Zhejiang province -> Hangzhou city
Hangzhou is a city with a rich history and culture, spanning back over 2000 years. The city first made a name for itself in the sixth century, when the Grand Canal opened up and linked the area to other centers of trade such as Suzhou. The Song dynasty helped to make Hangzhou famous when they moved the imperial family here in the 12th Century. With its inviting views and outstanding scenery, the West Lake soon became popular with numerous artists, poets and painters seeking inspiration in this little bit of "paradise".
Today, Hangzhou (the capital of Zhejiang province) has a population of 6.11 million. The "West Lake" provides the idyllic image of Hangzhou that most people leave with. This huge circular fresh water lake, covering 3km from north to south and 3kms from east to west, is surrounded by hills on three sides and the city on the fourth. Two picture- postcard causeways cross the lake and three islands float in the middle. There are numerous historical relics and sights scattered about the Lake, including the famous Buddhist temple, Lingyin Si. You can see many of Hangzhou's sights in a couple of days. However, this is a nice place to relax and do some good walking and eating so if possible, plan to spend at least a few days here.
| Solitary Island (West Lake)|
|Solitary Island (Gu Shan) sits in the northwest corner of the West Lake. This is the largest island on the lake and a lovely place to wander and explore. Views over the lake from here are spectacular and there are a few places of historical interest scattered about the island itself. |
On the North side of the island is the Wenlan pavilion, the pristine and peaceful Zhongshan Park and the Zhejiang provincial museum, which is actually part of the original imperial palace. To the west of the island and at the top of the small hill is the Xiling Seal Society. The tomb of Qiu Jin, a female revolutionary, is at the foot of the hill. Qiu Jin was an early pro-democracy campaigner and part of Sun Yatsen's team of fighters in the 1900s. A small pavilion known as "Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake Pavilion" has been built on the northeast of the mountain in memory of the reclusive poet Lin Hejin, who lived during the Song Dynasty. Legend has it that the poet believed the blossom on the trees was his wife and the crane was his son!
| Lingyin Temple|
|The Lingyin Temple is Hangzhou's most famous site, aside from the West Lake. This ancient temple was built in 326AD during the Jin Dynasty but the temple at the site now has been restored sixteen times. The buildings you see today are restorations made during the Qing dynasty. |
The Temple itself is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the whole of China. The Indian Monk Huili, thought Hangzhou so beautiful that he believed this must be a place that gods live. Hence, he founded this temple in honor of the beauty and spiritual richness of the place, and named it "The place where gods rest in seclusion" or Lingjin. This is a huge place so it's best to just pick a few of the more interesting areas to look at. On entering the Temple, tun left and you will be confronted with huge stone statues that are reproductions of famous Buddhist statues located all over China such as the Buddha at Leshan. Slightly behind the Temples in the woods up here are a lovely collection of stone carved Buddha who sit in the niches of the cliffs. The most impressive of these is a huge, fat "Laughing Buddha". In the Temples themselves are various gold statues of Buddha, posing in different positions and adopting a warrior stance. Behind the largest gold Buddha is a collection of delightful figures and deities, carved into a huge piece of wood. The Temple is filled with incredible statues and monuments to Buddha- laughing, standing and sitting!
| Longjing Tea Plantation|
|A nice break from the lake is the Longjing tea plantation area. Hidden away in the southwest corner of the lake are some secluded walks and the village of Longjing itself. |
Longjing actually means, "Dragon Well" and according to legend, the Dragon Well was discovered in about 230AD!! This fresh spring water encouraged the people of Hangzhou to develop their own quality tea, and thus Longjing tea was born.
The dominant thing here is tea! Whether it be drinking, picking, smelling or buying. A trip to the village of Longjing is a 30 minute cycle ride and most of the hotels in Hangzhou have bikes for hire. Tea terraces rise up on either side of the village and it's an interesting area to walk around and watch the locals at work. So many places here have tea for sale and it is difficult to recommend which type or flavor is best. Prices for the tea range from RMB500 for one kilo to RMB10,00 per kilo!! But you can buy a nice tea for between RMB500 and RMB2000. The best thing to do is to sample as many as you can (some of the locals will invite you in if you are lucky) and then make your decision!
| Su Causeway (West Lake)|
|The Su Causeway is the longest series of bridges crossing over Hangzhou's West Lake. The causeway is named after the Song Dynasty poet, Su Dong Po, who was also the governor of Hangzhou. The causeway runs across the lake from Nanping Road, to the "lotus in the Breeze Quyuan Garden". |
The causeway consists of six simple yet beautiful bridges and the embankments along the way are all planted up with pretty trees and flowers. In the evenings, the causeway is illuminated by green lights and this is a favorite place for Chinese couples to promenade, holding hands and declaring their undying love! This is a lovely example of typical Chinese design and the style is beautifully delicate and refined.
| Tiger Running Spring|
|This park known as "Tiger Running Dream Spring" (Hupaomeng Quan) is one of the nicest parks in Hangzhou and filled with tea houses, pretty trees and pavilions. |
Legend has it that when the Great Master, Xing Kong visited Hangzhou he bemoaned the lack of fresh water available, and quickly made plans to leave. Suddenly a god appeared before him and told him not to worry about the water as two tigers had been dispatched to deliver some! The next day, two tigers appeared as promised and the spring water flowed. The tigers were running, hence the bizarre name!
The Spring remains (although the tigers are long gone), and this is now one of the most famous springs in Hangzhou. The combination of the Dragon Well tea and the spring water here, is said to be uniquely refreshing.