As an old Chinese saying goes, ‘Up above there is heaven, down below there are Suzhou and Hangzhou’. Hangzhou has long been praised as a heavenly city, and in this heavenly city, it is the West Lake that shines the brightest.
For centuries, the West Lake has lured numerous scholars, poets and even emperors to Hangzhou, and its unique natural landscape in turn has contributed to the formation of its cultural landscape.
The perfect combination of natural landscape against a cultural setting secured the West Lake a spot on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 2011, adding to the distinctiveness of the lake even more. To get to know the uniqueness of the West Lake better, following the guide below is a good start.
Two Causeways Spanning the Lake
Both Su Causeway and Bai Causeway are built from silt dredged from the West Lake. They are so named to commemorate Su Dongpo and Bai Juyi respectively, who commanded the dredging of the West Lake, who were also significant poets in Chinese history and have also served as the governor of Hangzhou.
With the same background, the two causeways enjoy equal significance in present day Hangzhou, being indispensable parts of the West Lake. Also, both the causeways offer a vantage point to enjoy the West Lake, be it rain or shine.
Bai Causeway stretches westward, starting from the Broken Bridge and ending at a lakeside park called ‘Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake’. It is the only mode of access from the city to Solitary Hill - the only natural island in West Lake. Flanked by peach trees and weeping willows aesthetically planted at regular intervals, the causeway is extremely pleasing to the eye, especially in the spring and summer.
As opposed to Bai Causeway, Su Causeway runs southwards. On the causeway one finds six single-arch stone bridges, hence its other name ‘Six-Bridge Causeway’. With this special element, the causeway and its bridges became the prototype for landscaping in many other parts of China. The causeway is well-known for its two attractions ‘Spring Dawn at Su Causeway’, which ranks first among the ‘Top Ten Views of West Lake’ and ‘Six Bridges in Misty Willows’.
Three Fairy Islets in the Lake
Inside the West Lake lie three islets. The three islets are all built from silt dredged from West Lake, and are named Lesser Yingzhou, Mid-lake Pavilion and Ruan Gong Islet. The islet of Lesser Yingzhou is shaped like the Chinese Character ‘田’ and features ‘a lake within an island and an island within a lake’. Its unique view of the ‘Three Pools Mirroring the Moon’ is ranked among the ‘Top Ten Views of West Lake’.
Mid-lake Pavilion is named after a pavilion built on it which is a typical Chinese traditional architectural structure with dovetail eaves and upturned roof corners, and is the largest on the West Lake.
Rong Gong Islet is the smallest of the three. Boasting of trees and plants of a wide variety, the islet is known for its view named ‘Ruan Gong Islet Submerged in Greenery’ and on the islet are built all-bamboo halls and pavilions connected by stone paths, creating an intoxicatingly serene sense of remoteness from the bustling world around.
Two Pagodas Overlooking Each Other Across the Lake
The West Lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides - on its north side stands Precious Stone Hill, and on its south side Sunset Hill. Erected on the two hills are Baochu Pagoda and Leifeng Pagoda respectively, both of which are important landmarks of Hangzhou.
Different from most pagodas, Baochu pagoda is a solid pagoda with no interior staircase and is said to have been erected to pray for the safe return of the erstwhile king. Its remarkable small base supports a high and heavy pagoda, an evidence of the wisdom and creativeness of the ancient Chinese architects and workmen.
While Baochu pagoda described as an elegant lady, Leifeng pagoda is compared to an old monk. An octagonal five-storied wood-and-brick pagoda, Leifeng Pagoda is a wonderful place to take in a panoramic view of the West Lake and Hangzhou city. Also closely associated with the folklore – ‘Legend of the White Snake’, the pagoda has been a hot tourist attraction for a long time. Inside the pagoda, people can find the woodcut of ‘Legend of the White Snake’ where the romantic love between the White Snake and Xu Xian is vividly depicted.
In Jiande, there is an ancient town that has experienced thousands of years of wind and rain. It has a beautiful name called Meicheng (Plum Blossom Town). Meicheng was the state town of the then Yanzhou and is now the county town of Jiande. It has a history of 1700 years.