Over the hills and far away (Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China)

[ See the GPS Track of this trip on Komoot ]

I got up early and left the hostel without any breakfast. I walked along the streets until I came to a tunnel, where I found a path in the woods. There was a pavillon which should have invited me to rest and stay for a while, but instead it disgusted me with the smell of rubbish and overflowing trash cans, not a good first impression of a nature preserve area.

Soon I became aware of a man in front of me, he was carrying speakers with him and listened to Chinese music while he went after his business. It seemed like he was looking for mushrooms or anything like that. The air was warm and humid, which made it thick and heavy, you could literally feel its weight on your tongue. I arrived at a small crossroad soon and didn`t know if I should walk straight or turn left to climb up the stairs I saw. The unspoken question was answered without words by a man, who smiled at me and pointed at the stairs before he overtook me. When I arrived on top of the hill after just a few steps I found three other men, construction workers. They all had a puzzled look in their eyes when they saw me, a `laowai` (foreigner) in outdoor attire. They asked me something in Chinese, that I didn`t understand at that time, but I understood when they asked me if I´m a ‚meiguoren‘ (American).

I entered the sacred place and instandly had the smell of joss sticks in my nose and the sound of singing and humming monks in my ears. I crossed the yard in the middle of the temple and went to the rear side of the main building. This was were I realized the whole beauty of that place. Approximatly 200 metres above the Westlake I could see how green everything looked from there. I could taste the fresh air, which was filled with the scent of fresh and humid Vegetation.

I didn`t stay too long and followed the stairs and paths down on the eastern side of the hill and soon arrived another temple, midst in the forest, and only accessible from the way I was walking on. It was smaller than the first one but it´s opulent interiour decoration made it definitely more impressing than the first one. I was totally caught off guard when a monk told me „no photo!“. After admiring the temple for some minutes I left and had to pause for a moment. A group of Chinese tourists and their guide came up from another path and blocked the crossroad at which I wanted to go up to the next hill. People greeted my with a friendly „Hello! Where are you from!“ and I answered them and walked on.

After a while I found a smaller muddy and stony path with lots of rocks and stones. Due to the climate I was already sweated and thirsty, but I wanted to get dirty and chose the more unconvenient detour. I walked on until I came to a street which seemed like a gathering spot for elderly people. Back then my Chinese was pretty much useless and I couldn`t understand anything, but in retrospective I believe that what I saw was a marriage market. Parents tried to find partners for their children, by announcing things like the age, annual income and special skills to other parents.

I crossed the street and came closer to the Revolutionary Martyr Monument. I walked up the stairs and until I stood in front oft the building, a result of classical communist architecture. Some youngsters were posing for a photo with a red flag and I watched them for some seconds before moving on. I didn`t feel like learning more about the history of communism in China and surrounded the complex.

Just in the moment when I took a deep breath and decided it´s time for a break I heard a sound I hadn´t heard it in a long time. It was the melody of what seemed to be at least a hundred birds. I wanted to find out where they were and once more I found myself climbing up some stairs. When I arrived at the small pavillion I didn`t know what to think. I was amazed by the beauty but could also see now, that all those beautiful birds were caged to be sold by the men who brought them here. I walked for some more minutes and sat down to have some cookies and water. Just a couple of metres away, behind some trees, people were exercising TaiChi and I watched them for a some time.

I left a while later and came to a small pagoda in the woods where music was playing. An old chinese man was singing and people listened to him joyfully while enjoying the view over Hangzhou. From there it didn`t take too much time until I passed the City God Pavillon. Children were playing on rocks and adults stood nearby talking and enjoying the day. It was already about noon and the sun was burning on my face, even under the trees. When I arrived at Hefang Lu some minutes later I didn´t even realize the ancient looking pedestrian area, I was too focused on my route. It should bring me to my next destination, the promenade at the Westlake

But before I arrived there I went through another park and came to a triangular square. Women were exercising TaiChi and people were watching them. I checked my map and walked along the promenade for quite a while. My next destination was the LeiFeng Pagoda, but I still had some kilometres to walk until I would arrive there. People passed by, some were greeting me, some were looking at me curiously, some told their children to try talking to me to exercise their English. I passed some small tea houses, shops and men offering tours with their boats. Parents and grandparents were treating children with ice cream and couples enjoyed the sunny day.

