Erhai Lake used to be known as the Kunming River, the Xi’er River, and the Yeyu Pond is a famous highland lake in China.

洱海 Erhai Lake, Dali, Yunnan

It was recorded as early as in the Han Dynasty. The lake, reputed as “Pearl of the Plateau”, is named after its shape. “Er” literally means a human ear, and “Hai” a lake; hence the name Erhai. It starts from Dengchuan of Eryuan County in the north and ends in Xiaguan in the south with 42 kilometers in length and 8 kilometers in width. It covers an area of 250 square kilometers, with an average depth of 11 meters, an elevation of 1,972 meters, 2.9 billion cubic meters in storage capacity, and a shoreline at 116 kilometers.

Related: Cormorants fishing at Erhai Lake

It ranks the second in Yunnan and seventh in China among freshwater lakes for its size. Erha’s waters are mainly fed by the Miju River and Mici River in the north, the Boluo River and Wase River in the east, and the 18 creeks from the mountain in the west. The waters flow through the Xier River into the Yangbi River, which eventually runs into the Langcang River. As a tectonic lake, it has cliffs in the east and sandbars on other sides. The lake is like a jade mirror mounted at the foot of the mountain with limpid water.

Erhai Lake is a barrier lake formed after a fault foundering of the earth’s crust

Dali Erhai lake
Dali Erhai lake

Erhai Lake is a barrier lake formed after a fault foundering of the earth’s crust. It is endowed with rich aquatic resources including fishes, water birds, shrimps, spiral shells, mussels, band beavers, water chestnuts, and edible seaweeds.

Cormorants fishing
Cormarants fishing at Erhai Lake, Photo: Paul Banks.

The lake is not only a major tourist attraction in Dali but also a major birthplace of the Bai people’s ancestors. Up to now, there have been over 30 relics of the Neolithic Age around the lake. The lake comprises Three Islands (Golden Shuttle Island, Yuji Island, and Chiwen Island), Four Sandbars (Daguan Sandbar, Yuanyang Sandbar, Qingshabi Sandbar, and Malian Sandbar), Five Minor Lakes(Star Lake, Divine Lake, Tai Lake, Zhu Lake and Lotus Lake), and Eight Wonders (the Sky Mirrored in the Lake, Grand View of the Lake and the Mountain, Putuo Island in Mists, Fishing Boats on Bluish Waves, Hazy Golden Shuttle Island, Lake with Autumn Tints, Wind Whistling in the Pavilion, and the Bright Moon Mirrored in the Lake).

Dali Cangshan mountain and Erhai lake
Dali Cangshan mountain and Erhai lake

Erhai Lake with the moon hanging above is one of the Four Scenic Wonders in Dali. On the Mid-autumn festival, the Bai will enjoy the golden moon reflected in the placid surface of the lake. The sky, clouds, the moon, and the lake from the picturesque scenery. At peaceful nights, tourists will get a clear sense of the moon hanging above like a jade mirror, and the boundless expanse of lake and the sky merging into one at the horizon. A legend goes that a princess in the heavenly palace descended to the world and got married to a fisherman out of love. She sank her treasured mirror at the bottom of the lake to make it easy to fish. From then on, the mirror turned into the golden moon to favor fishermen. Hence it got the name “the Erhai Moon”.

Photo: Oliver Huang, Paul Banks