Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A Trip To Kunming, China - Final Part

Southwest of Kunming on a 2000m plateau lies the Dianchi Lake. It is the sixth largest freshwater lake in China covering 300 sq. km in area. Large bodies of water are usually on the tourist's must-see list, and this lake is no exception. 

To enjoy a magnificent view of the lake, on the third day of our trip we travelled 40 mins by road to the Western Hills which is a forested area 40 km long on one bank of the Dianchi. We had to get up to the Dragon Gate following hundreds of steps which had been carved into a cliff-side by Taoist monks of yore.

Along the way we came across a few temples where various deities are housed. It was quite a climb but the designated eco-bus had already taken us about halfway up, and there were many places where we stopped to rest and took pictures.

Some people took the easy way up by chair-lift and then walked down. We decided to do the opposite, Riding in one of those contraptions turned out to be very relaxing after the climb and the scenery more breath-taking. We followed this by a cable-car ride down to the opposite side of the lake.

Can't help mulling over the fact that when we are holidaying in other lands, we sometimes find ourselves taken to places we never think twice about not visiting when we are at home, especially places of worship belonging to faiths other than our own.

I have found myself in temples in Bali, Japan and China, and cathedrals in Europe looking incredulously at elaborately carved and painted deities, statues and gargoyles and feeling I should not be there and what if an earthquake suddenly happens and I, a Muslim am buried alive amongst them.

I wonder if we can count casinos as places of worship too, knowing some people visit it religiously in the weekends for monetary, if not spiritual, cleansing/enhancement as the outcome might be... Whatever, that is one place I have never stepped into and also would not want to be near in the event of an earthquake.

The last place on the tourist map that we visited in Kunming was the Taoist Golden Temple. It is located on top of a hill, the Singing Phoenix (because it looks like one apparently), and you approach it by climbing up on stone steps and pass through a series of "Heavenly Gates".

We took note of the temple which is tiled with bronze panels, hence giving it its golden sheen and its name. Then proceeded to a bell tower further behind it where is housed a large, 580-year-old copper bell which is 3.5 meters (16.4 feet) high and weighs 14 tons. It is said that "the temple and the bell is a reflection of the excellent metallurgical and casting technology of more than 300 years ago in Yunnan".

Before heading back to the city, we walked through the temple grounds which is a serene park of tall cypress trees dotted with bronze relics and bonsai plants here and there.

The next day was our last in Kunming. We spent a few hours before leaving for the airport buying some souvenirs at the Bird and Flower market, doing some city sightseeing and finally dropping by at the Nanying mosque for solat and some noodly lunch. 

It was the perfect way to end our visit, in a place which felt quite familiar, and okay to be should an earthquake happen :)

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A Trip To Kunming, China - Part 2

Most tourists to Yunnan province do not stay very long in Kunming. The three Malaysian ladies whom we met briefly on the plane were not even staying the night. They were going to catch the 10pm sleeper train down to Lijiang City from where they will visit fascinating places like The Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Snow Mountains and Shangri-la over in Tibet.

We did not have the luxury of time so our trip was limited to places within two hours of Kunming by road.

The first day we took in the Stone Forest, 120 km. away.

"Located in the east of Kunming City, Yunnan Province, Stone Forest is an undoubtedly unique natural phenomenon.   In an area of 400m², there are hundreds of differently-styled giant stones scattered in random fashion and giving the appearance of a deep   and serene forest. Stone Forest began to take shape in the Carboniferous Period some 280,000,000 years ago. The forest was formed by successive natural and geological upheavals-firstly due to the erosion of limestone in the sea, resulting in countless stone channels and columns; and later, due to the rising of the Earth’s crust, the area became a land-mass. The stones themselves were fashioned as a result of these processes, as well as millennia of weather exposure and natural upheavals such as earthquakes. All of these factors have made the stones a truly wondrous sight.  When viewed from a distance, the stone columns seem to form an impenetrable black forest-hence the name-”Stone Forest”.  (Taken from

Actually these Yunnanese, they really have heads for heights. They have carved/engraved/built at their tourist attractions countless steps, mostly steep, winding and narrow to reach the spots that offer the most spectacular scenery.

