Smooth times in West Lake’s wild west

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Tea plantations at Manjuelong Village

When magnificent waterfront and the surrounding areas are packed with tourists, the west side of the West Lake remains a quaint paradise of farmers who live a relaxed life among temples and a naturally tranquil environment.

Here, the air smells clean and fresh, making it a true joy to take a deep breath while listening to tweeting birds. Relax in a garden, enjoy freshly prepared tea and burn some incense in centuries-old temple — Shanghai Daily has taken a day trip to the West Lake's picturesque west and shows you the best spots to delve into its wild side.

The morning is reserved for some spirituality at Lingyin Temple, where you can meditate and find you inner peace, or, if you have trouble finding your zen, you can go simply to see the splendid Buddhist architecture. Hangzhou is often described as "Southeast Buddhist Country" because its temples have particularly devout followers, and Lingyin is one of its ultimate gems.

The temple's name literally means "temple of the soul's retreat" in Chinese. Being one of the largest Buddhist temples in China, it contains numerous pagodas and Buddhist grottoes. The most famous is Feilai Peak (the peak that flew hither) located in front of the main temple.

The peak is made of craggy limestone that, according to legend, stems from India and was flown to Hangzhou overnight to demonstrate the power of Buddhism.

Lingyin provides worshippers with simple, mild vegetarian food made of local vegetables and noodles.

After filling your mind with serenity and your belly with noodles, get ready for the afternoon trip to Manjuelong Village, known among locals as "home to loads of tea." Vast tea bush plantations roll over gentle slopes, seemingly engulfing visitors who walk through them.

A bird's eye view from a nearby mountaintop is the best way to take in and appreciate the tea plantations. The hill rises gently and wide stone steps are well laid out so the climb is not difficult.

Hangzhou is the home of Longjing tea, known around the country for its high quality and great taste. Longjing Village is famous for its tea, but if you want to escape the crowds, few out-of-town visitors know that Manjuelong Village is equally beautiful and also produces the high-end tea.

Most villagers earn a living from growing Longjing tea. As the temperature rises, the harvest time for spring tea has just started, and you can watch as locals picked the tea leaves before the Qingming Festival, which falls on April 4 this year. These leaves are considered the most precious and said to be of the very highest quality. Traditionally, people named them Mingqian Longjing.

Because the leaves grow slower in the cooler weather, they are said to be softer and mellower in taste, making them more expensive than tea harvested later in the season. Prices can range from 1,000 yuan to 6,000 yuan per kilogram. This winter, many tea trees suffered from frostbite, which drives up prices.

A few years ago, some locals turned their homes into family-run guesthouses and teahouses featuring white wall and black-tiled roofs. Now, they provide guests with homey accommodation, fresh tea and traditional Hangzhou food.

It's the perfect location to slow down and enjoy a more conscious life — wander on green slopes, take photos in the garden, or just sit somewhere with a cup of tea and relax. If you're interested in culture and traditions, tea ceremonies are performed in some teahouses.

From late March to May, Hangzhou will host the Tea Culture Expo, with many activities focusing on tea scheduled in the Longjing growing villages.

Where to stay

The newly opened Hangzhou Midtown Shangri-La Hotel is at the intersection of Wulin and Qingchun roads, a great location in the West Lake Scenic Area. In addition, the connected Kerry Center — a modern complex with an office building, apartments and a high-end shopping mall — is also expected to open in September. The hotel offers discounted rooms with breakfast buffet and laundry service at 1,100 yuan (US$169, exclusive of a 15 percent service charge) from now until May 31.

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