"To get a perfect life, pray at the Chongsheng Temple." Or so goes the ancient saying.
Today, one might update "pray" with "pay." To gain entry to the official Chongsheng Temple and The Three-Pagoda Culture Tourist Area (Chóngshèng Sì Sān Tǎ, 崇圣寺三塔), you'll have to cough up a hefty RMB 120. And though a perfect life may elude you (whether you pay to pray or not), you can reasonably hope for at least a few perfect shots with the camera and a moment of peace in the midst of the touristic hubbub surrounding what are, in fact, three astonishing ancient pagodas and one nicely reconstructed temple turned museum.
Over the centuries since the site's establishment around 850 AD, Dali's Three Pagodas have survived wars and earthquakes. Today they stand as some of the oldest pagodas in this part of the world. And stand they do: the 16-tier Qianxun Pagoda—the oldest of the trio—attains a height of 70 m (230 ft), and is flanked by two 10-tier 42 m (138 ft) towers. Once you've gained entry to the tourist area, you can approach the pagodas but that's it: all three are sealed shut for their own good.
Some of the best views are to be had at a distance—on a clear day, the reflection of the pagodas in nearby Erhai Lake can be stunning. The recently renovated Chongsheng Temple, which was once the royal temple for the Kingdom of Dali and a major regional center of Buddhist learning, now serves as a museum documenting the site's important role in the history of Buddhism and displaying artifacts from the site.
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