Nanbei Lake: A quiet, unspoiled loch
West Lake in Hangzhou, the capital of East China's Zhejiang Province, is one of the country's most famous lakes and scenic areas.
However, once you are there, you might not find this picturesque place entirely pleasant, as droves of tour groups spoil much of its charm.
Fortunately, there is an alternative.
Some 80 kilometres east of Hangzhou, the Nanbei Lake in Haiyan County offers visitors a tranquil spot away from the frenzy of West Lake.
The Nanbei Lake is split into southern and northern sections by a causeway.
Though smaller than West Lake, Nanbei Lake was also originally a lagoon adjoining the Qiantang River. With an area of 122 hectares, the lake has been a local attraction since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when it was known as "the mini West Lake."
There is a collection of gardens, bridges and pavilions scattered around the lake. Most of these attractions were built or recovered recently.
Away from big cities and encircled by rolling green mountains, the lake is a truly idyllic setting. And better yet, it is quiet most of days of the year.
Last month, I had a wonderful excursion to the lake.
It was a spring morning. Layered with mist, Nanbei Lake looked beautiful and unspoiled.
Green willows, peach and plum trees lined the bank. Willow catkins floated past red and white blossoms. Small boats passed under arched bridges of the 500-metre-long causeway. I took a deep breath and was delighted by the flavour of the cool and wet spring air.
The Nanbei Lake Scenic Area is far more than just a lake. With an area of some 30 square kilometres, the scenic area includes the green hills surrounding the lake and the nearby beach on Hangzhou Bay.
One day was certainly not enough. I had to view much of the area from the bus, rather than exploring the terrain myself.
I did have a chance to head into the hills and amble amongst the groves of bamboo and other trees.
On a slope facing the lake, I visited a house with whitewash walls and black tiled roof. Here, Kim Koo (1875-1949), a political leader in the Korean independence movement, once took refuge.
The traditional house , named "Zaiqing Villa," was built by a local businessman in 1916. During his exile in China between 1919 and 1945, the Korean nationalist, made friends with the businessman's niece in Shanghai. After he organized a heroic campaign against the Japanese in Shanghai, Kim made his retreat to the villa and stayed there for half a year.
The original structures was destroyed during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). The villa was restored in 1995 to commemorate this friend of China, who had such a command of Chinese that his Chinese wife believed him to be Cantonese instead of Korean.
The villa is a tranquil and elegant structure. All three of the rooms are decorated with traditional Chinese furniture and have windows facing the lake.
Sitting in a chair and overlooking the misty lake, one feels peaceful and drifts into solitary contemplation. One can imagine Kim finding such solace here.
After leaving the house, my next stop was a stone castle on top of the Tanxian Hill. The newly-completed square castle has battlements and a gate tower with arched roof and flying eaves. The castle also contains a small temple.
There an oriental cherry tree was blossoming. Its pink flowers stood beautifully against the stone structure. The castle was surrounded by trees on three sides. The leaves changed hue as they made their way down the hillside.
After climbing down from the castle walls, I made my way southeast and visited the three-storey Baiyun (white cloud) Pavilion, which stands on the crest of another hill.. On the third floor of the 18-metre-high structure, I got a stirring view of the whole scenic area.
Amazingly, I saw the ocean split by a long stretch of land from the lake area. The green lake, the mountains, the long beach and the sea were all in my view. It was spectacular.
It was a pity that I had no time to hike from the lake to the bay, where the scenery changes dramatically. But there is always next time, I thought to myself on the bus out of the Nanbei Lake.