Western Hills Forest Reserve lie among the Biji Mountain chain to the west of Kunming, China. From the east or north banks of the Dianchi Lake, the Western Hills can be seen. The local people call her the "Sleeping Beauty" like a young girl lying with her face to the sky and her long hair drifting into the water of the lake. The folk legend says that she is dreaming of her lover's return and her tears have formed the vast Dianchi Lake.
The Western Hills scenic area stretches from the wooded Huating Temple to the Longmen (Dragon Gate) along the steep cliffs. Clouds and mist often hide the mountain sides, with their giant firs and pines and many ancient temples.
The Huating Temple, the Taihua Temple, Sanqingge and Longmen were all built around the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the Taihua Mountains, old roads lead to places surrounded by trees.
The Huating Temple is famous for its colorful statues that combine styles of Buddhism and Taoism. The solemnity of Buddhism and the freedom of Taoism blend into one.
The Taihua Temple, often shrouded in mist, is 1.5 kilometres from the Huating Temple on the main peak of the Taihua Mountains. This tranquil and isolated temple gives one a feeling of "heavenly peace".
The main halls are built along the rising slopes. Covered corridors connect each pavilion and mansion. With its ancient trees, perfumed orchids, camellias, osmanthus and plum trees, the Taihua Temple is noted for its tranquility and elegance.
In the cliffs under Luohan Peak, in the Western Hills, are the Longmen Grottoes, with a stone gate leading to the Datiange chamber. 2,300 metres above sea level, these are the largest Taoist grottoes in Yunnan. It took 72 years to build these grottoes during the Qing Dynasty, from the 46th year of Emperor Qianlong's rule (1782) to the 3rd year of Emperor Xianfeng's rule (1854). The project was undertaken by stone craftsmen living at the foot of the Western Hills. It is said that the workers could get a measure of rice for each measure of stone, poor payment for such hard and dangerous work.
Datiange (Mansion of Heaven) is a stone chamber carved out of the cliffs and is regarded as the finest of the Longmen Grottoes. The relief carving on the walls, the gods, the sacrificial table and the candlesticks are all sculpted following the original shape of the rocks. The Kuixing (God of literature and exams) in the center has one foot on a huge turtle. Holding a dipper and a brush, he turns back to look into the blue sky above the cliffs. Yet his brush has no point. It is said that the stone carver broke the brush point by accident and spoiled the work of decades. He dropped his knife and threw himself over the cliffs. Standing on the Longmen, the lake is vast and the sky is endless. In the morning, it is an ideal place to greet the rising sun. In the evening, one can admire the sparkling lights of downtown Kunming.
The 3rd of March is a festive time in the Western Hills, when it is considered the best time for Kunming residents to climb the mountains and look into the distance, to admire the spring flowers and appreciate the feeling of new life.