Here’s the thing I love about mountains in China. In addition to being a tall piece of land we love to climb, they have so much history. Even the small mountains around my school are filled with hidden graves, small temples and other things built over the decades. In America, mountains are just mountains (and there is nothing wrong with that), but in China, mountains are history.
And the West Mountains, located about an hour by local bus outside Kunming, is no different. The mountains have two nicknames, one is Sleeping Buddha Hills because it looks like, well, I think you can guess. The other is Sleeping Beauty Hills, again for obvious reason. They say the sleeping beauty is waiting for her true love and her tears filled the lake which is at the bottom of the mountains. (Interesting side note, the lake, Dianchi Lake, is highly polluted, it has the worst health rating possible, despite several million dollars being spent to try to clean it up. It looks pretty from afar though.)
There are two ways to see the pavilions, temples and sights on the mountain. You can grab a little minivan, start at the top and walk down, or you can start at the bottom and walk up. Thankfully my friend and I chose down. (It was still killer on the knees. The steps are very steep and slippery.)
After admiring the lake from the top of the cliff for awhile we headed down to Dragon’s Gate, the most famous feature of the mountain. Started in the 1700’s, the Dragon Gate consists of small temples, archways, and pathways both along, and in, the mountain. It took 72 years to finish and I’m sure on a quiet winters days it is peaceful. But on a summer weekend, it was packed, and the tiny carved pathways were hard to squeeze through due to all the people.
The area by the actual Dragon Gate was packed, with everyone touching this small nob in the center of the gate. There was a woman with a death grip on the thing and she would not let got for anything or anybody so we all had to touch it around her.
I’m not quite sure what the meaning was (and a google search didn’t turn up anything) but my friend said his teacher told him that if you go there with your lover, you will soon break up. But if you go with a friend then you two will get together. We both walked through, touched the little thingy, and managed to keep our hands off each other not only the rest of the rest of the day, but for the next few weeks, so maybe that little myth isn’t true.
The Dragon Gate is the main attraction, but far from the only thing to see. As you continue to descend there are many other small temples, pavilions, even a wishing well. It’s really interesting as bits and pieces were built over the past several hundred years and reflects both Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. The whole hike took about 2-3 hours from top to bottom.
They say that is you don’t go to the West Mountain while in Kunming, then you haven’t really been to Kunming. I think it is more than a hike on a nice mountain, but a hike through time and Chinese history.