Kunming: Hill top, lake shore

7 March 2016

Kunming may not have a long history, or great food, or be part of a cultural movement. But what it does have is routes: going to-and-fro, from one place to another, so that there’s always a way route to something interesting or crazy.

Because you’ll pass through Kunming if you want to go anywhere in the province, I spent several days in the city in early March while in Yunnan. In a bout of sightseeing frenzy, I crossed the city from northeast to southwest – an unguided urban traverse that brought me from the northern hills to the shores of Dianchi lake.

WP_20160307_10_53_30_ProThe belltower at Kunming’s Golden Temple

Northeast: Jindian Gongyuan (Kunming’s Golden Temple)

There’s actually no golden temple. It’s bronze actually. And to get there, I paid 30 RMB and climbed a forest-clogged hill. There were stairs leading straight up. But I decided to follow the crowd on a circuit around the hill.

Bashing through dirt trails and forest glades, the hill that Jindian Park is perched on is actually pretty steep. After some climbing, past a pond and several closed restaurants, I reached Jindian’s bell tower.

Located at the northern edge of the Golden Temple complex, this bell tower is the tallest structure on the hill. It sits at an altitude of 2058 metres, but because it’s flanked by pine trees, it’s not visible from the foot of the hill. Past the dodgy gift shop on the first floor and up four flights of steps later, the view (and the wind) made all that climbing worth it.
On the way down, I noticed the bell. It’s a huge bronze thing that’s suspended above the stairs. If ringing bells is your thing, I saw tourists lining up to ring a much smaller bell with a bamboo totem for three yuan a hit.

Retracing my steps back down the path, I reached the other end of the Golden Temple complex, which housed the temple, some ceremonial halls, galleries and exhibits explaining the beauty of bronze artwork. There was also a very detailed history of the rebel general Wu Sangui, who rebuilt the Golden Temple, beautifully rendered in watercolour paintings. Sadly, none of this has been translated. Gokunming has a detailed description of Wu Sangui and the Golden Temple on its website.

Walking through the incense-filled courtyard, I was struck by the fact that the temple was made completely out of bronze (and is still the largest bronze temple in China). With its overt Taoist designs, it has survived dynastic and political transitions for the last 400 years.

WP_20160307_13_40_16_ProThe double arches of Jinma Biji Square in the heart of the city

Centre: Jinma-Biji Square

To traverse across the city, I had to travel back south to the urban core. The city centre also served as a transit point for lunch.

When at the city centre, it’s impossible to miss the two gateways at opposite ends of a large swathe of concrete park. This is Jinma (Golden Horse) Biji (Jade Rooster) square, the very heart of Kunming. The shopping district at Nanqiang is just north of here, and an array of backpackers and western-style cafes can be found just south of the square. The only inconvenience: the tight security and huge amount of human traffic.

WP_20160307_15_39_31_ProFeeding seagulls at Dianchi Lake

Southeast: Dianchi Lake

Just an hour’s ride south of the city centre by bus, I watched the scenery change from urban sprawl to lake shore.

Kunming was built by the shores of Dianchi, and in ancient times it must’ve been a beautiful alpine lake. But the lake was badly polluted over the years. Despite the efforts to clean it up, it still emitted a strong smell when I was by the waterfront.

Yet the shock of seeing water, as far as the eye could see, after facing mountains for a week, made the trip down to Dianchi unique. The place was also filled with people feeding seagulls – and people making money by selling bread. The entire park was basically a linear cycling track spanning the lake shore, with a ferry terminal on one end.

Then I wander away from the crowds and found the waves encroaching an eroded beach: a quiet place to trace the outline of mountains eventually falling into water, an apt analogy for Kunming’s hill-to-shore landscape.

(Cross-posted to Tripping to Somewhere)

Leave a Reply