Hangzhou’ s legendary West Lake conjures images of sweeping willow and morning mist along the shores of China’ s most famous and revered of lakes.
Heralded as one of the most romantic cities in China, Hangzhou is ripe with historic and sensual sites to enchant the amorous and curious who make their way here. Just over 124 miles (200km) southwest of Shanghai, Hangzhou requires only a short jaunt to sample its charming pagodas, the timeless West Lake and the city’ s modern amenities.
What really put Hangzhou on the proverbial map was the Grand Canal. Build during the Sui dynasty, the Grand Canal was a massive network of canals and waterways linking Hangzhou to the north. As food and goods were shipped from the agriculturally rich south to supply the comparatively desolate north. Hangzhou quickly developed into an important center of transportation and trade.
Hangzhou’ s height came when the Song dynasty court was driven from its capital at Kaifeng by northern invaders. The court resettled in Hangzhou and made it the imperial capital of the Southern Song dynasty. A population boom followed and the city flourished economically and culturally. Song influences still abound throughout the city – from the food to the language.
Qing emperor Kangxi was especially charmed by the Lingyin Temple, and one of his couplets is inscribed on the Hall of Four Heavenly Guardians which stands at the front of the temple. This celebrated temple was originally build in AD 326; despite being destroyed and rebuilt 16 times over, it remains one of Hangzhou’ s main attractions. As the back of the temple is a giant 64.3-foot(19.6m) camphor wood statue of Buddha. If it’ s not too crowded, the serenity of the grounds will let you feel as tranquil as Buddha. The Lingyin Temple Scenic Area is huge; the area includes the temple and the mini-mountain Feilai Peak. In one section of the park are large Buddhist rock carvings – explore the grounds and you’ ll discover many quaint photogenic scenes.
Other attraction are centered on Hangzhou’ s historic silk and tea production, both of which boomed after the city was connected to the Grand Canal at the end of the 6th century, a fact not lost on visitors who make their way to the China Silk Museum to purchase choice fabrics or to the Dragon Well Village to imbibe sweet drinks. If highbrow elbow rubbing is to your liking, follow the flocks to Xihu Tiandi. Located on southern shore of West Lake , this trendy cluster of shops beckons with becoming the hottest place to be seen, but the Six Harmonies Pagoda is still one of the coolest place to see. This 197-foot(60m)octagonal giant once served as a lighthouse and rises in the southwest of the city overlooking the calm Qiantang River. Head behind the pagoda and follow the footpath that winds past sculptures and shrines.
For a dose of heroism, visit the Mausoleum of General Yue Fei. Inside a red brick chamber sits a stoic statue of the mighty general, the Southern Song dynasty’ s most talented defender against 12th century Jurchen hordes. This famed patriot was the Southern Song dynasty’ s greatest hope for survival in the face of a determined invader, but due to palace intrigue, he was stripped of his post and murdered in prison. He was posthumously rehabilitated and his tomb and that of his son now stand in the quiet temple grounds.
Nearby are four iron statues of his tormentors kneeling in shame. Temple visitors used to spit at these statues, thought this practice is now prohibited.
The lunar tidal bore phenomenon on the Qiantang River is most spectacular around September or throughout the year at high tide. During these times, a massive wall of water is pulled inland to Qiantang’ s shallows. The best views are in the town of Yanguan, 23.5miles(38km) northeast of Hangzhou, though it’ s also viewable in Hangzhou. A word of caution: this rushing wall of water has killed those who got sucked in, so don’ t get too close,
SECRETS OF WEST LAKE
There are 36 West Lakes throughout China, but Hangzhou’ s West Lake is the inspiration for them all. Originally a lagoon, it was dredged in the 8th century and later diked. Sidestepping the vacationing masses and trinket hawkers, there’ s plenty to do at this 1.9 by 1.9 mile (3km by 3km) lotus lined lake. Mist shrouds the jade-hued water as the sun rises and sets, while sentinel trees line the surrounding boulevards. The lake is bordered by three hills that hem it like a pillow cradling a liquid gem. Meandering paths lead visitors through graceful gardens to welcoming temple.
The Baidi Causeway, on the north shore of the lake, links up with Solitary Hill, a large island brimming with plants and grassy parks. Wander past inviting park benches, cross bridges where old men fly kites, then enter a honeycomb of tree-shrouded pagodas where snacks and beverages are served. You can enjoy refreshments at several outdoor cafe or inside aged pagodas. A good way to get a better view of the lakeside scenery is to rent a pedal boat. Churn around the rich views. If the lake is calm, the reflection of Baoshi shan on the water is amazing. If you feel like watching things swim about, the Flower Harbor, home to thousands of obese carp, is a must-see.
Follow the Sudi Causeway as it shoots across the lake like an arrow. From there you can spot the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon and the lesser Yingzhou islands, which look like submerged tortoises with trees and temples growing on them. The islands themselves have quaint pagodas and are excellent for viewing the pools. Standing over the lake are three towers, each with five cut – out holes. During the Mid – Autumn Festival, which usually falls around late – September, glowing candles are placed in these niches creating a flickering effect that dances along the lakeshore. For this spectacle, it’ s best to rent or hire a boat-an old Mid-Autumn Festival tradition. Revelers would come to the lake to admire the moon while sipping tea and laughing with friends.
The Zhejiang Provincial Museum is on the Baidi Causeway and features displays of natural and regional history. Some of the more interesting exhibits include small figurines which were throw into the lake to placate the lake spirits. The Qing emperor Qianlong once lived in part of the museum when vacationing in Hangzhou. Leaving the Baidi Causeway onto Beishan Lu, there’ s splendid walkway to the top of Baoshai shan where you can marvel at a 19th century tower that seems oddly Victorian. The path further snakes through rock carvings and dark chambers. Hearty trekkers can climb over weathered boulders for a view of the lake, which is best at dawn when the mist hangs like pipe smoke over the lake. If you’ re into flowers, then head east to the florid Hangzhou Botanical Gardens where orchids and ferns flourish in balmy hothouses.