The West Lake, the classical Chinese definition of beauty, is quite enchanting.
Pagoda-crowned hills rise above willow-lined waters, and boats float slowly through the idyllic countryside of laid-back charm. Boardwalks, immaculately placed benches, parks and gardens surrounding the lakeshore offer visitors a thousand and one vantage points to admire the pristine scenery.
Originally a lagoon of the Qiantang River, the lake was only formed in the 8th century when the governor of Hangzhou dredged the marshes. As time went on, the lake’s splendor was gradually cultivated.
Gardens were planted, pagodas were built, and dams and islands were constructed from dredged silt.
The noted poet Su Dongpo himself took part in the development of the lake by building the Su Dam (Sudi, Sudi) while serving as provincial governor in the 11th century. This was not an original idea. The poet and governor Bai Juy built the Bai Dam (Báidī) some 200 years ago. Lined with willow, plum and peach trees, the traffic-free dam with its crescent bridge invites a relaxing excursion.
On the north shore of Baidam lies the lake’s largest island, Gushan Island (啴山島), home to the Zhejiang Provincial Museum and Zhongshan Park. The buildings and gardens on the island were once the site of Emperor Qianlong’s holiday palace and gardens in the 18th century. The island also has a charming seal engraving society. Closed for renovations during research, it is dedicated to the ancient art of carving a personal signature name seal (chop).
The northwest corner of the lake is surrounded by the beautiful Quyuan Garden. The garden spans many islets and is known for its fragrant spring lotus flowers. Near the Xiling Bridge (Xīling Qiáo) is the tomb of Su Xiaoxiao, her 5th-century prostitute who died of grief while awaiting the return of her lover. Her spirit is said to haunt the area and you can hear the bells on her dress at night.
A small island in the lake is the Little British Island, from which you can catch a glimpse of her three pools reflecting the moon, her three small towers on the south side of the island. Each has his five holes that are lit by candles on the Mid-Autumn Festival night. From Xiaoyingzhou Island, you can see the red carp pond where thousands of red carp swim.
Impromptu opera singing, ballroom dancing, and other cultural activities are frequent around the lake. If the weather permits, don’t forget to head to the east bank for a photo of the sun setting over the West Lake.
Although rarely needed, musical fountains come to life at regular intervals throughout the day and night near Lakeview Park.
Congestion can be a serious problem here. Especially beware of public holidays when all Chinese vacationers seem to be strolling around the lake. Leave early in the morning to escape the crowds. It’s also the perfect time to catch a quiet Tai Chi session or two on the lakeshore. The best way to explore the lake is by bike or on foot.