Western Hills Park – Kunming

Kunming is in one of China’s southernmost provinces.  It gets far less tourist traffic than it’s other provinces.  It’s a large metropolis that lies along one of China’s largest freshwater lakes.  On the western side of the lake lies Western Hills Park on Xishan Mountain.

We got a late start, and after a great breakfast with some freshly made noodle, we took subway line 3 all the way to the Western Hills Station.  We opted to take the shuttle to the tramway to allow us more time exploring the area at the top.  This saved us a 5-6KM round trip and 1500 meters of elevation gain up a hill.  The scenic lift took us over the forest and provided some amazing views of Kunming and the lake below.

Dianchi Lake with Kunming in the background

From here we walked.  The steep stairs were lined with vendors selling small plastic toys, carved woods, foodstuffs, and popsicles.  We hiked up to the top, Lingxu Pavillion, slightly over 2500 meters, seeing the whole of Kunming across the lake.

The vista from atop of Western Hills

Going down we went through the historical areas seeing shrine, temple, pavilion, and Buddha after Buddha.  Some date back to the 11th century, while others were made later during the Qing dynasty in the late 1600s.  A highlight was visiting the Dragon Gate Temple and walking through passageways carved by Taoist Monks.  The pathway before and just after were narrow and carved into the cliff.  People had to go one by one in order to fit through.

If you touch the marble ball on the roof the dragon gate and send your prayers upward, they are heard.

Both Kylie and Alyssa got self-guided recordings in Chinese of all the sights and temples.  They spent the next 90 minutes translating and explaining all the sights to Sharleen and I.  We learned all about the different Buddha’s, when they were built, by who, and what they represented.  We were impressed with how much they understood.

Kuixing (the God of Literature) in the middle of the stone carvings in the grottoes of the Sky-reaching Pavilion of the Dragon Gate carved the Wenchang (talented writer) Sculpture in the north, three divine statues for the Lord Guan (divine god of Guangong.)  At the back of the grottoes is the fairy map of the blessed spot beyond seas of cloud with a floating cloud in the heavenly canopy, a red-crowned crane and the peach of immortality.  Engraved within the niche above the eaves of the pavilion is a Nanji Xianweng (Immortal Old Man of the South Pole).  Kuixing means one of the lunar mansions in ancient Chinese astrology, and also comes first in the western zodiac.  In Taoism it is esteemed as the got of literature.  The divine statue takes the shape of its Chinese word with a ghost-like head, one if the feet standing on the head of a turtle, and the other foot curls upwards at the back to rest on the grain measure.  He holds a pen in his hand to tick the name of the scholars who pass the examination.
Ciyun Cave: Wu Laiqiong was a Taoist monk born in Xiayu Village.  Between 1781 and 1785, he spent 14 years hammering at the hard rocks on the cliff at the southern part of the Sanquing Pavilion and he chiseled stone pavements and stone houses.  After he dug the Phoenix Cave, he carved the Archway of “wonderful Scenery of Putuo”, and chiseled the grotto in the Ciyun cave, where he dug a house.  The principal columns at the doorway, the barge of the mercy, the divine terrace, the censer and the divine figurines on the two walls riding on a dragon and tiger were all chiseled on the original rocks inside.  The poem in the front of the censer carved in 1801 reads: Great talent is witnessed by the arduous work. At the steep cliff, a diving terrace was chiseled.  Through the Buddhist caves were impossible to be airborne, Chisel after chisel will make it to the Dragon Gate.
Nanji (Souther Sky) Palace: Build in the Ming Dynasty, the Nanji Palace has been redecorated for many times.  The god of Longevity is enshrined in this palace.  He is also called the Old Mens Star, the Old Man in the Southern Sky or the God in the Southern Sky.  He is actually the Jiao and Kang in the seven lunar mansion of the Black Dragon Star in the east sky. “Jiao and Kang ranks the first among all the lunar mansions, so it is called Shou (longevity)”.  The status of the God of Longevity have a long white beard and high and raised forehead, holding a can in his hand.  This appearance indicates the longevity, prosperity and peace all around the world.  He is respected as the God who is in charge of longevity in the tradition of not only Taoism but the folk.  (Kyle told me that the recording told her that his head is so big because of all the knowledge he accumulated).
Kyie told me this was the heaven ruler (wind, rain, sky)

The whole area was a steep maze carved into the side of the mountain covered with forest.  Winding stairs went everywhere and it was difficult to keep track of which way we had already gone and what we still needed to see.  In the end we didn’t see everything, but our legs ached from all the stairs and walking.  An interesting pastime we witnessed at each historical sites was people dressing up in historical fashion.  Some would walk around for the day in costume (much like Dickens or Renaissance fairs), while others dressed up for pictures.

Alyssa and Kylie tried on some traditional clothes.  This came with a hefty bribe.
Kylie loved spinning in her dress.
Alyssa needed bribing to dress up, but secretly, I think she liked it.
Map Credit Travel China Guide

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