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A return visit to fairyland cave of Yaolin

Wang Jiaosheng ( China Daily )

A few months ago I paid my second visit to West Lake in Hangzhou, the favourite beauty spot of southeast China. My previous visit there many years before had been somewhat disappointing. I thought West Lake very beautiful, but its beauty was to some extent marred by the city area with its narrow old-fashioned streets and, in places, almost sordid appearance.

I think the beauty of Hangzhou is much enhanced by its profusion of bamboo, which surrounds the lake at regular intervals. Bamboo also abounds elsewhere, notably at the entrance to the Yellow Dragon Cave. A bamboo grove makes one forget all worldly cares by virtue of its tranquility and uprightness.

The Pagoda of Six Harmonies overlooks the beautiful Qiantang River. Here the river is spanned by the Qiantang River Bridge, which before the construction of the Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing was considered the greatest bridge in China. One can view the entire bridge by clambering half-way up the pagoda.

The grave and temple of national hero Yue Fei, who dedicated his life to fighting the Jin invaders in the declining years of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) is also in Hangzhou.

There is a magnificent statue of the general and stone tablets inscribed with Yue Fei's two most famous poems, "Bristling with anger" and "Lines to my friend Zhang Jun on the eve of his departure for the Northern Expedition." The inscriptions are exquisite calligraphy, a reminder that as well as being a military hero Yue Fei had great artistic talent.

One can take a bus ride round the West Lake and a boat ride to many of its scenic spots. The lake is like a beauty whose every feature, every little movement, is soft and graceful.

Another spot to visit is Yaolin, "known as a" fairyland, which is not Hangzhou proper but is usually on the itinerary for Hangzhou tourists. About two hours' bus ride from the city, on the banks of the beautiful Fuchun River, this colossal limestone cave is thought to have been formed about 10 centuries ago.

It has a total area of over 28,000 square metres, and at its highest point is approximately 30 metres above the ground. Exploration of this cave dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) but was later neglected; and not until recently was part of it opened to tourists after renovation.

However, one might be left utterly in the dark about these features without a competent guide to explain as she leads the way up the wet steps. The cave is dimly lit by oil lamps, so ascending into its recesses is difficult.

Unlike the caves in Yixing (a scenic city in Jiangsu Province), there is no stream for boating at Yaolin, but visitors think this cave far surpasses Yixing regarding size, beauty and magnificence. And it is but one of a chain of six such caves being prepared to receive tourists. When all are opened, in two or three years, the place will indeed be worthy of the name of "Yaolin Fairyland.

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