We decided to take one of the small ‘human-powered’ boats around the outer lake and the islands. It would give us a better chance to see some of the ancient pagodas and more of the lovers causeway. We could also see, close up, the three ancient stones to hold the monster (dragon) in the lake.
Our boat driver was a little melancholy – we were his last group of customers because by Chinese law he had to retire from being a boat driver AT AGE 50. (Sometimes interesting stories happen by accident. It was random choice that we picked this particular boat.)
His son was inheriting his job. He had been a boat driver for 28 years and inherited the boat and job from his father. Picture 1 shows the boat, boat driver (in the white shirt), his son (in the blue shirt seated on the boat) and the weeping willows. He had just returned from taking his son on a practice trip around the lake. The son stayed on shore when we went for a ride.
You can see the rocks he is standing on, the entire shoreline of the lake and every causeway is edged with rocks like these to keep the shore from eroding. Rocks cover the entire bottom of the lake as well, forming a very stable lakebed.
He used a single oar to row and steer the boat. He told us that most people would just go around in circles if they tried to row the boat with one oar because it took a great deal of skill to row and steer the boat, at the same time, with a single oar.
The first thing he did was pour us hot green tea. We drank green tea throughout the entire boat ride.
We passed by one of the six bridges that are evenly spaced along the entire length of the lover’s causeway. See Picture 2. These bridges allow boats to go to different parts of the ‘private’ lake. You can glimpse more lotus plants through the arch of the bridge.
He told us that the ancient tradition was to walk with your wife on the causeway in the day and your lover at night. He also added that it could be the wife with a lover, not necessarily the husband. But it was from this (ancient?) tradition that the causeway got its name – lovers causeway.
The arch of these bridges is a classic Chinese design. Most ‘westerners’ (their term for any non-Asian foreigner) are familiar with a Roman arch – which is an arch equal to exactly half of a circle. This arch goes beyond the halfway point. The concrete ‘handrail’ was added in the 20th century, the rest of the arch is over a thousand years old.
The lovers causeway is very wide – about 50’ and each bridge is about 25-30’ wide. Most of the other causeways were about half this wide. In the private lake they were even narrower – about 10’ wide.
Moving out into the lake we could see the three islands, the white snake pagoda (not it's real name - but what everybody called it) and the three stones to hold the monster in the lake. Looking back towards the shore you could see that there were many small pagodas on the surrounding mountains; placed there to view the lake from a distance.
Picture 3 shows a small pagoda off in the distance and a boat identical to the one we are in, in the foreground of the picture. You can see the boat driver using the single oar to row and steer simultaneously. The line of bright green trees between the lake and the ‘mountain’ is the lovers causeway.
The white snake pagoda can be seen in picture 4. This is the pagoda that keeps the white snake from seeking out a prince, as told in the Song Dynasty Opera. It has been ‘holding down’ the white snake for over a thousand years, and keeps her from swimming around the lake, looking for another prince.
Originally constructed over a thousand years ago, the pagoda has collapsed three times – twice due to earthquakes and once due to fire. There is some question among the locals as to whether or not the pagoda, after these disasters, is still holding the white snake down.
If you remember from my blog on the Song Dynasty Opera, one of the scenes of the opera was the human form of the white snake, with her best friend the green snake, meeting her prince charming on the broken bridge – the actual bridge is shown in picture 5.
The bridge has never been ‘broken’ it is just that snow covers the top of the bridge in winter making it look like two unconnected arches. The myth of the white snake and the prince has been important to the history and culture of Hangzhou for over a thousand years.
Near the white snake pagoda, are a group of three carved stones sitting out in the outer lake, fairly close to the north shore. Picture 6 shows the pagoda and in the lower left-hand corner of the picture is one of the three carved stones.
A close-up view of one of these stones is shown in picture 7.
On the evening of the August 15 full-moon festival, also called the festival of 32 moons, the small upper openings of each of the three carved stones are filled with candles, with reflectors behind each candle and a paper ‘window’ across each opening.
Five candles make five reflections on the lake, so there are ten of the 32 ‘moons.’ There are three stones – so the total for all three stones is 30 moons. The real moon and its reflection make the last 2 – all together: 32 moons.
The tradition is that the stones rest on top of the lake monster keeping it from escaping from the lake. They must be doing a good job because apparently no one has seen the lake monster in the past eleven hundred years.
The stones serve another purpose as well. They are indicators of the depth of the water in the lake. If the water begins to rise on the stones it is an early warning that there might be flooding in Hangzhou. They have served this purpose since 950 AD when they were first constructed.
Think for a minute how good the Chinese engineering was at the time – these stone carvings were constructed and put in place before the lake was filled. They have a precisely located water line and various flood lines before any water was put in the lake.
The three islands in the middle of the outer lake were built up out of the material removed to form the lakes. This is also true for all of the causeways, and there are lots of causeways, as well as other, smaller, islands. Two of the islands, with the city in the background, can be seen in picture 8.
The lakes range from 6’ to 16’ in depth. The shorelines quickly drop off to about 6’ in depth once you are about 3’ from shore and the center of the lake is about 16’ deep. A thousand years ago it would have taken a great number of laborers years to scrape out the dirt and line the lakebed with rocks. Everything was constructed by hand.
The lake draws its water from the Qiantang River and the flow of the river is such that water in the lake is completely replace every 32 days via underground pipes – also built in 950 AD. I will say that there are no dead fish or other odors in the lake. Not even gasoline or oil smells – only human-powered and electric boats are allowed on the lake.
There are no dead fish smells because there are no fish, to speak of, left in the lake. It was fished out many years ago. However, there is a famous restaurant I was told about located on the shore of the lake that has been open for over one hundred years and boasts that it only serves West Lake fish. They bring fish in from all around Hangzhou and put them in a holding pond in the lake for a couple of days. So ‘officially’ they are all West Lake fish.
The Qiantang River runs beside, and through, Hangzhou and connects to the Yellow River. You can see the river from my hotel room. It is considered a ‘small’ river – because it is not very long. It is quite broad, maybe as much as 800 to 1200 feet wide as it flows through Hangzhou.
I took a picture of the skyline of Hangzhou from the center of the outer lake. This is shown in picture 9.
There is nothing remarkable about this picture; in fact, it is difficult to make out all of the buildings because they are so small. However, there is one amazing fact – none of these modern buildings existed prior to 1985. It is expected that Hangzhou will grow from its current population of 6.5 million to over 9 million in the NEXT 5 YEARS. There is an enormous amount of construction occuring all over the city.
There are many bridges on the lake. One of the ‘ancient’ bridges is very small. It is shown in picture 10.
It is a ‘new’ ancient bridge because it is only 900 years old. Apparently that new-ancient explanation makes sense in Chinese. The causeway to the bridge, as well as the bridge itself, is only about 4’ wide. It is located next to the ‘singing willows lane,’ our last attraction to visit on West Lake.
We walked along the ‘singing willows lane’ for about 200 yards. It is shown in picture 11.
This is a beautiful stone walkway running along the East (city) side of the West Lake. There are willows on both sides of the path, with new ones planted every year. Millions of crickets live in the trees and they are constantly chirping – ‘singing.’ They did make an incredible sound. I won’t say it was peaceful, but it was pleasant, and considerably louder than expected.
The singing willows lane led us past our rest place to get a small snack and get out of the heat – an Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop. It has been in Hangzhou for about 10 years. However, it was not like any Häagen-Dazs I have ever seen. It was a sit-down restaurant complete with waitress and menus. Häagen-Dazs is considered a very ‘up-scale’ dining experience.
The entrance to the Häagen-Dazs, shown in picture 12, looks like your average H-D, so does the counter right inside the entrance. However, if you make a right turn once you enter, a hostess in the dining room can seat you. The dining room is shown in picture 13. It is an all glass room – including three walls and the ceiling. I would not want to pay the air conditioning bill for that room.
You can see one of the waitresses standing in the middle of the picture – wearing the red outfit with a silk scarf and red hat.
They served ice cream drinks like I have never seen before as well. The one I order ‘Green Tea Fantasy’ is shown in picture 14.
The glass was about 14” tall. The total cost for three ice cream treats - $45! The same price we paid for a 7-course seafood dinner for 3.
If you are wondering what restaurant was next door to Häagen-Dazs it is shown in picture 15. You can just make out the sign through the trees.
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