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Re-inventing route to China twin cities

By C K Nayak

There are cities and twin cities but hardly a pair like the juxtaposing Old Dali city and New Dali City in Yunnan province in Southern China, so close to India’s North East.
The town contains the historic centre of the county-level city of Dali and is also commonly known as Dali Old Town. The modern centre of Dali City, however, is 10 km south of the old town at Xiaguan.
Being the county seat of Dali City, Xiaguan is often labelled as Dali on maps and is sometimes referred to as Dali New Town to distinguish it from Dali Town. The old town has become well-known as a tourist site thanks to its picturesque location and historic Bai architecture.
Talking to a visiting group of India journalists recently, senior Chinese officials noted that Dali, as the only prefecture of Bai ethnic community in China, has had close and historical links with the people of India mainly of the North East, because of the silk route.
They said China wanted Dali to again become the “bridge head” with India and South Asia. Plans were afoot to give a concrete shape to the proposal.
Historians say the ancient silk route, originating from China’s Chengdu city, ran through Myanmar and then extended to India, Bangladesh and even West Asia.
China appears keen to revive the ancient “Southern Silk Road” with South Asia for promoting trade and people-to-people exchanges with India and other South Asian countries.
Talking about the tourism potential of Dali, Xi Ling, Director of Dali Tourism, said much of the economy of Dali was centered around tourism and services catered to travellers. Dali, a place of beneficial ecology, could be an attractive destination for Indian tourists, given its historical links and geographical proximity with India. He said the local authorities were also applying to the Chinese Government for declaring the Dali Airport as an international airport. Xi said tourists could come to Dali any time during the year because of its ‘excellent’ weather. “Dali is one place where one can see the flowers blossoming around the year,’’ he added.
China has developed beyond even imagination all over. But in contrast even while developing, the old town of Dali has been preserved by its ancient walls.
Due to its relatively well-preserved architecture, the town has developed as a major tourist attraction in recent years. Major sites of interest include the Three Pagodas, Dali Museum, the ancient city gates, an artificial town built as the set for Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, and the Cang Mountain Range to the west besides the Dali university.
Dali Town is located in a depression at the southern end of the Yun Mountains, part of the greater Hengduan Mountains at the southeast edge of the Tibetan Plateau. This depression, an extension of the Red River Fault, is filled by Erhai, a lake that is part of the Mekong Riverbasin. The old town of Dali is located on a plain between Erhai on the east and the Cang Mountains to the west. Dali is well connected with Kunming capital of the Yunnan province. A broad highway runs through the town, eventually connecting with Tibet Autonomous Region in the north and Xishuangbanna in the south.
The nearest train station and airport are both in Xiaguan.
The most memorable was the visit to the old Dali locality. In this city people are rewarded to keep their old pattern Bai houses as it is. The houses are old but maintained well. Even the stone laid roads have not been changed. The star hotel right inside the city is also a heritage hotel where one feels like living in an old village rather than in town even though all the modern facilities are available. The furniture are antique and there are electric lights fixed inside old pattern lanterns.
The place where horseback traders used to meet and auction goods is still intact and so also old places of worship.
The road passing through the old Dali city was once part of legendary Silk Road. The stone topped roads remain same even after decades and it ancient drainage system still works. It has given places to McDonald’s and such other western fast food outlets. But old Chinese men and women continue selling food items starting from cottage cheese to local fruits, vegetables and even meat.
Local traditional wares are also on display and sale competing with the branded goods of Europe. The road are traveled by battery operated cars and battery bikes but horses are still used to commute and as beast of burden.

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