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Introducing Xī Shān

Spread out across a long wedge of parkland on the western side of Diān Chí, Xī Shān (Western Hills) is full of walking trails (some very steep), and dotted with temples and other cultural relics, all just waiting to be explored. Its hills are also called the Sleeping Beauty Hills, a reference to the undulating contours, which are thought to resemble a reclining woman with tresses of hair flowing into the sea. The path up to the summit passes a series of famous temples – it’s a steep approach from the north side. The hike from Gāoyāo bus station, at the foot of the hills, to Dragon Gate takes 2½ hours, though most people take a connecting bus from Gāoyāo to the top section, or take a minibus direct to the Tomb of Nie Er. Alternatively, it is also possible to cycle to the hills from the city centre in about an hour – to vary the trip, try doing the return route across the dikes of upper Diān Chí.

At the foot of the climb, about 15km from Kūnmíng, is Huating Temple (Huátíng Sì; admission Y4; 8am-6pm), a country temple of the Nanzhao kingdom believed to have been constructed in the 11th century, rebuilt in the 14th century, and extended in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The road from Huating Temple winds 2km from here up to the Ming dynasty Taihua Temple (Tàihuá Sì; admission Y3; 8am-6pm). The temple courtyard houses a fine collection of flowering trees, including magnolias and camellias.

Further along the road, near the minibus and cable car terminus, is the Tomb of Nie Er (Nièěr Zhīmù; admission Y1; 8am-6pm). Nie Er (1912–36) was a talented Yúnnán musician who composed the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) before drowning in Japan en route for further training in the Soviet Union.

Sānqīng Gé, near the top of the mountain, was a country villa of a Yuan dynasty prince, and was later turned into a temple dedicated to the three main Taoist deities.

From the tomb you can catch a chairlift (one way/return Y15/30; 8am-7pm) if you want to skip the fairly steep ascent to the summit. Alternatively a tourist tram takes passengers up to the Dragon Gate for Y2.

Further up, near the top of the mountain, is Dragon Gate (Lóng Mén; admission Y30; 8am-6pm). This is a group of grottoes, sculptures, corridors and pavilions that were hacked from the cliff between 1781 and 1835 by a Taoist monk and co-workers, who must have been hanging up there by their fingertips. At least that’s what the locals do when they visit, seeking out the most precarious perches for views of Diān Chí. The tunnel along the outer cliff edge is so narrow that only one or two people can squeeze by at a time, so avoid public holidays and weekends! Entrance to the Dragon Gate area includes Sānqīng Gé. It’s possible to walk up to the Dragon Gate along the cliff path and return via the back routes.