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This body of water gives heart to the mind
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It's been described as heaven on earth. And many years ago, a Chinese poet compared it to Xi Shi - one of the most beautiful women in ancient China.

West Lake in the city of Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, has been a top destination for many influential people in China, and in modern times, it became a regular stop for Mao Zedong. Even Richard Nixon made his way there after establishing relations with China.

The picture-perfect West Lake in Hangzhou is bathed in the twilight of sunset.

As it has been for centuries, this internationally renowned scenic spot is cherished among Chinese tourists and is becoming an increasingly popular destination for foreign visitors because of its natural beauty.

The man-made lake is the reason why Hangzhou has long been described as one of the most beautiful cities in China and a symbol of romance for much of its history, which spans back 2,100 years.

This iconic lake has a storied past made popular by its admirers and by legendary poets who have felt it inspires calm and relaxation, while it's serene atmosphere and beautiful scenery inspires writers.

The saying goes: "There is a paradise in heaven, and down on earth, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou."

Marco Polo, whose statue decorates a spot near the lake surrounded by hills and dotted with tiny islands connected by ancient bridges, spoke of the area's "loveliness, its temples, monasteries and gardens with their towering trees, running down to the water's edge" when describing his visit during the 13th century.

"On the lake itself is the endless procession of barges thronged with pleasure-seekers," Polo is quoted as saying. "Their minds and thoughts are intent upon nothing but bodily pleasures and the delights of society."

Hangzhou is located near the eastern coast of China close to the Qiantang River. The pleasant weather, an annual average of about 16 C, is one of the reasons it attracts visitors throughout the year.

Due to its closer location to Shanghai, Hangzhou's West Lake is a popular weekend destination for Shanghai residents. A recently launched high-speed train can get Shanghai residents and workers there within an hour and a half - in time for dinner.

Some say Hangzhou was home to the Jiande Man who lived in Zhejiang Province 55,000 years ago. Reports say there's evidence of many cultures living in the wider area just a few thousand years ago.

One of the best ways to enjoy the lake is to take a boat out. Some boats make stops on the small islands along the way where passengers can disembark to linger and admire the scenery.

Renting a bicycle to ride around the lake is another great choice for many visitors, while others huddle in the clusters of teashops to enjoy the local Dragon Well Tea.

(China Daily January 7, 2008)

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