>‘In Heaven there is Paradise, on Earth there are Suzhou and Hangzhou’, goes a famous Chinese saying. As I walked around Hangzhou, I could see why the Chinese believe that they have Paradise right here on Earth. It was during the week-long break for the Chinese New Year that I visited Hangzhou and therefore, quite understandably, it was crowded. But strangely, it was still peaceful. There were milling crowds of people; there was noise; there were celebratory fire works. And yet, it was a soothing place to be.
Hangzhou is an ancient city. It has been an Imperial capital, a commercial center, a religious hub and the muse of numerous poets and painters. It impressed Marco Polo so much that he called it ‘the finest and most splendid city in world’.
I had only two days to soak in as much of Hangzhou as I could. The first day was spent visiting a couple of famous monuments.
The Leifeng Pagoda was our first destination. This pagoda, built in AD 975 of wood and bricks, is associated with the famous legend of Bai Suzhen, or Lady White Snake. Little remains of the original building. The picture on the left is of a more recent structure, built over the ruins of the original. The government, has done all it can to make this monument tourist friendly. There’s plenty of parking, restrooms and even escalators for the aged, the indisposed and the plain lazy. I of course took the escalator.
The ruins of the old structure can still be seen inside, preserved behind glass walls. Each level of the Pagoda houses artwork which illustrate the history and the legends associated with it. My favourite were the intricately carved wooden panels which depict the legend of Bai Suzhen.
Our next stop was the Ling Yin temple. It was built by an Indian monk and is one of the ten most famous Buddhist temples of China. Quite frankly, temples bore me. But this one was interesting because of one particular hall which contains the statues of 500 sages. Apparently, every person in the world, resembles at least one of these statues. We discovered one which looked like my Dad and another which looked like my Mum’s brother. Unfortunately, I omitted to take pictures of them.
We devoted the next day to exploring the areas around the West Lake. Walking here is a pleasure. Not only is the view of the lake from the various pavilions gorgeous, but there are numerous cafes and restaurants tucked away behind foliage, and plenty of benches strewn about, on which to sit and contemplate life. That’s what I liked so much about the West Lake. Modernity is not allowed to strike a jarring note here. Every modern convenience is so discreet and blends so well with the natural and historic sites of the place, that it remains beautiful and tranquil.
While it was charming place to be in during winter, Hangzhou is supposed to be at its best in March when the flowers begin to bloom. What little I saw of it, left me convinced that two days is not nearly enough time to really appreciate it. So I’ll be back there in March with my camera, when the willows are green again and when the lotuses bloom in the water. I don’t think I’ve ever been more smitten with a place.