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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On the West Lake (part 2)

The West Lake 西湖 in Hángzhōu 杭州 may have been celebrated through the centuries by Chinese emperors and poets, but on Sunday it was difficult to see what all the fuss was about. Literally, for the previous night's drizzle combined with the day's haze to dull the skies over China's most famous lake. But as one can't travel to Hangzhou without getting out onto the water, following breakfast we left our hotel and made our way to the nearest pier:

The sky may have been overcast but the sailing was smooth as we traversed the lake:

We got off the boat at the island of Xiăoyíng 小瀛洲, better known as Sāntányìnyuè 三潭印月, which was built up in 1607:

The name Santanyinyue means "Three Flags Reflecting the Moon". The three "flags" are stone pagodas set in the water and are considered one of the defining scenic spots on Xīhú (West Lake). It's difficult in the modern age to see what so transfixed Chinese artists and poets of centuries past - perhaps a photographer should undertake a project to recreate those scenes that supposedly make the lake the very epitome of the Chinese aesthetic:

Looking across the water toward Léifēng Pagoda 雷峰塔. The day before we had climbed to the top floor of the tower to gaze upon Santanyinyue:

We next boarded another boat to travel to the northern shore of the lake:

In need of a taxi, we crossed the road to the Shangri-La Hotel and had the staff hail one for us. The cab took us three kilometers (1.9 miles) to Fēilái Peak 飞来峰. The name of the hill translates as "The Hill that Flew Here" or "Peak Flying from Afar", and is derived from a legend of a hill that supposedly flew to Hangzhou from India. Fēilái Fēng is noted for its 470 Buddhist sculptures carved into the limestone rocks. They date from between the 10th and 14th centuries:

Feilai Peak's other big tourist draw is the Língyĭn Temple 灵隐寺, aka the Temple of the Soul's Retreat. It was founded in 326 by Huì Lĭ 慧理, an Indian Buddhist monk who visited Hangzhou in the 4th century. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt 16 times in its turbulent history:

The Great Hall has a 20 meter (66 feet)-high statue of Siddhartha Gautama, carved from 24 blocks of camphor wood in 1956:

In the rear of the Great Hall is an amazing collection of 150 small figures surrounding Guānyīn  观音, the goddess of mercy:

Other halls contained statues of even more recent vintage than the Great Hall's:

Monks be chillin':

On the way out of the Feilai Feng tourist area:

We took a taxi back to our hotel, retrieved our bags, rode the subway to the train station and made our way back home. The dreary scenery and thick smog made for a dull, though mercifully short, ride back to Shànghăi 上海:

Frankly speaking, unlike some other of China's noted attractions (the Great Wall, the Army of the Terracotta Warriors, the cruise down the Li River), Hangzhou's West Lake doesn't always live up to the hype. The celebrated views that were so inspirational to poets of yore are hard to see these days among the tour groups and souvenir hawkers. Still, if we have time before we leave China, I would like to return to Hangzhou to see some of its other sights and to explore more of its surrounding hills.

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