This capital of Zhejiang Province lies close to the mouth of the Qian Fang River. Two Thousand years ago there was nothing here but a sand bar, which was built up by the silt carried downstream by the river. The inhabitants built a dike to reinforce the sandbar, and thus created what is today called XI HU, or WEST LAKE…the most famous lake in China. Marco Polo described the lake thusly: “On one side it skirts the city…and…commands a distant view of all its grandeur and loveliness, its temples, palaces, and gardens with their towering trees, running down to the water’s edge. On the lake itself is the endless procession of barges thronged with pleasure-seekers…their minds and thoughts intent upon nothing but bodily pleasures and the delights of society.” Today, the city is still renowned for its scenic beauty, which some claim is unsurpassed in China…this writer among them.
WEST LAKE: West Lake retains its place as one of the best-known beauty spots in China, with landscaped gardens on its banks, tree-shaded walks, and in the hills nearby, temples, pagodas, and monasteries. Perhaps the most beautiful sight you will see in China is the sun rising over West Lake. Make an effort to rise early and you will not be disappointed. At sunrise, on the banks of West Lake, you will hear voices coming out of the mist: some singing, students reciting poetry or practicing English. All around will be people doing exercises… or “shadow-boxing” known as TAI JI QUAN. There will be groves of trees, which come into blossom at intervals throughout the year. Two causeways divide the lake. These causeways control the water and cut the lake into three sections: the outer section, which is the largest…the inner section to the west…and the rear lake to the north. There is a road along the Su Causeway, which crosses six bridges. Three islands stand within the lake, the largest being Lonely Hill (Gu Shan).
WEST LAKE CRUISE: Take a cruise on this lake. Your destination is the island called THREE POOLS MIRRORING THE MOON. The cruise is extremely scenic…as Marco Polo said: “…commands a distant view of · ..temples…palaces…gardens…trees running down to the water’s edge.” In addition, the lake will be filled with all types of craft…from those carrying one passenger to those carrying two or more tour groups. Wildlife is abundant on the lake.
THREE POOLS MIRRORING THE MOON: As your ship approaches this island, you’ll realize it has to be one of the most beautiful spots in China. It is sometimes called “the island with the lakes within the island.” Here, there are many pavilions joined by pleasant walks, some of which are built out over the water, some which zigzag around walls with “picture windows” and over bridges crossing the water. Each section appears distinctly different with many varieties of trees, lotus plants growing in the lake (bloom in July and August) and the ever-present water lilies. Throughout your walk, look at the reflections in the water. After your walk around this island, the cruise boats generally continue to the opposite shore of West Lake, where your bus is waiting.
LING YIN TEMPLE: It is believed that this temple was established in the 4th century. It is set at the foot of the Northem Peak in a wooded area, with a stream running beside. Actually there are two temples here. The front temple houses a LAUGHING BUDDHA carved in camphor wood and covered in gold with a carved gilt-figure standing behind, guarding him. Both figures rest under a wooden canopy decorated in red and gold. Along the side walls are the traditional Celestial Guardians. One guardian plays the Pipa, another holds an umbrella and a phoenix bird…another holds a sword and a dragon. The central courtyard between the temples is very lively with candle lighting and incense burning, in which the faithful and visitors alike participate. The rear temple houses a 60-foot carved Buddha. Both temples are in traditional style and appear to have three floors since there are three roofs with upswept eaves. Do notice the details on the roof and on the eaves. Another interesting sight in the temple grounds is the four Buddhist pillars on either side of the main door. They have been identified as the originals and date from A.D. 969. Facing the temples above a small stream is the famous FEI LAI FENG or “Peak Which Flew here.” The hill is actually a cliff where steps go up, down, around caves and rock carvings…altogether over 280 carvings, mostly of Buddha. This area is very popular with the Chinese and the steps will be crowded. DO TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO WALK UP TO AT LEAST ONE ROCK CARVING…and more if your schedule permits. These rock carvings are rare examples from the 13th and 14th centuries under the YUAN.
YELLOW DRAGON SPRING (HUANG LONG DONG): Located in what was once the Taoist Monastery, the spring comes from the mouth of the “Yellow Dragon” and trickles down into a series of pools below. Follow the paths and you’ll find an atmosphere of peace. Around each curve, you’ll find a pavilion where Chinese girls in native costumes perform opera, another where musicians play with ancient instruments, another where you may sit and enjoy the calm, and another where you may enjoy the rock formations. In the central courtyard, you’ll find a corner where the young ladies prepare themselves with elaborate make-up, and some will pose in the courtyard for pictures. In the small garden behind the courtyard, there is a “concession” where you can have yourself made-up and costumed…all for the sake of a picture. Another reason to visit this small garden is to see the rare examples of “square bamboo.” It only “looks” square when the light strikes it a certain way.
LIU HE PAGODA: You’ll find that the pagoda is prominently seen during your West Lake cruise. Known as the Pagoda of Six Harmonies, it was built in A.D. 970 during the Song Dynasty and has 13 roofs. A terrace has been built around the base and from here there are excellent views of the Qian Tang River.
BAO SHU PAGODA: This pagoda is a plain brick octagonal structure…solid, with no interior…dating from the l0th century. It stands on a ridge above the lake. The elevation is approximately 660 feet…many steps to climb for the view… but you’ll see the pagoda during your West Lake cruise.
DRAGON WELL: Try to persuade your guide to take you here. Travel to the area and you pass the delightful old town known as the LONG JING VILLAGE, where you can glimpse the courtyards of old wooden houses. Farther up the hill located at the summit is the Spring. The old temples here have been converted to a restaurant and a teahouse.
TIGER SPRING: This area was supposedly established by a monk who was impressed by the beauty and tranquility of the surroundings. The water has remarkable surface tension and one can easily float a great many Chinese nickel coins on it. Ask your guide to demonstrate the water’s qualities. The old HU PAO TEMPLE here has now been converted to a tearoom.
HUAGANG PARK: This is a pleasant well-laid out park with a number of pavilions and small ornamental lakes with attractive trees and gardens…as well as a pond for watching and feeding the goldfish.
SYCAMORE TREES: Do notice the special Sycamore trees, which appear to be severely pruned with the base wrapped tightly with coiled rope. They also appear to be braced with bamboo poles. Some of these trees are very old and their beauty is very important to the Chinese. Many of the ones you will see as described were up-rooted during a typhoon several years ago. The people came out and worked together to up-right the trees and wrap them so that they might survive.
BAMBOO GROVE AT YUN QI: This grove is known to the Chinese as “Abode of the Clouds.” Here, you can wander through thick strands of bamboo and find a perfect place to relax. At the top of the path are some old buildings that were once part of a temple.
NINE CREEKS AND EIGHTEEN BROOKS: This is another peaceful haven where you’ll find pleasant paths alongside the brooks. Perhaps, if your touring has been arduous, you can convince your guide to take you to a place like this…JUST SO YOU CAN SIT AND RELAX FOR 30 MINUTES.
VISIT TO A TEA PLANTATION: Your group may visit a Tea Plantation here. It’s rather interesting to see that the plants are really only shrubs, and very small. After visiting the grounds, you’ll be taken to a room for a sample of the tea, including explanations. Then you’ll see a little of the process of making the tea before going to the gift shop where you may purchase tea.