One of China’s most beautiful and serene lakes, Dongqian Lake(Chinese: 东钱湖) in Ningbo is four times as large as the West Lake in neighboring Hangzhou but blessedly less famous — and less crowded with tourists.
Dongqian Lake “combines the verve of Taihu Lake and the charm of West Lake,” a perfect hybrid of masculinity and femininity, according to Guo Moruo (1892-1978), a renowned scholar and poet of contemporary China.
We took a long causeway that divides the lake, which is rimmed by willows and greenery — not spoiled by hotels and development. Around the lake are lush meadows, with rugged hills in the distance.
It seems like an emerald.
We crossed several stone arches before parking in the center of the causeway, which divides the lake and offers a spectacular view.
Beyond a thick curtain of willow, we spotted ospreys or fish hawks gliding over the glistening water and diving for fish — they are tethered on a fishing line — then returning to a fishing boat where a fisherman takes their catch. Nearby in the center of the lake is Xiayu (Rosy Clouds and Islands) Temple, where Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, is venerated. A huge stone statue of the deity rises from the water, seated on her lotus throne and wearing a benign smile.
The temple on the other side of the island consists of newly renovated Buddhist halls. The main attraction, however, is a towering stone boat and a deep underground cave.
The boat is built on a three-story-high altar, reached by a marble staircase on which dragons are embossed. The boat is itself three stories high and carries a single passenger on the deck, a monk staring ahead, his hands folded in namaste. The inscription on the sale reads: “Ci Hang Pu Du” (“A Mercy Ferry for All the Living to Land of the Pure”).
The cave itself is not remarkable, but the legend is touching. It is said that a filial son once escorted his blind mother, who was a pious Buddhist, to this cave for a pilgrimage to Goddess Guanyin — instead of going to Putuo Mountain — to keep his mother from a risky sea voyage.
Guanyin noted his devotion and appeared before the man and his mother to reward their piety. Thus the cave is called Putuo Dong Tian (Guanyin’s Sanctum). There are tens of thousands of Buddhist temples around China, but it’s rare to find one like Xiayu with its main entrance facing open water. Adding to the charm, dragon boats occasionally ply the waters.
We were lucky to see a dragon boat race with cheering rowers.
The scenery of Dongqian Lake is legendary, recorded 2,000 years ago.
It is said that Xi Shi, one of the famous Four Beauties of ancient China, was taken there by her husband Fan Li, the most renowned plutocrat of that age, for a romantic retreat after his long service in the Yue Kingdom of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC).