Road between Suzhou and Hangzhou, transporting the mulberry leaves for the silk factories
Started the morning in Suzhou
with a a cruise on the Grand Canal leaving from Wu's Gate, named for the general who helped build the area. We cruised through the little houses and shops which still line the canal and are used even now. They look lovely but don't think they'd be great to live in, not least because of the mosquitoes buzzing around the water line. We then visited the "Master of the Nets Garden", the smallest private garden in the city. It started to rain whilst we were in the garden, which looked lovely with droplets hitting the water in the ponds. There were lots of other tourists, mostly Chinese, and we were herded through a painting shop on the way out, but the garden was quite nice.
Old meets new - monk on mobile phone at the Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou
There's a market lane from the garden back to the main street, so interesting to have our first experience of the bargaining required in a market street. Although it's only about 120kms, we took 3 1/2 hours to drive to Hangzhou
, a city very popular with Chinese domestic tourists for it's links with the ancient poems, legends and paintings. The city is quite lovely, with many tree lined streets and surrounded by hills, but also many modern buildings as it's been destroyed many times in revolutions and invasions.
Next day was fairly busy and the weather was very hot and humid until the rain came down, when the evening became very pleasant with a light breeze. We first visited the LIngyin Temple, builti n 326AD.
View from the West Lake, Hangzhou
The gold-gilded, seated Buddha in the main hall is 24.8m high, apparently the largest wood-carving of a seated buddha in China - each ear is over 1m high. The hall was extremely full of people and monks chanting and banging the gong, with a very heady aroma of burning incense. Temples like this are an interesting exercise in extremes - you'll be watching a young monk, shaved head and saffron robes, wandering around such as has been done for centuries, and then he whips out his brand new state-of-the-art mobile phone to call somebody - quite amusing actually! The area around the temple is known as Felai Feng and has many stone statues carved into the mountainside. The paths and caves could be quite dark and slippery, but fascinating to see the carvings in and around the hill in all sorts of nooks and crannies. Next stop was the Six Harmonies Pagoda, dedicated to the six codes of Buddhism. It was once sued as a lighthouse and was thought to have mystical powers to stop the tidal bore which heads up the nearby Qiantong River. We found a lovely garden with a pond and stepping stones, so had a rest from the noise and people. We took a cruise on the West Lake in the afternoon, after a walk through the gardens. The gardens were lovely, very well-kept and interesting plants. The cruise itself was pretty ordinary, it's very difficult to see very much with the constant haze and the boat was so packed to the gunnels that you couldn't move. Afterwards we drove out to the hills to visit the Dragon Well Tea Plantation, one of the most well-known green tea brands in China - drunk by emperors through the ages. The plantation area looks quite prosperous - apparently tea farmers are some of the wealthiest people in China. We were given a tea drinking demostration and then had to walk through the very expensive shop to get back to the coach. Some of our group bought some tea to take back home, but we're not sure whether they would have had to give it up at Customs - would have thought tea would not be allowed, but would be interesting to see how they got on.