Trekking the West Lake
Hangzhou Travel Blog› entry 52 of 174 › view all entries
October 30th, 2009 – by: domnicella
The West Lake is man-made: it started as a marsh and hundreds (if not close to a thousand) of years ago some emperor or another had it emptied and expanded and made into a proper lake. Succeeding emperors further developed the landscaping and had bridges built and temples and pagodas were constructed in the surrounding area. Sounds kind of nice, actually. And from the pictures I've seen, it's beautiful. Being here to witness it for myself is another matter. Photoshop has done WONDERS for this place.
As with everything else in China (although in fairness, to a much lesser extent), the West Lake is dirty and polluted and basically looks like millions of people have come here to take a dump in it. (Come to think of it, that is probably more accurate than I care to admit.) From a distance, it looks almost serene. Once you're actually alongside it, you can see just how filthy (and smelly) it really is. We're not talking pond scum (although there's plenty of that), we're talking bottles and wrappers and a filmy residue of all sorts of chemicals and who knows what across the top. Toxic sludge, really.
I contemplated renting a bike from the hostel (it was pushed on me pretty heavily), with the girl at the desk vigorously shaking her head and adamantly telling me I simply could not walk the lake, it was much too large.
Set out pretty early (see earlier reference to inconsiderate roommates and doors slamming and crates of who knows what being dropped at all hours) and tackled that polluted lake in half a day.
Popped up one pagoda, the famed Leifeng Pagoda. Supposed to give spectacular views of the lake and surrounding area. But with the entrance fee cranked up like we were in Disney World and the haze so thick you couldn't see the sun, there wasn't much to see. That, and the pagoda was constructed in 2001 (yeah, real old), and after climbing up all those stairs and not being able to see for squat I'm going why exactly did I agree to pay that again? To be fair, the original pagoda was built in the first century AD, and burned down in the 1920s. But still. Was feeling a bit cheated on that one.
The rest of the lake was pleasant enough, once you get over the fact that it's filthy and best not to look at the water directly.
As you might imagine, circumnavigating a lake on foot while dodging wayward elbows and airborne wads of spit is somewhat exhausting, and I worked up quite the appetite. I noticed a bright, big, welcoming Indian restaurant just opposite the bus stop the day before, and so kept that as my "you can do it" mantra for the latter half of the lake. It crossed my mind that they might be a dinner-only place and if that had been the case I might have thrown a temper tantrum right there. Much to my IMMENSE delight they were open and better yet -- EMPTY. I know, I know, an empty restaurant isn't a good sign. But you don't understand. I'm in China. The food here is shit. I'll take bad Indian food over good Chinese food ANY DAY.
The waiter came to take my order and I prefaced myself by saying I was going to order A LOT. Translation: don't give me grief for ordering enough food for two. Or fourteen. I'VE EARNED IT. I had myself a FEAST: fresh watermelon juice, an ICE COLD beer (that was downed so fast it'd make my mother proud), a "mixed vegetables salad" that turned out to be an ENTIRE PLATTER of raw sliced carrots and cucumbers and cabbage -- my stomach was so ecstatic and shocked it was squealing with glee, garlic nan, basamati rice, and a piping hot trough of spicy black lentils and red beans cooked together in a terrific curry.
I then ambled back to the hostel to laze away the remainder of the afternoon. I met Ben, a dude from Ghana, who now lives in China full time. We goofed off for a bit and then headed out to a hostel he had stayed at before (much nicer, but booked and hence he was staying here), where we had pizza and two big fresh mango and yogurt shakes each for dinner.
All in all, a MUCH better day than the one prior. Now I just have to figure out what exactly I'm going to do for the next two days. (Enter China's ridiculous rail system, and I can't leave earlier than my scheduled train late Sunday night. Even if I forked over the cash for a whole new ticket they're all long sold out by now. This is going to get old FAST.) Par for the course.
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