Travel to Paradise in China- Hangzhou
With spectacular natural beauty and a cultural heritage dating back over a thousand years, Hangzhou is one of China’s most attractive cities for travel. The Chinese say that in heaven there is paradise, while on earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou. One of China’s earliest travel addicts, Marco Polo, went as far as to say that Hangzhou was “the most beautiful and elegant city in the world". Now if an Italian from Venice says a city is beautiful, you know it is good.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang and is located the Yangtze River delta 180 kilometers south west of Shanghai. Hangzhou is also the southern terminus of China’s Grand Canal that extends to Beijing.
Hangzhou City was founded 2200 years ago during the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC) but did not have a city wall until 591 during the Sui Dynasty (581-618). Hanngzhou was the capital of the Wuyue Kingdomg from 907 to 978 and later during the tenth century was one of China’s leading cultural centers.
Hangzhou was the new capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (960-1127) in 1123 until China’s defeat by the Kublai Khan and his merry men in 1276 as they raped, pillaged and massacred their way through China. During this period, Hangzhou was estimated to have had a population as high as one million, making it the largest city in the world at that time.
After the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) commenced and established Beijing as the capital of China, Hangzhou lost prominence and later went into decline when its harbor slowly silted up during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Hangzhou owes much of its popularity as a tourist destination to the charm and natural beauty of the West Lake. West Lake has a history almost as old as Hangzhou itself and the original West Lake formed over 2000 years ago with the sedimentation of the Qiantang River. During China’s famed Tang Dynasty (618-907), the lake was nearly double its current size. Around the middle of the Tang Dynasty, the lake had dried up due to mismanagement so a new dyke and dam system was built, causeways were constructed and the lake extensively developed.
Over the last thousand or so years the West Lake has been a major tourist attraction and cultural drawcard with continuous development and maintenance such as dredging and the creation of islands. The Three Pools Mirroring the Moon is the lake’s largest island and Mid-Lake Pavilion is the oldest island.
The actual West Lake Scenic Area or park is in the southwest of Hangzhou city center and covers 60 square kilometres. The lake itself is 5.6 square kilometres.
Mausoleum of General Yue Fei
Yue Fei lived from 1103 to 1141 and was a hero and brilliant general who won many battles for his Emperor. Unfortunately he was betrayed by an evil and corrupt politician and killed. He is regarded as a national hero and his Mausoleum was built commemorate him as a great hero.
This mausoleum is well worth seeing because despite being rebuilt and renovated a number of times, it has beautiful grounds and the shrine with a statue of General Yue Fei in the centre is stunning. The mausoleum holds the tombs of Yue Fei and his sons and dates back to the 12th century.
Six Harmonies Pagoda (Liuhe Pagoda)
Regarded as one of the master pieces of Chinese ancient architecture, the Six Harmonies Pagoda is well worth a look see. The pagoda was originally built in 970, destroyed in 1121 and rebuilt completely again in 1165. The pagoda is located on Yuelun Hill besides Qiantang River
The pagoda is octagonal in shape and has a height of 59.9 meters. From the outside the pagoda appears to have thirteen floors but it only has seven floors. Each floor consists of four elements and the ceilings have fascinating carvings and paintings. Climbing to the top of the pagoda is a must because of the views of the river and the famous Qiantang river bridge.
Ling Yin Temple
The Ling Yin Temple’s claims to fame is its the largest and wealthiest Buddhist temple in China, it is one of the 10 most famous Buddhist temples in China and it is the leading research center into Chinese Buddhist culture.
The temple was founded during in 328 during the Jin Dynasty (317-420). At its peak during the Five Dynasties period (907-960) under the patronage of the then King of Wu Yue state, the temple consisted of nine buildings, eighteen pavilions, seventy-seven palaces and halls with over thirteen hundred rooms. The temple housed roughly three thousand monks. The temple has gone through many changes, developments and restorations since then with the most recent restoration made in 1974.
Solitary Hill (Gu Shan)
With a height of 38 meters above sea level, Solitary Hill is the smallest hill in the West Lake area but don’t let this diminutive height put you off. Solitary hill is on the largest island in West Lake surrounded by water, is a breathtaking sight. Solitary Hill provides stunning views of the surrounding lake and includes landmarks such as Crane Pavilion and Qin Jin’s tomb.
This hill is called solitary because it stands alone surrounded by water not because it is empty of people so don’t go there expecting to have the whole place to yourself. Over 20 millions tourists visit Hangzhou a year and a large number of them travel to Solitary Hill!
Bike Riding – Hangzhou is bike friendly with most roads having dedicated bike lanes and ideally suited for quiet, leisurely bike rides. The city is covered in bike rental stations where you can easily hire bright red bikes (just in case the locals don’t already know you are a tourist) and very low prices.
The bike stations will provide you with free maps so you can spend the whole day riding around West Lake, visiting the Six Harmonies Pagoda and sampling Hangzhou’s delicious dishes.
Ferry down the Grand Canal – The grand Canal is the canal between Beijing and Hangzhou and is the longest artificial river in the world. The canal is divided into seven different sections and you can catch ferries and water buses for tours in Hangzhou section of the canal for tours ranging from 30 minutes to two hours.
From inside China, trains are normally the easiest way to travel to Hangzhou with 4 daily services from Beijing (1650 kilometers) and 45 daily services from Shanghai (200 kilometers). If possible, I recommend you take the Shanghai-Hangzhou fast train that has a maximum speed of 350 blistering kilometres.
From outside China you can fly straight into Hangnzhou’s Xiaoshan international airport. Many countries such as Australia (yaayyyyy), Germany, India and Japan provide direct flights to Hangzhou.