Alhamdulillah hubby and I still have our climbing legs to take them on, not without some huffing and puffing, which is saying something about our cardio fitness.

If only working-out is as simple as placing one's hand on a rock shaped like a heart-and-lungs combo found in the Stone Forest near Kunming. These folks, they look at a rock formation and they see shapes of various things like an elephant, a soaring eagle, a wife waiting for her husband *roll-eyes*, lotus flowers, a mushroom etc. By just touching them they believe will bring strength, virility, good health, good luck.

Given how they tend to think visually, even their writing are in picture symbols, my guess is the Chinese in general are right-brainers which is said to be associated with higher levels of creativity and language skills.... which is nice to have in a way, but if you start believing things like certain numbers are lucky/unlucky because of how they sound... haiiyah that's really illogical to the max.

Oops...I have meandered far enough... here are some pictures we took at the Stone Forest and see if you can discern a few of the shapes I mentioned.

After the tour we stopped for lunch at a Muslim restaurant at the nearby town. The meal was sumptuous, and the calligraphy inspirational.

It means “There is no greater wealth than wisdom, no greater poverty than ignorance; they will not enter Paradise who is isolated".

 We returned from our trip before sunset. After solat and some rest, we went for a stroll at the city park known as the Green Lake Park and simply watched birds and people partaking their leisure.

Although the locals didn't seem to smile that easily, it was good that they didn't really mind their pictures being taken.

to be continued

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A Trip To Kunming, China

Kunming was a crisp 8 or so degrees centigrade when we landed at 4.40 in the afternoon on 23rd December 2012. It is known as the Spring City because of it's mild climate - not too cold in the winter, neither is it too hot in the summer, most probably due to it's location in the middle of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau at an altitude of 1,900 m above sea level and at a latitude just north of the Tropic of Cancer.

So I slipped on my decades-old springtime jacket before we went through Chinese immigrations where you had to stand in-front of an online camera which displays your face on a monitor alongside your passport photograph, and then you go into shock seeing how old our Malaysian passport office had made you look in the scanned photo and even the immigration officer was momentarily confused, probably thinking I might be using my mother's passport instead...

We were met at the airport lobby by Henry Yang (suggested to dear hubby to just call him Henry and not Yang so I won't get confused), our guide whom we had engaged via the internet for this trip. Before long we were in a van bound for the city and the Home Inn, our crashpad for the next three nights.
The first evening, we explored the area around the hotel which is in a bustling commercial district, and if not for the temperature which had plummeted somewhat after sunset, you can be forgiven for thinking you're in Bukit Bintang or Petaling Street.

We spotted a Muslim eatery with halal endorsement certificates on the wall, and there we had our first Chinese meal of a small roast duck (tasted so much better than the one we had here in the Chinese Muslim restaurant in USJ near the Al-Falah mosque), plus a broth made with free-range chicken, and my must-have stir-fried greens, and delicious stir-fried juliened brinjals.

Muslim food is easy to find especially in the old Muslim quarter. We had our second dinner at a well-known chain which served up especially hot and spicy fare more to our taste, and the third night more of the same at another place. If I can only read Chinese I would be able to note their names... and I can tell you the chillies were really fiery at these places.

Actually there's a sizeable Muslim population in Kunming City. There used to be a Muslim quarter in downtown Kunming but the area had to make way for the development of new infrastructure etc, thus many of the residents were relocated elsewhere. Nevertheless two mosque complexes within walking distance of one another are still there and in active use. We stopped for solat at one of them, the Yunning mosque, and after had delicious hawker-style noodles soup at their food-court.

The other mosque is the Nancheng mosque, the main mosque of Kunming.
It's so heartening to see Islam alive even after much trials and tribulations in China since it first arrived during the Tang Dynasty circa (600-900AD)
(to be continued)