After a not too long walk I wondered what people were looking at at the square by the crossroad I just had arrived. There was small bridge over a tiny bay and a bride was standing on it. A photographer was taking pictures of newlyweds with the LeiFeng Pagoda and Hangzhou’s beautiful green hills in the background. It was obviously a popular spot for this kind of photo shooting, since other couples have already been standing in line. I followed my route until I finally arrived at the pagoda and soon stood on a square at the foot on the LeiFeng Pagoda. When I saw the masses of tourists and guides waiting to buy tickets I decided not to go in there and since I didn´t have too many plans for the next day I would come back by bike and see the nearby Jingci Temple, too. I left the elegant tower behind and arrived a small harbour. Once more pagoda boats and smaller boats were waiting for tourists. When I checked my map, I realized I was already on the dam that parted the Westlake from north to south, two thirds on its eastern and one third on the western side.

I entered Huangang Park and went through it, admiring ponds, small bamboo forests and the whole ensemble in general before leaving it on the other side. I bought some water at the exit of the park and crossed the street to walk southwards, passing an outdoor museum about architecture in various regions and eras of China. Soon the city seemed distant and I could feel that I was leaving the urban environment. I could hear the noise of a small waterfall and the wind in the trees.

The scent of humid air couldn´t hide that it was going to rain soon when I arrived at a somehow mystical square in the woods. There were stairs and ponds, all green from vegetation, not because of gardening, but because people abandoned it. It was a memorial for a unit of the red army that fought in those hills in the revolution. The light that fell through the trees gave this place a kind of morbid beauty.

There was no more trace of urban life behind this memorial, since all I could see there were tea fields and the forest. The city seemed distant and I enjoyed the shades of green. But it didn´t take long until I arrived the highest point of this path, follwing the stairs down to the village on the other side of the hills. I passed houses on a muddy path and two men were surprised when they saw me coming down from the woods. I was back in the town where I started my trip in the morning and it was about early afternoon.

I didn´t want to go back and still had most of the day, thus I followed the road trough the hills and left the village. Just some minutes later the expected downpoor started and I looked for shelter at a bus stop close to the next village. I waited with a bunch of people until the bus arrived, they left and I stayed. When the rain seemed to stop I walked on, but after just a couple of metres I had to look for a dry place again. This procedure repeated once more until I decided I´m soaked anyways and don´t care about the rain anymore. Don´t think I was unprepared, but the rain was heavy enough, that even my raincoat couldn´t hold it back anymore. An old man on the other side of the street was watching me and smiled, I answered with a smile and left, still following this road. People in their houses with opened fronts and living rooms looked and smiled at me at I walked along the road, that slowly became a small river.

I walked on and didn´t really care about anything for a while until I arrived in the town of Longjing and found myself in a beautiful valley of green. There was tea growing everywhere and a small pavillon on a hill in the middle oft he valley looked so inviting that I just had to go there. Men were sitting there, laughing, joking and playing cards. They drank tea and some people gathered around them, watching their play. A couple was standing on the stairs I had just climbed up and was talking in the rain. Another couple under the pavillon smiled at me too. I was slowly feeling cold now and decided it was time for some tea in one of the tea houses in the village. I sat down, drinking Longjing LüCha, watching people, talking, laughing, playing cards and doing whatever they did.

When I left this town I didn´t take a bus or taxi I was walking back along the road, in the middle of a downpoor, cold but with a smile on my face. The girl at the front desk of the hostel didn´t really know how to react when I went inside. I was soaked, dripping, exhausted and dirty but smiling.

[ See the GPS Track of this trip in Komoot ]


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