Hangzhou is the most beautiful city in China according to Chinese tourist guides. From a Western point of view, this is hard to comprehend unless you focus your attention not on the city itself but on the Westlake in the west of the city center. About 3 km in diameter, the Westlake and its surrounding area form indeed a most spectacular and beautiful park dominated by the element of water. Several islands with names like "Moon reflected in three ponds" and two artificial causeways (all several hundred years old) allow visitors all kinds of superb views on the city, the lake and the surrounding hills which fram the lake to the north, west and south. These are rather small but steep and covered by dense forests. In the valleys you find old Buddhist monasteries or the plantations of China's most famous green tea (Longjing Tea).

Hangzhou is located some 150-200 kilometers southwest of Shanghai. With only about 4 million inhabitants it is one of the more modestly developing megacities in China. It is of considerable historical importance, though, since it was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and was at that time probably the largest city in the world with an estimated population of 1.2 mill. In historical times, the key to the cities importance was the so-called Grand Canal that starts from Beijing in the north and goes south for almost 2000 kilometers ending at Hangzhou. The canal was completed arround 600 and is of similar significance and dimension as the Great Wall.

To me, the highlight of my trip to Hangzhou was the rock carving of the Laughing Buddha in Lingjing Temple, one of China's foremost Chan (Zen) temples which has largely escaped destruction during the Cultural Revolution.
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