Kunming (China): Covered with blossoming flowers and lush vegetation and blessed with a salubrious climate throughout the year, the city of Kunming, the capital of the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, is a tourist's delight.
Located at an elevation of 6,200 feet above sea level, Kunming is known as the City of Eternal Spring because of the pleasant climate it enjoys throughout the year -- not too hot during summer and not too cold during winter.
Average highs during the height of summer hover around 24-25 degrees Celsius while it is around 15-16 degrees Celsius in deep winter.
As in any modern city, Kunming has its share of highrise buildings, but it still retains a quaintness that is charming.
From cultural and natural tourist attractions to shopping for traditional Chinese goods and trinkets, the city has a lot to offer to a traveller looking for variety.
To the north of the city is the 1,200-year-old Yuantong Temple, one of the grandest and most important Buddhist temples in Yunnan province. Built by King Yimouxun of the Nanzhao Kingdom during the eighth century, the temple is located on a depression on the southern side of the Yuantong Park.
Built around the Yuantong Hall or the Mahavira Hall, the temple complex is surrounded by a pond where fish swim around. A stone bridge connects Mahavira Hall with the Yuantong Temple entrance.
Epitomising all three branches of Buddhism, the temple houses the statues of Sakyamuni, Amitabha and the Medicine Buddha, all dating to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) established by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Chengiz Khan.
There are a number of halls surrounding the temple where you will find people, sitting, chatting and praying, classes being held on Buddhist scriptures, a restaurant and a calligraphy studio among others.
Above all, what will strike you most is the serene environment in which the temple rests.
If you want to enjoy nature in all its glory, head towards the Dianchi Lake, a freshwater lake spread across nearly 300 sq km. Located 6,189 feet above sea level, it is the eighth largest lake in China and the largest in Yunnan province.
Over 20 rivers feed the crescent-shaped lake which has a shoreline of over 163 km and which is recognised as an ecoregion .
There are a number of attractions along the lake, including the Yunnan Nationalities Village, Grand View Park, White Fish Park, Haigeng Bank, Kwan-yin Hill, and the Western Hills Forest Reserve.
In winter, one gets to see migratory Siberian seagulls flying around which can be a photographer's delight.
To get a bird's eye view of Dianchi Lake and a panaromic view of Kunming, one needs to get to the top of the Western Hills.
Located 12 km west of Kunming city, the Western Hills also have the "Sleeping Beauty" moniker as, when viewed together from afar, the hills look like a young lady lying beside Dianchi Lake with her face looking up and hair falling into the water.
A protected area, blooming flowers and lush green forests mark the Western Hills. Scenic spots include a stone-carved edifice called Dragon Gate, Huating Temple, Taihua Temple and the Sanqing Pavilion which is a temple with Taoist influence.
To get to the top of the Western Hills, one has to take a cable car from the western gate of the Haigeng Park after getting off a bus plying from the foothills or the Western Hills subway station.
From the top one can get down by a series of steps running through some of the largest Taoist grottoes that were built during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).
Time for shopping? Head for downtown Kunming, more specifically the Jinma Archway -- around which the city was built. Near the archway is the Nanping Pedestrian Street, the most popular area of Kunming city. Around 700 metres long, the street is dotted with some public sculptures.
Around the street are a number of shops and emporiums selling traditional Chinese textiles, artifacts, items you can buy as souvenirs and quite a few restaurants where you can try authentic Chinese cuisine.
And yes, when buying anything, don't forget to bargain. You will be amazed at how low the price can come down if you bargain hard.
Kunming is a four-hour flight away from Delhi and two-and-a-half hours from Kolkata.
A bit of advice. When travelling in China, language can be a major barrier, so it will be prudent to pre-book a translator who can accompany you during your interactions with local people.