Monday, August 26, 2013


Unseen Beauty, Unforgetable Hangzhou 

In the Song Dynasty, the great poet Su Dongpo wrote a poem extolling the beauty of Hangzhou’s West lake, comparing the world famous landmark to the divine lady xizi (one of the four ancient beauties).

Charming she looks whether richly made up or only slightly so,

Lovingly my eyes dwell on every familiar sight.

The lakeside vie I’ll miss most sadly of all.

While there is no disputing the magical influence the West Lake has had on poets, painter, scholars, historical figures, residents and tourists for hundreds and even thousands of years, the entire Hangzhou region exudes a near mystical appeal.

The city has had a colorful and turbulent history. Founded during the Qin Dynasty and renamed Hangzhou, meaning “river-ferrying prefecture” in around 589 AD, it was the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdom period. In 1856 the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom occupied Hangzhou and more recently, the city was ruled by the Republic of China government under the Kuomintang from 1928 to 1949

Even the legendary traveler Marco Polo visited the city. When he arrived in the 13th century he declared, “It is the most beautiful and elegant city in the world.”

The exquisite West Lake, dotted with ancient temples, pagodas, gardens and teahouse, is the timeless soul of the city. Located in the middle of Hangzhou and surrounded by mountains on three sides, it is divided by causeways into five areas, taking in a large natural island and three small man-made islands. The inspiration for some of China’s most famous gardens, it was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2011.

But the rest of Hangzhou is no less beguiling, offering numerous unique attractions just waiting to be discovered. For example, Lingyin Temple, or ‘retreat of souls’ in Chinese, believed to be the oldest Buddhist temple in the city.

Equally unmissable is Hefang Street, a mile long pedestrian walkway decorated in an authentically ancient style. The emperor’s palace was once built beside it, making it the economic and political center of Hangzhou. Most of the shops on the street have a history of more than 100 years and sell typical Hangzhou products such as excellent quality silk fabrics and garments, Hangzhou Longjing (Dragon Well) tea, considered one of China’s best, and Wangxingji paper fans.

At 4,4 sq miles, XiXi Wetland Park is the first of its kind in China, featuring numerous animals, including endangered and rare plants, birds, fish and frog species. A temple and several historic houses make for an fascinating visit.

 Another major draw is the delicious local cuisine. Restaurants serve classic Hangzhou dishes such as West Lake vinegar fish, Dongpo pork, Longjing shrimp, beggar’s chicken, steamed rice and pork wrapped in lotus leaves and lotus root pudding.

Shopping is also a fun experience for visitors. As well as the colorful markets that offer a more contemporary retail experience.
Hangzhou Tourism Commission is counting on these and other local attraction to draw in more international tourists. An ambitions overseas advertising campaign featuring the slogan, “Unseen Beauty, Unforgettable Hangzhou” backs up an ‘internationalization’ strategy currently making it easier for tourists to travel freely to one of china’s most important tourism cities.

The cool, dry, springtime weather makes it ideal to visit now and the city is keen to show what it can offer. It’s a perfect time to explore Hangzhou’s unseen beauty, and discover for yourself what makes it quite so unforgettable!

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