Kun­ming’s eter­nal spring

Three days of ex­plor­ing Yunnan’s cap­i­tal re­veals a land where ge­ol­ogy, ecol­ogy and eth­nol­ogy con­geal to con­jure a mag­i­cal charm, Erik Nils­son dis­cov­ers.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at erik_nils­son@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Stone spires. Karst caves. Wild wet­lands. Eclec­tic eth­nic cul­ture, lan­guid lakes and fiery fare. All this, set in a city of per­pet­ual spring, where ver­dant land­scapes flash ev­ery shade of green and flow­ers crackle color like fire­works in ev­ery sea­son.

The city ex­ists on an un­par­al­leled plane, where ge­ol­ogy, ecol­ogy and eth­nol­ogy in­ter­sect in in­cred­i­ble ways.

It has long been a bas­tion for bo­hemi­ans, from an­cient literati to dread locked hip­pies to­day—for good rea­son. The place is po­etry. For­eign vis­i­tors from dozens of coun­tries can en­joy a 72-hour visafree tran­sit in the city. China Daily spends three days di­vin­ing the magic that Yunnan’s cap­i­tal con­jures.

DAY 1: Stone For­est

Count­less stone dag­gers slice the Stone For­est’s sky­line, lac­er­at­ing the hori­zon to sculpt one of our planet’s most un­earthly places.

The karst for­ma­tions have, in turn, forged the cul­ture that dwells amid them.

They serve as the fan­tas­ti­cal fairy­land set­ting for a fairy tale of the Yi eth­nic group’s Sanyi branch, in which a lo­cal shep­herd res­cues his true love from an evil land­lord, who trag­i­cally then turns the cou­ple to stone.

The topo­graph­i­cal mir­a­cle is worth set­ting aside a whole day to ex­plore. That’s not only be­cause guides say much of their job is help­ing lost peo­ple nav­i­gate their way out of the rocky labyrinths.

DAY 2: Dian an­cient town

Tra­di­tional wooden boats glide across Dianchi Lake from An­cient Kun­ming Wet­land Park — a snarl of land bridges that trace the out­lines of dozens of pools bristling with reeds, lily pads and blos­soms.

Two-dozen swamp­lands suc­tion wa­ter from Dianchi’s shore­line. Path­ways and board­walks of­fer strolls and cy­cling.

The wet­lands run the gamut from bogs to beaches. That in­cludes the sandy lake shore that lo­cals half-jok­ingly call“Kun­ming’ s Mal­dives ”.

Vis­i­tors can fish and bar­be­cue their catches.

• Yunnan Na­tion­al­i­ties Vil­lage

Tra­di­tional houses, cus­toms and eth­ni­cally unique items, rang­ing from the sa­cred to the ev­ery­day, por­tray the so­cial lives of the coun­try’s 56 eth­nic groups in the cap­i­tal of the coun­try’s most di­verse prov­ince.

Per­for­mances of­ten be­come in­ter­ac­tive when vis­i­tors are in­vited to try the “bam­boo dance” — which is like a mov­ing ob­sta­cle course, as you must skip through rows of poles that are clacked to­gether in sync with the mu­sic’s rhythm. Or guests may join Ti­betan cir­cle dances, which are less an­kle-sting­ing yet still re­quire fancy foot­work.

• Douhan Flower Mar­ket

Lilies. Lo­tuses. Chrysan­the­mums. Asia’s largest flower mar­ket is sen­sory over­load — in a good way. Douban is in­deed an eye­ful and a nose-full, made vi­brant and fra­grant by the 10 mil­lion blooms it deals in daily.

Kun­ming is in­deed an Eden in the botan­i­cal sense.

Douhan claims to com­mand 70 per­cent of the na­tion’s flo­ral mar­ket. Vis­i­tors can buy not only fresh and dried bou­quets, and pot­ted plants rang­ing from suc­cu­lents to bon­sai, but also nat­u­ral es­sen­tial oils, ed­i­ble goods and soaps.

The mar­ket op­er­ates 24 hours and is busiest after 10 pm.

It’ s worth vis­it­ing just to take a mo­ment to stop and smell the… youknow.

DAY3: Green Lake

Green Lake is a placid place where folks stroll along board­walks or dance ac­com­pa­nied by tra­di­tional in­stru­ments.

They per­form against back­drops of boats skim­ming over waves.

Bridges cre­ate a grid of path­ways over the lake.

• Mil­i­tary acad­emy

The Yunnan Mil­i­tary Acad­emy was founded in 1909 to train the Qing Dy­nasty’ s (1644-1911) New Army to quell so­cial un­rest— its sol­diers, in­stead, joined the grow­ing re­bel­lion that over­threw im­pe­rial rule two years later.

It trained such Com­mu­nist lead­ers as Zhu De and Ye Jiany­ing.

To­day, it dis­plays pho­tos and such weapons as swords, can­non and tri­dents used by lo­cal eth­nic mi­nori­ties that were in­cor­po­rated into the mar­tial-arts cur­ricu­lum.

• Dianchi Wet­lands

Vis­i­tors can stroll along walk­ing paths with boats bob­bing in rivers on one side and birds float­ing in the wet­lands soak­ing on the other.

The marsh hosts over 280 an­i­mal species and 23 fish va­ri­eties. It crack­les with the col­ors of a rain­bow-burst of flow­ers.

• Yunnan Univer­sity

This Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) test­ing cen­ter be­came the prov­ince’s first univer­sity in 1922. To­day, its serene cam­pus is as much a public park as a place of learn­ing.

New­ly­weds snap pho­tos and fam­i­lies pic­nic be­neath canopies of gingkoes, whose golden leaves shim­mer to ap­plaud au­tumn breezes. Movies filmed here of­ten in­clude stu­dents as ac­tors.

A 500-year-old statue of a myth­i­cal beast — a blend be­tween a lion, two types of dragons and a uni­corn — guards the exam rooms. It’s meant to en­force hon­esty among as­pir­ing stu­dents as well as teach­ers with a pen­chant for nepo­tism.

The an­cient Chi­nese statue stands in con­trast to the Euro­pean and Rus­sian ar­chi­tec­ture, in­clud­ing the “haunted” clock tower. Stu­dents say a woman who hanged her­self in the struc­ture can be heard wail­ing at night.

In the day­time, it stands as a mon­u­ment to slowly pass­ing time in Kun­ming — that is, no mat­ter how short your stay.

PHO­TOS BY ERIK NILS­SON / CHINA DAILY

The Stone For­est in Kun­ming is a thicket of lime­stone for­ma­tions that cre­ate a topo­graph­i­cal mir­a­cle.

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