This serene natural landscape in Hangzhou has sparked the brush for many poets and painters throughout Chinese history.
Our paddle boat meandered across West Lake (Xī Hú 西湖), a vast, freshwater lake nestled in rolling hills and embraced by mountains on all three sides. Alongside the water, the willow trees seem to glow jade green against the morning mist. The majestic temples, pagodas, and pavilions add a rustic charm to the forestry; the edges of the stone rooftops curve upwards, bidding passing boats an enigmatic smile.
West Lake is located in Hangzhou, the affluent capital of Zheijiang Province. Among the site’s folklore, one legendary tale tells of the joint effort of China’s highly respected mystical creatures — the Flying Dragon and the Dancing Phoenix — that yielded the lush and gloriously green West Lake. As for Hangzhou’s origin story, a single pearl strayed from the heavens; once earthbound, it formed “heaven on earth,” as the city is known.
It’s a small wonder that this serene natural landscape — once an ancient lagoon up until the 8th century — has sparked the brush for many poets and painters throughout Chinese history. A collection of rich, bountiful gardens and courtyards are peppered throughout the lake’s numerous islands; such is their beauty that the rest of East Asia (namely Korea and Japan) model their gardens after West Lake’s design. As an aside, my friend, Ye Bin, a native of Hangzhou, told me that commercial fishermen come to the lake as a source of seafood for local restaurants. Although eel, crab, and carp may lie outside the typical Western palette, give it a try! The way the chefs prepare it, the taste is divine and suits the fare of “heaven on earth.”
With drifting boats and wistful-looking trees fringing the banks, West Lake offers picturesque, fern-green scenery for both residents and visitors. You can also find it on your monetary greens; shì de, that crumpled one-yuan bank note in your anti-theft fanny pack that you carry on all your trips. See the three lanterns floating on water? It’s a replica of a painting of West Lake. Beauty, eh?