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Relax in one of West Lake's pagodas I © xiquinhosilva/Flickr
Relax in one of West Lake's pagodas I © xiquinhosilva/Flickr
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A Guide to Hangzhou's West Lake

Picture of Cathrene Tarukwasha
Updated: 7 June 2017
Over centuries and dynasties, the people of China have maintained a quest to find and curate a harmony between human nature, natural surroundings and the unknown spiritual afterlife. To fully understand this harmony is to visit West Lake in Hangzhou – immortalized in poetry dating back to the Qin dynasty, this UNESCO-listed spot is also upheld as an example of a classical garden throughout Asia. Read on for more about this fascinating attraction in Hangzhou.

Background

Protected by a cascade of mountains and hills on three sides topped with pagodas, terraced tea fields and gentle rolling hills nestled with temples, West Lake is akin to a mythical paradise. The freshwater lake has not only served as a scenic background to romantic folklore and a homage to Buddhist thought, it has also provided a refuge and a source of inspiration for poetry and poets, as well as being a blueprint for classical gardens found today across Japan, Korea and throughout China. In 2011 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, introducing it to the world as a must-see place to visit in China.

West Lake bridge I
West Lake bridge I | © xiquinhosilva/Flickr

The formation of West Lake

West Lake covers an area of 2.5 square miles and forms part of the Qiangtan River basin which flows into the Grand Canal. The streams from the surrounding mountains serve as tributaries which deposit silt, contributing to its shallow depth of only 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) – continuous dredging has helped maintain the lake over the centuries. There are three causeways on the lake and several man-made islets dotted within its boundaries. The most famous of the three causeways is Su causeway, constructed under governor Su Donpo’s instruction. It is marked by two prominent pagodas; Lei Feng Pagoda to the south, and Baochu Pagoda to the north.

How to enjoy West Lake

The best way to fully appreciate the beauty and expanse of the lake is by taking a gondola, or simply by strolling or riding a bike around its circumference along stone-paved pathways. The lake is perfect for strolling lovers and tea sipping retirees, and serves as a sanctuary for flora and fauna. It is also a preferred spot for newlyweds – it’s not uncommon to witness a dozen couples trailed by photography crews around the edges of the lake vying for a picture-perfect pose.

Taking a gondola across West Lake I
Taking a gondola across West Lake I | © xiquinhosilva/Flickr

When to visit

The lake is a year-round attraction, and is stunning whether covered in a white sheet of snow in winter, or bursting with fragrant life during the warmer peach and plum blossom seasons. Since 2007 it has been host to ‘West Lake Impressions‘, a permanent theatrical installation from film maker Zhang Yimou, featuring music, dance and lighting that tells of Hangzhou folklore. The production is shown nightly to sold out crowds and is a perfect way to view the lake at night.

West Lake by night I
West Lake by night I | © J Aaron Farr/Flickr