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Yuan Tou Zhu Garden

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Wuxi is often called the "Pearl of Lake Taihu," and the best place to see the beauty of the lake is from the gardens of the Yuan Tou Zhu peninsula and its nearby islands.  Yuan Tou Zhu literally means "the Head of the Dragon-Turtle," inspired the way the peninsula dramatically juts out into the lake.  Tai Hu literally means the "Great Lake," a fitting name since it is the 3rd largest lake in China.  Yuan Tou Zhu has been visited and admired by poets, painters, and tourists for centuries.  In almost every dynasty famous poets have left poems praising the area's striking natural beauty and tranquil atmosphere.  Although it has been a well known scenic spot for centuries, the area was first made into a garden in the late 19th century, and the narrow bridges and pavilions seen today date from this period. Several successful Wuxi businessmen bought much of peninsula and turned it into their country estates, where they find relief from the stress of their work by admiring the natural landscape.

The pavilions, bridges, and small ponds of the lakeside gardens are designed to accentuate the beauty of the natural landscape, not create an artificial landscape as many traditional Chinese gardens try to do, especially those in Suzhou. While this takes advantage of such an exceptional setting, it is also the result of a difference in culture and attitude. Many other classical gardens were created by officials as a retreat from the outside world, with its stresses and politics.  Their walled gardens were an attempt to create alternate natural environment as an escape from the outside world.   In contrast, Yuan Tou Zhu was laid out by successful merchants and businessmen with a more optimistic and confident outlook.  They came to the shores of Tai Hu Lake for pleasure and relaxation, and to entertain friends, not to escape the demands of the outside world, and the design of the gardens reflects this different motivation.

The most beautiful part of Yuan Tou Zhu is at the tip of the peninsula. Rocky cliffs carved with ancient calligraphy loom near small ponds teeming with lotus flowers and crossed by arching bridges, while balustraded causeways curve out into the lake.  One side of the peninsula faces the forested coastline, while on the other side the great lake stretches out into the distance, its other shore far out of sight.  This part of the garden is especially beautiful in spring, when the countless cherry trees planted here bloom, their pink and white blossoms contrasting beautifully with the blue water of the lake and the green hillsides behind. The rest of the peninsula is laced with narrow trails leading through the woods and down to the coastline, passing pagodas and pavilions, small shrines and ancient calligraphy carved into weathered stone tablets.

The best way to experience the beauty of the lake is to take a boat out to one of the three small islands that lie off the shores of the peninsula. They are known as the "Islands of Immortals," since classical authors imagined that Daoist sages and nature spirits would be drawn to a place of such great natural beauty, and also separated from the human world by the lake.  Although the immortals aren't frequent visitors today, their legends have inspired a range of scenic spots hidden beneath the islands' trees.One of the most impressive is a giant bronze statue of Lao-tzu, its green patina blending with the surrounding forests.  Many other small temples and dot the islands. Boats run to and from the islands all day, and they are included in the price of admission to the garden.  Some tour groups also arrange for cruises on historic seven masted junks, once used as fishing boats but now restored for tourism.  Cruising the lake on these classic ships is unique and memorable way to experience the lake.

Admission Fee: CNY 108
Opening Hours: 06:30 to17:30
Recommended Time for a Visit:
Bus Route: K1, K 82


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