West of the Lake
Feilai Feng and Lingyin Temple
A couple of miles west of the lake, this large temple complex and the adjacent statue-laden hillside comprise Hangzhou’s premier attraction and are both must-sees. Unfortunately, this popularity means the area is no longer the place of tranquil retreat it once was and can swarm with huge crowds of domestic tourists – try to come early morning on a weekday. Nevertheless, the collection of ancient (and newer) Buddhist carvings and the grand temple itself makes it worth enduring the masses.
Feilai Feng means the “hill that flew from afar” – named by an Indian monk who visited the region and thought he recognized the limestone hill from back home! On entering the complex to your left you’ll find a collection of Buddhist statues which are modern replicas of famous examples from around the country. While these are impressive and fun, if you proceed a little farther and take any of the narrow trails leading up the slope, you’ll start to uncover what all the fuss is about – the genuine articles. There are 338 Buddhist images carved into the limestone hillside, many of which date from the Song and Yuan dynasties. This is one of the few southern examples of Buddhist cave architecture and, although many were defiled during the Cultural Revolution, they are certainly worth the climb. The higher up the slope you go, the fewer visitors you’ll find and on weekdays you may gain some semblance of the peace for which the site was intended.
Back on the main thoroughfare, continue for a few more minutes and you’ll reach the grand Lingyin Temple. Lingyin Si means “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat” and, although it’s hard to find any kind of retreat in the ever-crowded temple, it is definitely worth a visit. The temple follows the standard Buddhist temple layout and, despite the vast number of visitors, is still a fully functional place of worship with hundreds of monks in attendance. On entry you’ll be greeted by the eversmiling face of Maitreya, flanked by the imposing Four Heavenly Kings. The temple’s most impressive hall contains a 78-foot-tall statue of Sakyamuni, which was rebuilt in 1956 after the central beam fell onto it. In fact, few parts of the temple are original and it has been restored and reconstructed countless times through history, although Lingyin managed to survive the Cultural Revolution intact, thanks to the intervention of Zhou Enlai.
The Tea Museum
A mile southwest of the lake, this interesting museum details the history of tea and tea culture in China and is well worth the trip out of town. The museum’s exhibits are well-labeled in English and are divided into a number of themes covering topics such as tea etiquette, cultivation techniques, varieties of tea and traditional Chinese tea houses. You’ll even find a number of mocked-up traditional teahouses, including Yunnanese and Tibetan examples. If you don’t want to take a bike out, then take bus #27 from downtown and get off in front of the Zhejiang Hotel. From here you can see the museum and walk the remaining half-mile.
Longjing village is one of the most famous tea-producing areas in China, renowned for its light, health-giving brew. In spite of the tea’s high acclaim, Longjing village remains relatively quiet and is a great place to come on a bike ride. Tea is a way of life out here and you’ll smell it in the air, see it on the terraces and doubtless be offered a taste, in the hope you’ll buy some. Visiting the village also offers a glimpse into tea production, and provides the opportunity to see leaves being cut, dried, graded and stored in traditional fashion.
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