Thursday, July 05, 2007

Leifeng Pagoda – West Lake Hangzhou

Leifeng Pagodga is located on the banks of the West Lake in Hangzhou. That is only about a one hour drive from Xiaoshan, where I was staying. The previous day I was in a cab where I almost lost my phone and that driver had told me how well known Hangzhou is for its beauty and that people come from all over China to see the West Lake. I personally had never heard of it but I had a whole day to kill before my flight back to GZ so I figured I might as well do some sight seeing. Mr. Lee agreed to take me around for the day for less than $50. And considering he returned my N95 to me which is well worth over $500, I thought his offer was quite fair. Plus he was a very entertaining guy. Xiaoshan and Hangzhou are separated by a river. There are about 6 brides going over the river all of which are spectacular to view. Recently I have become quite engrossed with bridges so far even as to watch shows on Discovery about them. I have seen some beautiful bridges in China.

Once over the bridge we entered directly into what seemed like the West Lake complex. It is a vast protected area compromising of a huge lake, a full mountain range, and various temples, museums for tea and silk, and tea houses open to visitors. The streets were extremely clean and lush with vegetation that was noticeably well kempt. It was as though we had driven into a nature reserve far from the city. There are also numerous walking paths that veer off the main roads and other streets blocked off for pedestrians. There were no toll gates to enter the area as such; it was as if we just drove into a very pleasant neighborhood. Some streets still had houses on them and other government buildings. I was wondering if this is actually the city of Hangzhou!

I was not in the mood to walk around a museum that day so we drove up to the Liefeng Pagoda. It seemed to be the tallest structure in the area, which I could see at least. It is located on the South bank of the West Lake so when we got there I had not even had a clear look at the infamous West Lake as yet. I don’t even know why it is called the West Lake actually. Are there South, North, and East Lakes in the area as well or is it because it is a big lake in the West of China? Whatever the case there is a whole lot of romanticism that surrounds the West Lake in local folklore and specifically the Liefeng Pagoda where legend states is was built to secure a lock of Sakyamuni’s hair. She must have been a princess or something.

Each of the attractions or features at the West Lake has a separate entrance charge. And each attraction was individually managed. The system was bloody flawless. I paid 40 RMB (about $5) for entrance to Liefeng Pagoda and they provided me with this plastic ticket that had a magnetic strip on it. The entrance worked like a subway turnstile and was still regulated by 2 women. Considering it was a weekday and terribly hot, there was a pretty healthy crowd there. Mostly old folks though and a lot of Japanese. If you look at the pictures you will also notice that there is an escalator going up to the base of the pagoda and there are even elevators from there to the top! The shafts are even constructed from glass so as not to intrude upon the visual aesthetics of the environment.

The Liefeng Pagoda was originally built in 997 A.D. and then it collapsed in October of 2002. I do not know what the cause of that was but considering they managed to keep it up into this century they should never have let is fall. The original structure of course had a wooden frame and adopted an octagonal shape which influenced a lot of the architecture and I imagine it also must have been quite a feat to build. The new pagoda has adopted a steel frame but still supports and maintains the integrity of the original structure and its fittings. On the lowest level of the pagoda you can still view the original foundation of the structure and some people even throw money into the area as if it was a wishing well of sorts.

You can either climb up each level of the pagoda enjoying the ancient artwork on each floor or take an elevator to the top. The highest level has a spectacular golden roof and is adorned with some awesome wooden carvings. The balcony is wrapped around the tower providing a breathtaking 360 degree view of the West Lake. I took the time to hold my headphones up against the mic on my digital camera while shooting a full view tour of the West Lake from the top of the Liefeng Pagoda. Take the time to enjoy this 360 degree view.

There were numerous people up there taking pictures, hanging out and being romantic. A better photographer with a better camera could have taken some awesome shots up here but this is the best I could do. I wish I had a better zoom lens to take some shots of the islands within the lake. There were so many precious features studded around the area like quaint bridges or small streams that I could not photograph. The breeze up there was awesome as well being such a blistering day. And although there was a crowd, it was not over bearing. People were quite and patient, making way for other visitors to take pictures and enjoy the scenery without distraction. I have heard people talk about ‘rolling hills’ before but I do not think I have ever seen any first hand till my visit to West Lake. Standing on top of Liefeng Pagoda, the highest man made point on the banks of the West Lake, I felt extremely laid back and at peace.

When Mr. Li gave me all the drama about visiting West Lake I thought he was trying to hook a sucker tourist to screw for the day. But the visit was turning out to be quite a blessing. I had been through a pretty rough week choka-blocked with work and a good nature break is just what I needed. It has only been 2 months that I have been back in Guangzhou but it feels like ages since I have been able to put my mind aside and just take in some beauty. There are numerous attractions to visit on the West Lake but and Liefeng Pagoda is the perfect place to start if like me you enjoy a good arial view of the area you are about to explore.

No comments: