Hangzhou

 
3 Days Hangzhou Tour: Five-Star: Shangri-La Hangzhou Hotel | Deluxe: West Lake Golden Plaza Hotel 

Athough Hangzhou was once an imperial capital in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), the city is better known as a pleasure resort. Specifically, it s best known for its West Lake, which has been celebrated over the centuries in both song and verse. Marco Polo, who may have visited Hangzhou in the 13th century, wrote lyrically of the pleasures of the lake and concluded, ‘indeed a voyage on this lake offers more refreshment and delectation than any other experience on earth’.

The modern city is, alas, less prepossessing. It was virtually destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century, and underwent extensive modernization and industralization after 1949. Walking around Hangzhou today gives the visitor little idea of the glories of its time as the capital of the Southern Song, a period famous for great cultural achievements. Little remains, too, of its later imperial heritage. It is only when contemplating the lake that one understands why, in the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, Hangzhou was an imperial resort, and why the two famous longlived Qing emperors, Kangxi and Qianlong, each made six visits to the city.




West Lake

 

Without West Lake, Hangzhou would have been just another prosperous city thriving on its position as the southern terminus of the Grand Canal, and on its two agricultural industries of tea and silk. But with West Lake, Hangzhou has gained a status not far short of paradise. lf Suzhou’s loveliness as a city of gardens is almost entirely man-made, Hangzhou has little need of artifice to enhance its natural beauty. The city skirts the shore of a wide, shallow lake rimmed by green and gentle hills, on the slopes of which are grown the famous Longjing tea of the region and mulberry leaves for the silkworm larvae.

West Lake’s two most renowned literary associations are with the Tang poet, Bai Juyi (Po Chu-yi), and the Song poet, Su Dongpo. They both served as governors of the city, and both were responsible for major earthwork projects designed to safeguard West Lake from flooding. The lake has two major causeways named after the poet-governors who commissioned their building. The causeways now have attractive lakeside walkways, planted with willows and flowering trees.

The best way to start a visit to the lake is to take a boat from the northern shore to the central Island of Little Oceans (from where can be seen ‘Impressions of the Moon above Three Deep Pools’). The island is man-made and has been cleverly contrived to enclose four small lakes, which creates the effect of lakes within a lake. Here a small pavilion serves refreshments, including the famous West Lake lotus root simmered into a sweet broth. Three stone lanterns jutting out of the water close to the island are sometimes lit with candles at night to create the impression of three moons reflected in the water.

The Su Causeway, named after the poet Su Dongpo, is an excellent place to stroll and enjoy a view of the lake. Small bridges intersect the causeway, and thus it is sometimes known as Six Bridge Dyke. The causeway is particularly beautiful in spring when the willow, peach, camphor and horse-chestnut trees are in bud and blossom. At the northern end of the Su Causeway is a prospect—‘Lotus Ruffled by the Breeze at the Distillery’. It is here that visitors come in summer to see the deep pink lotus blossoms.

Also on the north shore of the lake is the slender Baochu Pagoda, which was first built in the tenth century. The present structure dates from 1933. A small adjacent teahouse offers an attractive view over to the south of the lake, where the remains of the seven-storey brick Thunder Peak Pagoda, which fell down in 1924, are now dwarfed by the attractive Leifeng Pagoda, which stands out regally on a hillock and offers superb views over the lake and surrounding city from its upper levels.