Hangzhou: Lakes, Pavilions & Tea Plantations...

Waking up to a new day in Hangzhou, I was more than ready for my third China Highlights tour that would take me to the best sights in town! From the idyllic views over West Lake to lunch at the Chenghuang Pavilion I was in for a royal treat, I even had the opportunity to pick my own tea leaves! Do I believe in the supposed healing wonders of Chinese Medicine! I just don't know!

Picked up bang on time, my tour guide May introduced herself and informed me on the day's itinerary. I was very much looking forward to seeing the beauty of West Lake, living in a city that famed for it's 'East Lake' I was excited to see the difference. Beating the crowds wasn't difficult even though the day had been dubbed the country's 'Spring Outing' it was onto the waters of West Lake to snatch those photos! The sky was a perfect light blue and the weather behaved itself impeccably, I couldn't believe how magnificent the views were that captured glimpses of the outstanding Chenghuang Pavilion and Leifeng Pagoda. Getting off the boat in the middle of the lake at an island called 'Fairy Island' this small space served all round views of West Lake's natural and undisturbed beauty. Keeping a one Yuan note, I was looking for three floating pagodas being the symbol of Hangzhou. It goes without saying West Lake slayed! 

Being the height of the Tomb Sweeping Festival break it was a trifle busy around West Lake, a natural landmark that draws its fair share of tourists to Hangzhou. I had seen so many photos before my visit to West Lake but after pushing those aside I was amazed! Being in China for almost twenty-two months to that point I was used to the numbers of people that were pushing alone the narrow path of the island. Finding a break in the crowd I managed to take look at three floating pagoda's from the enchanted 'Fairy Island', the 'Three Pools Mirroring the Moon' sat waiting for me to gaze at, I had made it to one of the sights that's depicted on the One Chinese New Yuan note (RMB). Pardon the phrase but my next money shot will be of the Potala Palace in Tibet as the fifty Yuan note features that sacred place. Visiting West Lake that April morning was just the ticket, bowled over by the delightful scenes I felt content. Wuhan's East Lake sure had competition, I'll give this corker to Hangzhou! 

Chenghuang Pavilion was next on the agenda, located on top of Wushan being a prominent hill that's just south of Hangzhou's old city. I managed to catch a quick glimpse of this heavenly pavilion during the short boat trip across the unforgettable West Lake. Known as City of God Pavilion, this well known Hangzhou figure stood proud in a burgundy tone. Taking the newly installed lift to a higher floor it was time to take a break and have a series of Song Dynasty snacks. Including Hangzhou style cat's-ears noodles, wrapped up fried bread sticks with shallots and local moon cakes that were in the shape of the 'Three Pools Mirroring the Moon'. That light lunch was just what I needed, refueled and ready I wanted to see if the view from Chenghuang Pavilion's top floor was something else, I wasn't mistaken for a sweeping scene of West Lake was presented to me effortlessly. It may have been brief but it was amazing! Get it, Hangzhou!

A change in the schedule meant a visit to the China National Tea Museum was changed to the Museum of Chinese Medicine instead. I'm not one for museums but I embraced that moment, I immediately recognised the smells of Chinese Medicinal products as my Great-Granddad favoured Chinese Tiger Balm for any ailment no matter what the problem was he swore by it into his later years of life. Passing through the many exhibits it did make me think about how my Chinese friends feel towards the ways of Chinese Medicine, they really don't trust some of it and they would only resort to it if the needed was so great that conventional medicine didn't have the answer. I tasted some tea, it tasted light and fresh but as soon as I found out it was for liver repair I bought a whole bag of the stuff, I know my alcohol beaten liver will thank me for that purchase. Outside of the museum lay such an overcrowded tourist infested cultural street that I didn't appreciate, thankfully May had a plan B!

I dozed off on the way to the final part of my outstanding day touring around Hangzhou, arriving within the heart of the Meijiawu Tea Village it was already proving to be a show-stopper of a visit even before I stepped out of the car. Introduced to a local tea expert I learnt this lady was the only person in the whole village who gave visitors the chance to pick their own tea leaves. Climbing high into the tea plantations I wore a straw hat and had a basket tied to my waist. The friendly tea expert came from a very successful tea producing family and she certainly knew her tea well. I was schooled in how to pick a tea leaf correctly, I tried my best to apply the technique not to break the smaller bit of the shoot so the leaf would regrow in the next season. I wasn't as fast as the tea expert was, I wanted to take the whole experience, capturing some sensational snaps during my time at the plantation! Was it time for tea?

Leaving the heights of the tea plantations I was guided to the tea experts house to watch her perform a tea ceremony, there was going to be some serious tea making going on! I was being schooled for sure! The art of the tea ceremony and the patience involved was something to remember, there's really no time for us western folk when its time for a cuppa! It's really made me think each time I make a cup of tea after that sight. It was evident to see that the village had changed since the popularity of the Green Tea produced from the plantations, the families of the village who grew tea no longer spent the back breaking work to pick the leaves, it was evident to see the rich tea had served these families into a wealthy and prosperous status. From the very beginning of that full-packed trip around Hangzhou's best sights I was impressed with the consistent service quality that China Highlights delivered. It was a case of third time lucky, I see a fourth in the future for certain! Done!

Hangzhou's My Cuppa!

Joseph Harrison 


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