Famed for its natural scenery, Hangzhou and its West Lake have been immortalized by countless poets and artists. The city was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty from 1127 until the Mongol invasion of 1276. During that time the city’s population is estimated to have been as high as one million, making it the then largest city in the world. Marco Polo claimed to have passed through, calling it “beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world”.
We visited Hangzhou on May 5, 2010, taking the high-speed rail from Shanghai (below).
The West Lake area and the surrounding hills to the south have been largely responsible for Hangzhou’s reputation as “Paradise on Earth.” West Lake is known for its panoramic scenery, weeping willow trees, flowering peach trees, rockeries, ancient stone bridges, and hills dotted with multi-tiered temple pagodas. But more recently, with China’s rapid urbanization, the most starking image is the contrast between Hangzhou’s bucolic scenery on one end of Xī Hú, or West Lake, and a rising megapolis on the other.
After a leisurely breakfast at the Shangri-la, we set out to view the the Ten Scene’s of Xī Hú (West Lake). Traditionally, there are ten best-known scenic spots on the Xī Hú, each remembered by a four-character epithet. We started our by taking a boat to the middle of West Lake to visit the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon. It is often remarked that there are islands in the lake and there are lakes on the islands. On the south side of the largest of the three manmade islands in the Outer Lake is the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon — three hollow stone pagodas rising from the water, each with five openings. These stone towers were first built in Yuanyou in the fourth year of the Song Dynasty (1089).
Laura thought it’d be smart if we blended in with the locals, so as to avoid the ruses of any hustlers targeting Western tourists.
We took a relaxing constitutional through another of the Ten Scenes — Listening to the Orioles Singing in the Willows. Once an imperial park in the Southern Song Dynasty, Orioles Singing in the Willows is off the Southeast bank of the West Lake. The park was so named after the pier (Liulang Pier) and the bridge (Liulang Bridge).
Hanzhuo’s scenic beauty is best appreciated on foot, and so we continued our walk along the Su Causeway. The 3 km-long Su Causeway is named after the famous personality who constructed it -the poet Su Dongpo of the Northern Song Dynasty, who was a onetime governor of Hangzhou. Su Dongpo achieved the remarkable task of dredging up West Lake and then created Su Causeway with the silt from the dredging. The causeway dazzles with the rows of magnolia, hibiscus and cherry planted all along its length. You can view Su Causeway from different angles from the six arch bridges spanning it from south to north. Reflecting Ripples Bridge, Hill-View Bridge, Crossing-the-Rainbow Bridge and other bridges with equally enchanting names add to the causeway’s charm.
The Bai Causeway is named after a Tang Dynasty poet, Bai Juyi, who was the great poet in the Tang Dynasty (618-907A.D). He once supervised over some constructions of the West Lake (Bai Causeway included) after serving as the local governor of Hangzhou from 822 to 824A.D. Composed of silt dredged from the lake, the Bai Causeway is a 0.62 mile long embankment with plum trees and weeping willows planted on both sides, which makes it especially nice scenery in the spring. This causeway travels northward and starts at the Broken Bridge, traveling through the Golden Ribbon Bridge and ending at the Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake.”
Our picturesque tour of Hangzhuo ended quite ordinarily at the whims of a pregnant woman sick of Chinese food and craving KFC. Given the historical context of the day’s sightseeing, it seemed to Lou a poignant reminder of an ever-shrinking world. To Laura, it was finger-licking good.