The Western Hills, located at the west bank of the Dianchi Lake, is set in mountains well covered by evergreen woods and filled with sweet songs by lovely birds.
The Western Hills, over 2,500 metres above sea level, also called the Green Peacock Mountain, refers to a range of five mountains stretching over 40 kilometres. Seen from afar, its undulating skyline resembles a graceful young lady sleeping on her back, hence the name of the "sleeping beauty". Its luxuriant trees and bamboos set off splendid Huating Temple, Taihua Temple, Sanqing Monastery and the Dragon Gate. In The Annals of Mountains and Rivers of Yunnan, Yang Shen, a Ming-dynasty poet praised the Western Hills thus:
The azure mountains with precipices thousands of chi high reflected on vast rippling blue waters at its foot in the bright moonlight, and flying clouds skimming over high above, are indeed one of the best scenic spots in Yunnan.
Lying 16 kilometres west of Kunming City, the Western Hills can be reached by bus, first westward along the Burma Road to Gaoqiao, and then southward along the western shore of Dianchi Lake.
Datiange or The Dragon Gate
Datiange or the Dragon Gate, a temple eyrie on the side of a sheer cliff is the best place to get some idea of how magnificent the sights are. Standing at the Dragon Gate, you can enjoy the beauty of the vast Dianchi Lake. It was said, "Once on the Dragon Gate, your fortune will be made." "Visiting Kunming without ascending the Dragon Gate is as regretful as visiting Hanzhou without seeing the West Lake."
The Dragon Gate is actually the general name of a series of spectacular caves and grottoes carved on the cliff between the Cave Leading to a Wonderland (Bieyoudongtian) and the Cave Leading to Heavens (Datiange) Walking up the steps from the Filial Calf Spring, going past the winding stone path, you get to an open terrace at the Phoenix Rock out of which the Cloud Sea, the Stone Forest and Laojundian (also called the Old Stone Room) grottoes are carved. The Suspended Corridor, starting from "the Stunning View of Putuo" via Benevolent Clouds Cave (Ciyundong, the second stone room) to Yunhua Cave with a statue of Guanying (Avalokitesvara) in it, is a tunnel chipped out of a living rock. At the far end, it opens out through a stone archway. The characters "Long Men" (Dragon Gate) are inscribed in red and gold upon the arch. A shrine in the rock wall, called the Cave Leading to Heavens, holds the lively golden image of Kui Xing, the Patron God of Scholars. He is flanked by Wen Chang, the God of Literature, and Guan Yu, the god of War andjustice. Ascending the Dragon Gate, looking far into the distance by the railing, enjoying the wide expanse of Dianchi Lake with glittering waves and sailing boats, you would feel relaxed, happy and carefree.
The marvelous Dragon Gate Grotto complex was chiseled out through 72 years hard work, much appreciated in the mystical story widely circulating among the people.
In the Qing Dynasty, a man named Wu Laiqing, an improverished Daoist monk from the Lower Fishing Village, built bridges and paved roads in Kunming striving for virtue. And as an ascetic, he unhesitatingly accepted the proposal for chipping a stone path to save the people from the danger of going up on the plank road built along the face of the cliff. Working day and night, rain or shine, he inched upward from Sanqingge Temple to the Old Stone Room. Before long, on the Pheonix Rock, Wu Laiqing continued to carve the "Stunning View of Putuo" and the Benevolent Clouds Cave. These two wonderful and difficult projects took him 14 years to complete. The tunnel between the Benevolent Clouds Cave and Yunhua Cave was carved in 1840 by masons upon the invitation of Yang Rulan, and it was completed in 9 years. Yang Jitai continued his father's project. Aided by 70 masons from the foot of the mountain, they chipped out of the living rock the Cave Leading to Heavens including the archway of the Dragon Gate, one platform and numerous stone completes, images, incense burners, candlesticks, offerings, etc. The whole project of the Cave Leading to Heavens was not accomplished until 1853. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, Zhao Heqing, a calligrapher, expressed in a couplet inscribed on the facade of the cave his emotion and feeling of ascending the Dragon Gate.
Each step arduous and in danger,
Steadfastly you have to stand your ground;
Being high up in the firmament,
You had better set at ease your mind.
Such grand project and magnificent secenery are naturally associated with beautiful legends.
Long long ago, a legend runs, there was a couple of lovers living in the Dragon Gate Village at the foot of Luohanshan Mountain. They determined to follow the example of Da Yu, who in history chipped a Dragon Gate in the north of China, by chiselling another dragon gate on the cliff of Luohanshan Mountain for the benefit of the local people and the future generations. They agreed to get married only after the accomplishment of the project. So the young man worked day and night, rain or shine, and the beautiful girl sent him food and drinking water, and washed clothes for him. Nobody knew how many summers and winters had passed before they finished chipping the Cave Leading to Heavens - the Dragon Gate. However when carving the tip of a calligraphy brush held in Kui Xing's right hand, unfortunately he broke it. The perfect consummation he had painstakingly worked for vanished in a flash. He was so grieved that he jumped down from the Dragon Gate ....
Now the tip of the brush we see is not carved out of the original rock, but one that has been glued onto the brush.
Seeing her lover jump down the cliffi the girl was so heartbroken that all day long she wept in deep grief. Her tears converged into the waters of Dianchi Lake. When he tears dried up, she turned into the beautiful Western Hills lying forever along the shore of Dianchi Lake.
It is a custom of the local people to visit the Western Hills on the 3rd of the third month by the lunar calendar. The spring outing on that day originated from Shangsijie Festival of the Warring States Period. During the Three Kingdoms period, the kingdom of Wei adopted the Shangsijie Festival as the day for spring outing and offering sacrifices to gods and ancestors. In the Tang Dynasty, the festival became a very popular spring outing day on a large scale. Du Fu, a famous Tang-Dynasty poet depicted the scene in the poem entitled Beauties Going For An Outing: "Crisp weather on the 3rd of the third moon, in the capital Chang'an, riverbanks are thronged with hundreds of beauties... ". In late spring, a hundred flowers are in bloom, Kunming, with her pleasant weather, is bathed in luxuriant verdant. Each year on the 3rd of the third moon, dressed in their holiday best, hundreds and thousands of people from various nationalities swarm to the Western Hills. People earty laughter and merry folk songs can be heard everywhere.