Text by Chu Daye
No trip to Suzhou would be complete if it didn't include a trip to Huqiu, or Tiger Hill, located in the suburbs of the old Suzhou city.
|Huqiu Park. Photo: China.org.cn|
Tiger Hill is renowned as the "Number One Scenery of the Kingdom of Wu." The hill is 36 meters in height and covers an area of about 14,100 square meters. A number of historic attractions, including some dating back 2,500 years, as old as the city of Suzhou, are located on the hill.
Throughout history, many famous writers, poets, and celebrities have let flow their unreserved praise of Tiger Hill. A famous Song Dynasty poet, Su Dongpo once said, "It is a lifelong pity to have gone to Suzhou without a visit to Tiger Hill." People traditionally described Tiger Hill as illustrated in "Nine Scenes", namely, that Tiger Hill is best viewed "under the Moon, in the Snow, in the Rain, in the Mist, in Midsummer, in Refreshing Autumn, in a Spring Morning, in a late Autumn Day with Fallen Leaves, and at Sunset."
All of Tiger Hill's major attractions are situated within a few steps from the main road that leads up the hill, making it quite easy to find your way around the park.
In China's historic Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC), Suzhou was the capital of the Wu Kingdom, a strong regional power in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. King He Lu, the highly competent and heroic ruler of the Wu, lead his country to the peak of power by fighting a lengthy war against the Chu Kingdom in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River region. Many great contemporaries, such as General Wu Zixu, and Sun Tzu, the Military Theoretician, who authored the military classic The Art of War, served in King He Lu's forces. With military success and a burgeoning economy, the Wu kingdom reached its peak in land expanse and influence, and was recognized by other kingdoms in China as a strong power along the Yangtze River. But these good times didn't last long, as the Wu would soon be engaged in a prolonged struggle with the Yue Kingdom, which rose up from the area around present-day Hangzhou. King He Lu himself was wounded and died during a battle with Yue forces. After his death, his body was buried within the hill. Three days after the funeral a white tiger came and sat upon the grave as though guarding it. From that time on the hill has been known as Tiger Hill.
|Huqiu Park. Photo: baidu.com |
|Sword Pool. Photo: baidu.com|
During his lifetime, King He Lu was a great warrior and had a profound interest in collecting fine bronze swords. Legend has it that 3,000 swords were buried with him in his tomb, guarding his throne for the next life. This is suggested by the nearby Sword Pool, a water enclosure which is bordered by a cliff-side engraving of its name, and the Sword Testing Stone, a huge stone split sharply down the middle.
Near the entrance of the Sword Pool lies a huge, flat boulder, on top of which a thin pagoda was erected. The boulder is called Thousand Man Rock, indicating that it could hold one thousand men on it. It is said that on the day of the completion of the King's tomb, up to 1,000 workers and engineers were killed on the spot, so as to keep the secrets of the exact location and contents of the King’s tomb. From that time on, the stone seemed very slippery and lots of visitors would fall on it, which was believed to be a magic result of the restless souls of those slaughtered people. Later, monks living in the area decided to build this pagoda so as to cease the sorrow of the dead and allow their souls to rest -- and the rock became safe to walk on again.
Walking further up the stone steps, you will come to a 20-metre-high stone bridge spanning Sword Pool. On the bridge, there is a large piece of milk-colored stone that contrasts greatly with the surrounding gray rock, and the stone has two deep holes in it. The holes are famously known as the Lu Yu Wells. For the safety of visitors, the holes are now covered with an iron grate, to prevent any careless people from falling in. But the crisscross iron pattern gives the wells a funny appearance, like an alien wearing broken glasses. Lu Yu was a master connoisseur of Chinese tea, and he wrote the first ever book on the subject, entitled 'The Treatise of Tea'. During his retirement years, he lived on Tiger Hill and finished the final part of his book there. Lu Yu dug the wells and declared that the water from it was the third best in all of China (the first being Baotu Spring in Jinan, of Shandong province, and the second being Huiquan Spring of Wuxi, in Jiangsu Province).
|Lu Yu Well. Photo: China.org.cn|
After crossing the bridge, a short walk up some more steps finally brings you to the top of Tiger Hill, and the 48-meter-high Pagoda of Yunyan Temple, or more commonly known as Huqiu Pagoda (Tiger Hill Pagoda). The pagoda is a relic from the Northern Song Dynasty (constructed during 959-961 AD), made of brick but designed in the same style as a wooden pagoda. Altogether it has seven storeys, with the ground floor open to visitors during the daytime (before 4:30 pm). It is the oldest pagoda in the vicinity of Suzhou and for hundreds of years has served as a landmark for the city. During the past four hundred years, the pagoda has been leaning slightly to the northwest, so many people refer to it as China's "Tower of Pisa." But you can feel safe to visit it as repair measures have been taken to prevent further leaning.
After visiting Huqiu Pagoda, we suggest you take a stroll down the back of the hill, especially during springtime, amid the emerging colorful blossoms. Most tour groups don't continue down this way, so you can certainly enjoy a quiet, comfortable, afternoon walk.
Other major scenic locations of Huqiu Park include Yongcui Shanzhuang (Verdant Mountain Villa) and Wanjing Villa (Ten Thousand Scene Villa).
Verdant Mountain Villa was built during the Qing Dynasty and is the masterpiece of the classic Suzhou Garden style. This lovely example of architecture sits on the slope of a small hill and was designed to be a great spot for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. From any of its halls or balconies, one can enjoy a pleasant sight.
|Pagoda of Yunyan Temple. Photo: baidu.com|
In Wanjing Villa (Ten Thousand Scene Villa).the ancient art of bonsai growing is exhibited with thousands of the mini plants on display. The miniature replicas of full-size gardens always bring a pleasurable surprise to visitors.
In all, with its famous leaning pagoda, waterfalls, landscaped paths, and all the charming stories in Chinese history and literature, Huqiu Park is a perfect place for a spring afternoon excursion and will never disappoint its visitors.
Admission Fee: 60 yuan (March 8th – June 8th, Sept. 13th – Nov. 2nd; Price varies during Flower Show and Temple Fair)
Bus Route: 8, 49
Tourist Bus Route: 1, 2, 146, 949
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