This amazing lake lies next to the amazing historic sites in the Dali valley and the natural scenery and good hiking trails on Cangshan Mountain. The whole region is full of interesting and beautiful sites. The easy access to beautiful and quiet places to camp, ride horses, ride bikes and hike in high mountains is unusual in China. You can experience ethnic cultures in this area as well. The ancient city of Dali and the other historic sites lie west of Erhai Lake. The local people feel that this big lake with its clear water and its reflections of land and sky as well as the entire region are unusually beautiful, and it is another highlight of a visit to Yunnan Province.
Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mountain make majestic scenery. The mountain peaks are often mirrored in the lake, along with the sun and moon. This is because the water is unusually clear for a lake as large as it is. It covers an area of about 250 square kilometers. Lining its banks in the valley are fishing villages, Bai farming villages, ancient temples, historic towns and the ancient city of Dali. You can watch the people live their daily lives in a traditional way. That is an interesting backdrop for the scenery. It is said that the reflection of the moon in the water is especially beautiful against the backdrop of the mountains, and while visiting the lake or the villages, you may enjoy riding a boat out on the water and enjoy ethnic cuisine and drink the traditional Bai tea.
Physically, the lake sits in a high altitude valley at an elevation of 1,972 meters (about 6,500 feet) on the eastern side of Cangshan Mountain. Erhai means “Ear Lake,” and it is called that because of its shape. It is a long and narrow lake that is about 41 kilometers long. Its width varies between 3 and 9 kilometers. It is China’s second largest highland lake. It has an average depth of 11 meters. Many streams from Cangshan Mountain flow into the lake. In the north, the Miju and Mici Rivers flow into it, and the Bolou River flows in from the east. Yangbi River is the lake's outlet in the south where it flows past Tuanshan Peak and Erhai Park, and the Yangbi River eventually flows into the Lancang River (the Mekong River in Vietnam).
One of the travel highlights is said to be a boat ride. People can ride boats and visit temples and small islands in the lake, and they may enjoy the local cuisine and the Bai tea ceremony while they are doing so. In the simple ceremony, three different kinds of Bai tea are served. Islands in the lake include Guanyin Ge (Guanyin Pavilion), Jinsuo Island, Nanzhao Fengqing Island and Xiao Putuo Island.
The lake is an important source of food, and the Bai fishermen catch fish in an interesting way. They train cormorants to catch fish and return it to them. The cormorants can’t swallow the fish because they have constricting rings around their necks. Imagine a dinner of cooked carp that was caught in the clean water by a cormorant on the banks of the lake.
The lakeshore can be explored by hiking and bicycling. Bikes are available for rent. Nearby are many historic sites such as the Three Pagodas and the ancient city of Dali and Xizhou. There are many villages you may visit. Some are mainly Bai villages and some have a mixed population.
The nearby high mountains can be explored by hiking, on horseback, or by car. There is a road linking the various sites on the 19 peaks. But the mountain is a good hiking area, which waterfalls, forests, and high peaks to climb. You can bring tents. A cable car that passes high over a forest connects the ancient city of Dali and one of the central peaks.
Highlights around include Erhai Lake Park and the Butterfly Springs on the western bank of the lake. Erhai Lake Park is on Tuanshan Peak at the southern end of Erhai Lake, and it is about two and a half kilometers away from the modern sector of Dali. It is a good place to enjoy the sights of Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake. The park has an arboretum, a zoo, and a public swimming pool, and there is a path through the park to an observation area on the mountain.
When you are at Erhai Lake, it is advisable to visit the fishing villages of Bai people nearby, which is the few fishing villages on the altiplano. The famous movie of 1950s, the Five Golden Flowers, reflected the life here. Erhai Park in Xiaguan was designed and built for tourists to sea Erhai Lake. You can get there from any place in the city proper by taxi and that will only cost you 5 yuan. If you are interested, you can take ships there to visit Erhai. There are wooden ships and yachts. Remember to bargain before you get aboard. Ordinary boats do not go to the Nanzhao Love Islands. They usually come back after arriving at Golden Shuttle Island, Small Putuo Island and Kwan-yin Pavilion. If you rent boats, safety is the most important. When it is summer and autumn, especially when Husband Awaiting Clouds turn up on the Cangshan Mountain, it is better for you not to go on the sea.
I updated this article on January 17, 2013
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