Upon arrival in Hangzhou, the weather forced me to change plans, and the famous West Lake seemed the most viable alternative. The taxi driver dropped me off at Liulang Wenying Park, and I started off under a light drizzle. Threading cautiously on a slippery soil, I soon reached a pond that was completely tranquil, perfectly reflecting the surrounding trees on its surface. The grey weather somehow added to the mystique radiating from the pond, and I curiously continued walking and exploring. I found places with fancy names like Orioles Singing in the Willows; I would find out during the rest of the day that that kind of name is common in and around West Lake. What about Three Pools mirroring the Moon, Dream of the Tiger Spring, or Melting Snow at Broken Bridge? After a short walk, a larger-than-expected body of water surrounded by hills appeared in front of me, with boats sailing across, and waves stirred by the wind. I had arrived at the West Lake of Hangzhou.
I decided to walk around the lake in a clock-wise direction, even though when I saw the size of it, I realized it was going to be a long walk. I came across pavilions, arched bridges, small rivers, as I walked through the park. On the other side of the water, tall and sturdy Leifeng Pagoda dominated the hill just across a body of water. I crossed the Long Bridge; like other bridges in the lake, it did not actually connect two sides of the water, but merely ran along the shore of West Lake. Albeit a new bridge, it proved very popular with the Chinese visitors who held lengthy photo sessions here. When I finally reached the entrance of Leifeng Pagoda, I was hesitant: crowds were getting off buses on their way up. I had greeted two friendly girls, and was surprised to find one of them running to me with a ticket, pulling me along to the entrance and, gesturing to her compact camera, I realized I would be part of their photo collection. Their English was, unfortunately, virtually non-existent, and since my Chinese was not yet sufficient to have any kind of communication, we merely gestured to each other, laughed, and pointed out things. The pagoda complex turned out to be quite big, and the crowds not as bad as I expected. Leifeng Pagoda, on the southern shore of West Lake, also called the Thunder Peak Pagoda, once was an ancient structure on West Lake, from which perfect views of sunset over the lake could be had. Unfortunately, it collapsed in 1924, and the tower was rebuilt only recently. At the base of the pagoda, we saw the remnants of the old pagoda, as well as a small museum. We subsequently climbed to the top - while having a look at each floor, not just for the always better views of West Lake, but also the works of art on display. As expected, we had sweeping views from the top, and I could only imagine how it would be to watch the sun go down from here. That would remain an illusion, though: rain was pouring down now.
We were lucky: after we descended, the rain had all but stopped, so we did not even need our umbrellas or rain coats. We saw a sculpture in a pond, of a gentleman assisting a lady on a boat from a small island, and I once again realized that apart from being an attractive lake, West Lake is also surrounded by legends, myths, and love stories, and as such has a romantic connotation. In fact, Su Dongpo, a Chinese poet, once likened the West Lake to a young woman, made even more beautiful by her elegant dress. It is hard to imagine that, until the 8th century, this area was marshland; the lake and islands we see now, are man-made. After a brief visit to a temple, we had reached the southernmost part of the lake. Here, men were looking for passengers to carry on the lake on their small rowing boats. It seemed like a good idea, and soon the three of us were sitting comfortably while the boatman rowed us over to the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, which are famous sculptures in the lake, right in front of esser Yingzhou Island. They are actually featured on the 1 Yuan notes, as the boatsman proudly showed us. We sailed around the island, and docked on the other side. The girls and I then made a quick tour of the island, which is actually more a sheltered part of the lake surrounded by strips of land. Floating on the water, we saw beautiful water lilies, and the drops of rain that had accumulated on the flat leaves on the lake, were photogenic in their own right. From here, it was a tough push for the boatman to get us through one of the half-moon bridges to the other side of the inner lake, at one point taking my camera for a couple of shots from the girls and me. By the time we had reached the western side of Xili Lake, it was time to say goodbye, and I continued along the shore again. This part was remarkably less crowded, and I especially liked the small rest-houses built right inside the lake. I crossed more bridges, saw more ducks, and had more great views of the lake before I arrived at Gu Hill island, with an enormous restaurant with unrestricted views over West Lake. But I did not fall for the call of food, yet, and continued along the shore. Soon, I reached the beginning of the Bai Causeway, which is the older of the two main causeways in West Lake. Here, I found more people, and I could only imagine how crowded West Lake must be with nice weather. The dark skies, however, provided for a great backdrop to West Lake when light was slowly dimmed over the lake. The closer I came to Hangzhou city proper, the more people were around, until I reached the main, eastern stretch of West Lake which was full of people going for a stroll. The small rest-places in the lake were lit, and so were the trees and bridges; on top of that, I saw a musical fountain: the Hangzhou-Chinese are certainly doing a great job to make their West Lake shine.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from West Lake (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to West Lake.
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