Xishan - Earthbound Heaven by Taihu

Two thousand and five hundred years ago during Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), the king of the Wu Kingdom, Fuchai, and his concubine Xishi, one of the four Chinese ancient beauties, spent their summer days in Xishan Town, an island on Taihu Lake. Today, so can you.

Taihu Lake, China's third largest fresh water body in East China's Jiangsu Province, is about an hour's drive from Shanghai. Compared to adjacent areas at the same latitude, the island's temperature is a little cooler in summer and a little higher in winter.

The lake is dotted with countless islands. From a bird's-eye view, it looks as if white pearls are scattered in a blue dish.

Xishan Town is located on the biggest island. The island-town with a land mass of 82 square kilometres is almost the same size as Hong Kong Island.

Boasting a pleasant climate and enchanting scenery, Xishan Town is an ideal destination for a holiday.

Auspicious animals

Facing blue water and backed up by green hills, Xishan provides an earthbound heaven to escape from urban hustle and bustle.

Floating on the lake is a peaceful and sincere way to relax.

If you prefer something more exciting, you can explore caves or hike through the zigzagging and steep mountain paths. From the top of a hill, you can enjoy the endless vista of hills beyond hills, trees beyond trees and villages beyond villages.

A local saying best describes the scene: "Among waters, there are hills. Among hills, there are flowers. Among flowers, there are villages."

For those who want to visit these ancient villages, Mingyue Wan (Bright Moon Bay) is a must.

The bay derives its name from a legend, which tells how Fuchai once enjoyed the pure moonlight here with his beauty, Xishi.

Mingyue Wan embodies natural scenery and cultural heritage, inspiring many classics from ancient poets and refined scholars.The folk buildings represent the architectural style of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

Carvings in wood, stone and brick can be seen on building doors, windows and roof beams. Legendary figures in Peking and Kun operas, flowers, auspicious animals, mountains and lakes and calligraphy are the main topic for carving.

Unlike sophisticated urban citizens, locals here are simple and reserved.

In the village, religious temples, ancient trees, strange stones, mysterious caves are seen everywhere. Among the major attractions are Shigong Hill, Linwu Cave (houses-in-forest Cave), Arhats Temple, Baoshan Dock, Yuwang Temple, to name just a few.

Three treasures

Besides enjoying the quiet beauty of Xishan Town, you can also feast on a variety of regional specialities. The most noteworthy are the Biluo Chun Tea, sugared pipas, arbutus plums and "Taihu three treasures" (silver-fish, white shrimps and crabs).

Taihu Lake region enjoys eight months of sunshine a year. Flowers, fruits and crabs are in season all year round.

Usually, we have tea in our offices. At Xishan, we can enjoy tea at its birthplace while listening to its story.

Long long ago, a beautiful girl named "Biluo" lived in Xishan. Her charming singing-voice caught the attention of an evil dragon. Struck by Biluo's beauty, the dragon decided to marry her. The girl was unwilling for she had fallen in love with a handsome fisherman. The dragon threatened to flood the village. To protect villagers, the man announced a war against the dragon. They fought in the Taihu Lake for seven days. On the 8th day, villagers saw the bodies of the dragon and the young man. They buried the man at a mountain foot. The girl was sad at his death. She planted a tea tree in front of his tomb and cried for seven days. She died on the 8th day.

The next spring, the tree sprouted leaves. Tea made from the leaves tasted pure and smelt fragrant. The villagers named the tea "Biluo chun" in memory of the girl.

Travel tips

Take a train from Shanghai to Suzhou and then take a bus to Xishan Town. The bus departs every 15-30 minutes. The completion of Taihu Bridge makes Xishan Town more easily accessible.

Suzhou Taihu National Tourism Vacation Zone provides a wide range of choices for accommodation, including Suzhou Taihu Pearl Hotel, Singapore Taihu Equatorial Resort and Suzhou Taihu Lake Mandarin Hotel. Water sports centre, golf course and hot springs treatment centre are also available in the vacation zone.

Biluo Chun Tea, red bayberries, pomegranates and sugared pipas, arbutus plums are best products in the area.

( Shanghai Star July 25, 2002)