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Three Pagodas

Dali, China

Yunnan has an armory of ancient and cultural sites. However, the Three Pagodas are not only cultural and antique but also a little bit mythical. These centuries old pagodas have withstood wars and destruction but stumped people when they also survived natural devastations (earthquakes of 1515 and 1925) that levelled most surrounding constructions. They are now considered the representation of Dali city.

The pagodas are 1.5 kms apart from Dali Ancient Town, at the base of Mt. Cangshan. The Santa Lukou station via bus C7 from the old town makes for easy access. There are three pagodas and a temple and the entry ticket of RMB75 includes all of these. It’s free for kids under 4.3 ft. To get between the 4, there is a shuttle at RMB35, but most tourists find the walk has more photo opportunities. Attraction timings vary in summers, April to October (08:00 to 19:00) and winters, November to March (07:30 to 18:30). Spring is the ideal time to go as there is a lot to see and experience in Dali old town which has several festivals at the time and the weather is much pleasant though Dali has mild weather all year round.

This iconic site is arranged in a symmetrical triangle, with the Juying Chi (aka Reflection pond) behind the three pagodas, perfectly mirroring them in the lake. Of the three, two were built in the 10th century and are identical, while the main pagoda called Qianxun Pagoda, was built during the early 800s during the Nanzhao Kingdom period. It is one of the tallest pagodas in China at a whopping 230 feet high. It spans 16 levels up and has four corners, with many decorated upturned eaves. Every story has a marble Buddha placed into carved reliefs on the walls purposed into temples. The top could once be accessed with a ladder but that was not rebuilt once it broke down. Many precious metal Buddha statues and documents were found during one of the repair expeditions.

The twin pagodas are octagonal and have ten levels with many eaves protruding from each story. The triangular placement is unique and there is no other example of such pagodas across the world.
Chongsheng Temple is also worth a visit once you are in the vicinity. It was the imperial temple of the Dali Kingdom and built in the 9th century along with the first pagoda. But it subsequently got burnt to the ground and what stands now is a reconstruction, done in 2005 on the same site. In its golden age, it was the most powerful Buddhism temple in Southeast Asia and in a one-off example in imperial history, 9 princes of the Dali kingdom became monks here. Inside, there are many halls and Buddha statues and artwork.

Other sites to see in the area are the Bell tower (biggest bell in Yunnan!) in the Dapeng Golden Wing Bird Square, Wanghai Tower (superb views of the whole complex), the Duan Gong Tomb and the Reflection Lake.

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