Er Lake, Chinese Erhai, is an alpine fault lake in Yunnan province, China. Its name means "Ear-shaped Sea", due to its shape as seen by locals and travellers. Er Lake was also known as Yeyuze or Kunming Lake in ancient times. A commonly-seen mistranslation is Erhai Lake.
Erhai is situated at 1,972 metres (6,470 ft) above sea level. In size, the North-South length of the lake is 40 kilometres (25 mi) and the East-West width is roughly 7-8 kilometres (4.3-5.0 mi). Its area is 250 square kilometres (97 sq mi), making it the second largest highland lake of China, after Dianchi Lake. Its circumference reaches 116 kilometres (72 mi), its average depth is of 11 metres (36 ft) and the total storage capacity of 2.5 billion cubic metres (2,000,000 acre ft).
The lake is sandwiched between the Cangshan Mountains to the West and Dali City. It starts at Dengchuan at its northern extremity and finishes at Xiaguan city in the South, receiving water from the Miju and Mici Rivers (in the North), the Bolou River (in the East) and smallers streams from the Cangshan Mountains. Yangbi River is the lake's outlet in the South and eventually flows into the Lancang River (Mekong River).
The lakeshore can be explored by hiking. Highlights include Erhai Lake Park and the Butterfly Springs on the Western bank. Islands on the lake ¨C including Guanyin Ge, Jinsuo Island ("Golden Shuttle Island"), Nanzhao Folklore Island and Xiaoputuo Island-are also available for visits.
The lake is an important food source for the local people (Bais), who are famous for their fishing method: their trained cormorants catch fish and return them to fishmongers. The birds are prevented from swallowing their fish by rings fixed around their neck.
Erhai also holds a high diversity of typical carps (Cyprinus), with for example the endemic species (C. barbatus, C. daliensis and the spring fish C. longipectoralis) being found only here. Zacco taliensis is another cyprinid endemic to Erhai.The lake used to be a royal deer ranch for the Nanzhao Kingdom.
Features of Erhai Lake
Erhai Lake is the largest highland lake next to Dianchi and one of the seven biggest fresh water lakes in China. It means, 'sea shaped like an ear', in Chinese. Implying that the lake is ear shaped and as large as a sea, hence it was so named. The lake covers an area of 250 square kilometers and is located about two kilometers east of Dali. It is like a crescent lying between Cangshan and Dali city as seen from Cangshan Mount. In a sunny day, the crystal waters of Erhai Lake and the snow mantled Cangshan Mount radiate with each other. Thus the scene was commonly described as 'Silver Cangshan and Jade Erhai'.
The surrounding islands, temples and villages are worth visiting too. Golden Shuttle Island (Jinsuo Dao), and the nearby fishing community of Bai Minority do really deserve a visit with its attractive Bai culture and lifestyle, and because of the rare beauty of the lake and its surrounding scenery. The most unforgettable Xiaoputuo Dao, originally devoted to Bodhisattva Kwan-yin, can be traced back to the 15th century. Though tiny and called xiao (which means small in Chinese), one can still experience and see the typical ancient Chinese Buddhist temple's unique architectural styles of its buildings' pointed eaves and decorations on this peninsular.
To give the people and tourists alike the convenience of watching the lake, Erhai Lake Park was built. In spring, the place is transformed into a wonderland of flowers like camellias, azaleas and primrose, and abundant exotic trees.
Erhai Lake Travel
This tour of Erhai Lake is a great way to explore the entire Dali area. The tour starts from the Xiaguan Erhai Lake Docks (Erhaihu Matou) where you board a rather nice passenger ferry at around 9am in the morning. The boat cruises Erhai lake and takes in various destinations on the lake mostly along the eastern shore, including Jinsuo Island, Little Putuo Island, Guanyin Ge and Nanzhao Fengqing Island. Lastly, the ship stops on the western bank of Erhai Lake near Butterfly Springs. There, you'll transfer onto a waiting bus to continue your trip to the Butterfly Springs, the ancient city of Dali (Gucheng) and the famous Three Pagodas and possibly a few other spots (this varies from tour to tour). Lastly, the bus goes back to Xiaguan at around 4:30pm.
The tour costs RMB180 and can be booked at travel agencies throughout Xiaguan. The price includes boat fare, admission, bus fare, lunch, a Bai "three cups of tea" on the boat and a Chinese speaking guide.
You can also choose to do an half day tour which stops on the western banks of Erhai Lake near Butterfly Spring with no included lunch, but this half day tour only costs around RMB90.
Hiring private boats: There are a lot of private boats for hire near the Xiaguan docks in Erhai Lake Park. These private boats are not large and typically hold up to 20 people, usually providing trips to Jingsuo Island, Little Putuo Island, the Guanyin Ge and then back to Xiaguan. For such a trip (3-4 hours in total), a boat can be hired for RMB150, but the boatmen can be bargained to as low as RMB120 in off-season. If you show up with large groups of 5-10 people, then the boatmen will charge around RMB50 per person. These prices are negotiable. You can even hire the boat to the northwestern banks of the lake near the Butterfly spring, but the fare may be as high as RMB300. Please note when hiring private boats, entrance fees to local sites are not included.
How to get Erhai Lake
The Erhai Lake park can be reached by taking bus No. 6 from Xiaguan. The Lake can also be easily reached by foot or bike from the ancient city in less than 15 minutes.