Over in Zhejiang province, West Lake is synonymous with Hangzhou. Slender West Lake, on the other hand, is an entirely different kettle of fish. For after just 1 and a half hours’ drive from Nanjing, or 40 minutes on the train, followed by a 10-minute taxi ride, and still within our own Jiangsu Province, you will find yourself in Yangzhou Slender West Lake.
Nanjing’s neighbouring city of Yangzhou is stereotypically famed for two things; pretty ladies and fried rice. While slender is a term that could be applied to both the aforementioned, we were here for the lake, plus the surprise that it was for this correspondent to learn that hot spas are also a local delicacy.
The Slender West Lake Hot Spring Resort is one of many that dot the scenic area. For one night, ¥1,500 buys you a private retreat that features two double bedrooms, two bathrooms, spacious lounge, an enormous magical flatscreen TV, and the pièce de résistance, a completely enclosed courtyard featuring a plunge pool fed by waters from within the Earth’s crust. Simply turn on the hot tap, wait 3 hours until the pool is full and the digital thermometer reads 39 degrees, then take the plunge, nude if so the heart desires.
The resort utilises the thermal energy of the hot spring to heat all tap water too, employing a tubular heat exchanger, that makes for satisfying carbon zero shower.
Also included in the price, access to a large outdoor swimming pool; but with our visit in July, it was shade, not sun, that we sought. Much more of interest are the resort’s 30 outdoor plunge pools, each with different medicinal healing properties. From arthritis to menstruation, there’s literally a pool for everyone.
With our back pain dispelled and generally smug feelings of wellness, it is literally just a step across Changchun Lu to the east gate of the Slender West Lake Scenic Area.
With weeping willows entirely surround its snaking waters, the number 24 is a big deal for Yangzhou and her Slender West Lake. During Emperor Qianlong’s reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), the lake became well known for 24 scenic spots. The best known of all is 24 Bridge (pictured), named as a nod to its 24 parapets and 24 steps. The Five Pavillion Bridge, therefore, also needs no further introduction.
Among the rest, tombs for a variety of emperors, plus the White Lamaist Pagoda, a 28.5-metre-high structure, built, it is said, overnight, in 1784, to welcome an inspection tour by Emperor Qian Long. The structure, that is also reminiscent of the White Pagoda in Beijing’s Beihai Park, gives away its religious influence through architecture more akin to that found in China’s far west.
The Emperor was so impressed with his visit to Yangzhou that he declared it a favorite retreat, endowing the city with stipend after stipend on account of his luck fishing in Slender West Lake. Little did he know, the best local underwater swimmers had been recruited to dive beneath the Emperor’s boat and impale fish on to his hooks.
It is gems such as this that therein lie the charm of Yangzhou. The city was, historically, one of the wealthiest in China, and up there with the best as regards links with the outside world. A major port for foreign trade since the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE), with many an Arab and Persian merchant within the then city walls, in the 7th century, Yangzhou’s only chink in her armour is the massacre, in the thousands, of many of the aforementioned in 760 during the An Lushan Rebellion.
Despite the atrocities, the city’s reputation beguiles itself. Known at various periods for its great merchant families, poets, artists and scholars, it was only in 590 CE that the city began to be known as Yangzhou, the traditional name of what was then the entire southeastern part of China.
Just as well then, that the city lives up to its reputation today; its ladies, rice and indeed spas, serving to underscore a metaphor for a notion of great grandeur and historical cultural reference, fit for an emperor.