|China July 2009 part I: Hangzhou|
|'Why are you going to Hangzhou in July, it is hot and hazy in that time of the year?', several friends asked us when they heard about our plan for a China trip. |
The answer was simple: because there will be a total solar eclipse in that region on July 22.
So we booked an Air Asia flight and made a hotel reservation for the first few days, because it was to be expected that many thousands of tourists would flock to Hangzhou, Suzhou or nearby Shanghai.
Before landing, around 1pm, the pilot announced that the weather in Hangzhou was good, with a temperature of 39 C. Wow, that was hot, very hot.
We took a taxi to our hotel, a nice place but very far from town.
First we had lunch in a small stall near the hotel, where Aric, who can speak Mandarin fluently, had no problem ordering nice and very cheap food.
We decided to explore the famous West Lake first, the center of old Hangzhou. On foot! We must have walked about 13 km that afternoon. It was really hot, even on the two causeways, Su Di and Bai Di, that cross the lake.
Exhausted and very thirsty we had dinner in the New Bailu restaurant. Food is cheap and beer even cheaper. We took a taxi home. Why are you staying so far from the town, the driver asked us...:-)
The next day we asked the friendly hotel owner about the public transport, which turns out to be cheap and efficient. First we visited the Jinci Si temple and the Lei Feng pagoda, constructed in 975, but completely rebuilt in 2002. We tried to avoid long walks, after a vegetarian lunch we went back to the hotel for our siesta. In the afternoon we took the bus to the town center and the Wu Shan pagoda, where we watched the sunset. But it became cloudy, not an auspicious sign for the next morning!
And indeed, the next morning the sky was completely overcast...:-(
We had decided to watch the eclipse near the Qiantang river, this river is famous because of tidal bores.
Thousands of people had assembled near the river, everybody was watching the sky, it looked like the cloud cover was getting thinner. And really, on and off the sun became visible through the clouds. The cloud cover had the advantage that we did not need protective filters and we could even take pictures.
Totality was getting nearer and nearer. And then a miracle occurred. An opening in the cloud cover was also approaching. Just in time! Just before totality, the corona becomes already visible, while the moon is blocking the last direct sun rays. This is called the "diamond ring" and we have seen it! Then the corona. Not perfect, stars did not become visible, but it was enough to become a bit emotional.
The totality lasted for about 6 minutes and it it is over before you know it...:-) It is nice to observe it with so many may people, and feel the collective excitement.
So, mission accomplished, I hope we will get another chance to observe a total eclipse. It is really worth the effort.
We stayed at the river for a while, but no tidal bore (seems to be huge only at the equinox in September). We climbed the pagoda and walked in the park with an interesting collection of miniature replica's of Chinese pagodas.
In the afternoon we visited the Lingyin Si temple and the Feilai Feng Hill. Feileng Feng (The Hill That Flew Here) is famous for the hundreds of Buddhist sculptures carved into the limestone rocks. Lingyin Si is one of the biggest temple complexes in China, and was founded in 326. It is a working temple with many monks. I did not know that it is not allowed to take pictures inside the temple halls, sorry....
After this exciting but strenuous start of our trip, we decided to skip Shanghai and and stay a few days more in Hangzhou. We moved to a hotel nearer to the town center and had a relaxed day near the lake. The next day we visited the Longjing village, where the most famous (and expensive) green tea of China is grown. A nice change, it was not hot anymore, beautiful countryside. We had an exquisite lunch in the village, deep fried shrimps with Longjing tea leaves, yummie.
And then it was time to move to our next destination, Suzhou. See part II