Located 15km west of Kunming, Western Hills is a range of four mountains stretching over 40 kilometers along the western shore of Dianchi Lake, looking like a Sleeping Beauty with long tresses trailing away to the south.
With an elevation of 1900-2350 meters, Western Hills contains the best scenery and some of the finest temples in the entire region.
Huating Temple (Huating Si)
Built in the 11th century, it used to be a county temple of the Nanzhao Kingdom. Rebuilt in 14th century, it continued to grow and later became the largest Buddhist complex in Kunming.
The main temple contains a trinity of gilded lacquer Buddhas seated on lotus thrones. It is characterized by blue hair, august gesture and sumptuous setting. Comparing with the serious Buddha, the 500 luohan on the sidewalls, similar to those in the Bamboo Temple, then appear frivolous and easygoing.
Taihua Temple (Taihua Si)
With an elevation of 2350m, Taihua Temple is located in a deep forest 2 kilometers away from Huating Temple. First built in the Yuan dynasty, it is the oldest temple in Western Hills. The temple was destroyed and rebuilt for several times, and the present one dates back to 1687.
The temple is famous for its rare flowers and trees. Many camellia, magnolia, sweet-scented osmanthus and others trees were planted in and outside the temple, made the temple the best place to enjoy the flowers.
The main hall in this temple is Hall of the Precious Hero (Daxiong Baodian), where Buddhas of the Three Ages: Sakyamuni, Maitreys and Kasyapa-matanga are enshrined. Behind the main hall stands an altar to Guanyin. Reputed as Deliverer of Sons, Guanyin is widely enshrined by newlyweds and barren couples who hope to get a male baby.
Sanqing Pavilion (Three Pure Pavilion)
To the south of Huating Temple is Three Purity Pavilion. Different from the former temples, this temple follows Taoist architectural style. Originally built in the early 14th century as a summer resort for a Mongol prince of the Yuan dynasty, the pavilion later was renovated as a Daoist shrine.
The two-storey pavilion now serves as a teahouse. Statues of Zhen Wu and Taishang Laojun were enshrined there. A stone carving, depicting a green snake winding around a tortoise stands by the road. Snake and tortoise are symbols of longevity and it is said that one who touches the carving would live longer.
Dragon Gate (Longmen)
Totally cut on a natural precipice, Dragon Gate is the highlight of Western Hills. With an elevation of 2,500 meters, it is the highest temple on the hill.
In 1781, a necessitous Daoist monk named Wu Laiqing, motivated by devotion, began chipping his way up the cliff with hammer and chisel. After his death, two devoted gentlemen, aided by villagers from the foot of the mountain, continued his project. After years’ hard work, they finally inched the route precariously upward to a natural cliff-top platform, completing Wu Laiqing’s visionary plan in 1853.
Many inscriptions and steles are found here and there in Dragon Gate. Near Air Corridor stands an arch on which the characters "Longmen" (Dragon Gate) were inscribed. Looking down from here, one may have a bird’s view of Kunming city and Dianchi Lake.