This was to be another long day of fighting traffic and touring the city and area. First stop – breakfast. This hotel served less western food but the pastries and fruit were enough for me. We got on the bus by 8 a.m. and met our local guide Danny.Danny was a stark change from Michael but he was enthusiastic in his delivery. Our first stop this morning was West Lake. West Lake is freshwater lake located in the historic part of Hangzhou. You can find numerous temples, pagodas, gardens and artificial islands within the lake. It was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011, and was described as having “ influenced garden design” in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea. Over the centuries it has been idealized as “fusion between humans and nature”. This time we went on a boat tour of the lake. The beauty of the lake is marred with the ever present air pollution and the visibility was poor. West Lake is a very popular place both for the locals and tourists and as a result our bus had to park a great distance away. Brian really had a time and his hip started to give him grief, but he soldiered on and we eventually made our way back to the bus and entered the impossible traffic as we head out of town to the Dragon Well Tea farm.
We have been blessed with above average temperatures and today we hit 25. Most of us were not prepared for the warm weather ( although not one person complained). It was a pleasant trip into the hills to see tea being grown and harvested. This area is famous for it’s Longjing tea. Literal translation of the name is “ Dragon Well Tea” and is a variety of pan fried green tea. It is mostly produced by hand and is renowned for it’s high quality and earned the “ China Famous Tea” title. There are many claims of health benefits of Longjing tea including lowering cholesterol, cancer fighting and even weight loss. Rather than drinking 15 cups of the tea daily to achieve health benefits, you can buy concentrated tablets. I bought tea and the tablets…so far they haven’t done anything to help the weight loss! We toured the tea farm, watched how they hand picked the leaves, how they heat the tea leaves ( to stop the fermentation process) and had a short seminar regarding the grading of tea and how to prepare it. We all were treated to a lovely cup of tea and then were told the resulting leaves were edible, and indeed they were. While the tea is expensive, once brewed, the leaves can be reused up to five times…I’ve tried it and it is true. The tea cleans your palette and leaves it sparkling but dry, so you feel the need to drink more tea. Certainly a bonus for someone who doesn’t get enough fluids a day and may contribute to the bladder and prostate benefits they claim!
We left the tea farm and head for lunch but arrived an hour late due to…the TRAFFIC! Talk about organized chaos! After lunch off to the Lingyin Temple. The Lingyin Temple is a premier showcase in the West Lake area and is notable as one of the 10 most famous Buddhist Temples in China and is considered a leading center for research relative to Chinese Buddhist culture. The temple can be traced back to 317 AD and was given it’s name of “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat” by Huili, an Indian monk. Over the years it has been subjected to many changes of fortune, The main building seen today is the result of the restoration carried out in 1974.
We got off the bus and started our trek towards the Temple. Brian was still hurting from the morning walk so opted to stay at the start of the path and wait for us to return. As we start our ascent to the Temple, we come to a place called “Stone Carving at the Peak Flying from Afar.” The peak itself is called “ Peak Flown From Afar”. It was so named by the Indian monk Huili.The peak of limestone ( all surrounding peaks are sandstone) was so different he felt it must have flown from his native home of India…hence.. the given name of Peak Flown from Afar. The caves of this area shelter about 330 stone statues dating from the 10th to 14th centuries. A favorite for many is the “Laughing Buddha.” Legend has it the Buddha has a large belly because he keeps all the world’s troubles in it. Now if anyone has seen my hubby, they will know he has a nice round tummy. While waiting for the group to return, he noticed a local resident watching him and smiling. Eventually the man approached Brian and gave his tummy a rub ( apparently rubbing the laughing Buddha’s tummy will bring good fortune.) Brian laughed but a local guard had issues and appeared to give the man what for! Likely he was told “don’t mess with the tourists!”
We were pleased to be there during a ceremony and saw many monks at prayer, combined with incense, bell ringing, chanting and singing. I found out ( after the fact) photos of the monks is prohibited. Ooops!Once again we saw the worshippers burning incense and creating smoke communications. Following our tour of the Temple we walked up to the Pagoda of Six Harmonies. Some of the data I have looked indicates one can climb up the 7 story pagoda but either it was closed or no one mentioned it. Apparently it provides great views of the Qiantang River where in years gone by, lanterns in the Pagoda’s windows acted as a lighthouse for ships on the river.
During the day our local guide Danny had been telling us of the ancient story of the butterfly lovers.Danny revealed he has been trying for most of the day to arrange enough tickets, for everyone on our tour, to attend the evening show held on the West Lake. The story is loosely based on the “butterfly lovers” tale, which is somewhat similar to Romeo and Juliette in that they are both based on unrequited love. The production called “ Impressions of the West Lake” was developed by Zhang Yimou who created the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Twenty of our group of 26 agreed to pay the additional cost to attend this show. For those of us who did attend, it was an outstanding performance and we hated to see it end. The show opens with music and then the trees on the surrounding islands are cascaded with a variety of color and spot lights. Off in a distance comes this creature dressed in white and seemingly is walking on water. It becomes obvious during the show, there is a very large stage which is about 4 to 6 inches under the surface of the water. On occasion, from this underwater stage, a large triangle rises up and the edges release a cloud from the dry ice, making a surreal scene. The show was breathtaking. You can enjoy the show by logging onto YouTube and typing in “ Impressions of the West Lake.” Single photos and words cannot adequately describe this beautiful production. Though we arrived late back to our hotel room, those of us attending were so glad Danny had been able to get us tickets. We have to be up and have our suitcases out by 715 for another full day of touring tomorrow. We go to bed, happy but tired.
I just can’t resist one more photo of our evening West Lake performance.