forward to it! As we stood looking at the sculptures, we noticed people reaching up to touch a stone knob hanging down from the arch of the gate. Suddenly a man pushed me towards two women having their photo taken and insisted that I also felt this for good luck.
We carried on down, visiting a temple for parents and Datian pavilion with a beautifully carved wishing well and inside was a dragon reaching up through the water surrounded by coins.
The Western Hills pf Kunming certainly is a place that we could spend many happy hours wandering around; however, we needed to get back to Dave’s.
We arrived back to a happy crowd of people. Dave had invited many friends to share food and meet us, or more importantly, meet the sister of their beloved friend Dawn. There were a few other people who spoke English. One lady Linda, who teaches English, happened to go to Royal Holloway College, part of the University of London, where I also went. We had both lived at Englefield Green. It was lovely to share our experiences of our times there.
These gatherings are quite typical in China; each person will bring a plate to eat, chat, enjoy a meal together, then disperse. We did talk about doing this regularly with friends when we lived in Warmington, England. It happened once! The sense of community is such a valuable thing, something that is sadly waning in the Western world, do you think?
It was time to squeeze around the table, and what a fantastic spread of delicious Chinese food laid before us. Dave had mentioned that I didn’t eat meat, so most of the food was vegetarian or fish. There were some sushi and a dip of, what I thought was soya sauce. I dipped my rice and salmon deep into the thick sauce when I put it in my mouth, my head nearly exploded. It had similar ingredients to wasabi and was extremely powerful. We all had a good laugh at my face resembling a boiling beetroot. It certainly cleared my sinuses!
After eating, we played a few games with much laughter. It is so lovely connecting with people, overcoming the barrier of different languages.