The Western Hills in Kunming, which was named Biji Hills in ancient times, consists of Binao, Huating, Taihua and Lohan hills. The Western Hills Forest Reserve is situated in the western suburb of Kunming, on the west bank of the Dianchi Lake. Being 15 kilometers (9 miles) away from the urban district, the hills extend for more than 35 kilometers (21.7 miles) at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,202 feet) above sea level. The hills are also known as the 'Sleeping Beauty Hills', a reference to the hills' undulating contours, which are thought to resemble a woman sleeping beside the lake, with tresses of hair flowing into the sea.
The path up to the summit passes a series of famous temples. At the foot of the climb is the Huating Temple, a country temple of the Nanzhao Kingdom believed to have been constructed during the 11th century, rebuilt in the 14th century, and extended in the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) Dynasties. In the temple visitors can view some fine statues, a Buddhist scripture library, and excellent gardens.
The road from Huating Temple winds two kilometers from here up to the Ming Dynasty's Taihua Temple. In the courtyard of the temple there is a fine collection of flowering trees, including magnolias and camellias. Farther along the road, near the minibus and cable car terminus is the Tomb of Nie Er, a famous Chinese musician who composed the national anthem of China. From here you may choose a chairlift if you want to skip the fairly steep ascent to peak. Alternatively a tourist tram takes visitors up to the Dragon Gate. You can also catch a cable car here down to the Haigeng Park and Yunnan Nationalities Village.
The Three Purity Tower (Sanqingge) seems suspended in midair on the steep Lohan Cliff. It was a country villa during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), and was later turned into a temple dedicated to the three main Taoist deities. From a distance, it looks like a jade tower in heaven. More than a thousand stone steps lead from the tower to the Dianchi Lake; the cliff is therefore also called Thousand Steps Cliff.
Farther up, near the peak of the hill, is the Dragon Gate (Long Men). It is a group of grottoes, sculptures, corridors and pavilions that were hacked from the cliff between 1781 and 1835 by a poor Taoist monk Wu Laiqing and his friends, using simple tools. It consists of three stone chambers chiseled out of the cliffs and connected by a spiraling passageway that allows only one person to pass at a time. The passage ends at the Pavilion Leading to Heaven (Datiange). A stone archway was built at the entrance with the inscription Long Men (Dragon Gate) at the top. Standing here you will have a chance to view the thrilling sight of the Dianchi Lake below.
It is a steep approach to climb from the north side. The hike from Gaoyao bus station, at the foot of the hills, to Dragon Gate will take three hours. Most people would like to take a connecting bus from Gaoyao 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 center within an hour. To vary the trip, you may consider going your return route across the dikes of upper Dianchi Lake.
How to get The Western Hills
A. Take Bus No. 5 to Liangjiahe in the west of Kunming City and transfer to Bus No. 6 to Western Hills;
B. Take the Tourism Bus or mini bus at Yunnan Hotel to Western Hills;
C. Take the Cable Car from Yunnan Nationalities Village directly to the Dragon Gate of Western Hills.