“In the beautiful spring with flowers blooming, we set off for Yangzhou.” This line from a poem of Li Bai from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) has lured millions of travellers each year to the elegant ancient capital with 2,500 years of history.
My recent weekend trip to the city started with the spring countryside view – vast areas dotted with golden rape flowers all along the train tracks.
Upon arriving in Yangzhou, I was first impressed by the city’s urban planning. The railway station is modern and beautiful, roads are very wide unlike those of many small cities, buildings along the city’s main street are all in the same style of traditional Chinese architecture.
Yangzhou’s history can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and recently a king’s tomb from that period was opened to tourists.
The city’s glory days came during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties as an imperial palace, a culture-exchange centre and a strategic port on the Grand Canal, the major transportation route connecting eastern and northern China in ancient times.
It is said that Yangzhou is named after weeping willows (yangliu in Chinese), and after visiting the man-made Slim West Lake, I found the name to be most appropriate. The lake was lined with jade-green weeping willows and blooming peach flowers in red or white with smoky catkins flying in the air.
The best way to visit Slim West Lake is by dragon boats, small boats or canoes. Sipping fresh green tea, tasting delicious snacks and listening to the folk songs by singers, I felt drunk in the warm spring days.
Classic pavilions and bridges are among the most beautiful sights in Yangzhou. The lake is said to boast more than 20 bridges and the most famous -the Five Pavilion Bridge – was built to welcome Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in 1757. The five pavilions symbolize five lotus petals.
Other sights in the park include the White Dagoba Tower modelled after the one in Beijing, and Xiao Jinshan, a small hill in the middle of the lake that is graced by several buildings.
After the boat reached the north end of the lake, I stepped out of the beautiful park and went to the next site – Daming Temple, built in the 5th century. This site is famous for the monk Jianzhen who played an integral role in the development of Buddhism in Japan. After five failures he finally succeeded in crossing the seas and building the Toshodaiji Temple in Nara. In 1973 a memorial hall was built within the Daming Temple honouring Jianzhen and commemorating the renewed friendship between China and Japan.
As a business centre with a prosperous culture, rich citizens in the past built many private gardens with superior designs such as the Geyuan Garden and Heyuan Garden. Geyuan Garden is famous for its more than 40 different types of bamboo and artificial rocks. The pavilions and landscaped rocks were built to evoke the four seasons.
It’s a pleasure to relax in the enchanting teahouses and enjoy the beauty of Heyuan Garden, which was designed in the 19th century.
All scenic spots were crowded with travellers during this golden travelling season. In Geyuan Garden, two travellers fell into a pond as the small stone bridge gave way under the excess of visitors.
I chose to walk along the ancient Grand Canal, where there were also many tourists. With developed road transportation, the prosperity of the waterway has faded away, but a building that melds Chinese and Arabic architectural elements still stands. A closer look revealed this as the tomb of Puhaddin, a descendant of the prophet Mohammed who came to Yangzhou in the 13th century to promote Islam.
I highly recommend Yangzhou cuisine, which is delicious, especially the dumplings. The best restaurants are Fuchun Teahouse and Yechun Teahouse. But, again, too many travellers make for a long wait of at least half an hour for a seat.