Song History Tour

Nicholas Quirke was sticking to his plans on 13 July 2020 even though rain all day had been forecast, which is apparantly common for the Summer time in the southern provinces. Suzhou was famed for its ancient gardens and that meant most of his planned itinerary was outside and in gardens. If he cancelled because of the rain then he would be wasting precious time in this city redolent with the creativity of its long Song Dynasty history. He got his umbrella and semi rain mac together, organised the bus timetable and he hit the road. He was disappointed that Suzhou did not operate the national bike scheme which meant that he had to either walk, take the subway or the bus. The location of Tiger Hill was not on a subway route and he turned to the busses to get him to this renowned beauty spot, full of temples, pavilions, shrines and gardens and despite its name, for once, a mercifully low hill. The rain was teeming down by the time he arrived and he was thankful again for the umbrella and was thankful too, though extremely sorry for the lady who took a tumble on the bridge making him aware that the rain made the rock surface dangerously slippy. It also made the grounds of the scenic area look verdant and tropical and he was thrilled to see the bared bones of the ancient temple that dominated the landscape in this light and damp. It was a beautiful journey through 13 Century southern China and he really began to appreciate the differences of the influences between the Song, Ming and Qing Dynasties and how the diverse cultures have helped create the images and foods that and people enjoyed by millions today. Once he emerged from grounds via the South Gate , rather than the north gate he began round the hill, he took a short detour through the fascinating decaying river bank of Huqiu on then began his journey to the Cold Mountain Temple, he discovered that because of serious building and road works he was going to have to walk 2 km to the nearest bus station. With no pavements this seemed a dangerous activity and he needed to keep his wits about him till he eventually got to a point where he could get a bus and was soon at his new destination, despite the bus route deviating from the one he expected. Nicholas really was overawed by the diversity of the temples and history in the region and the Hanshan temple, which was still functioning and had a restaurant where he could eat once his tour was complete. Pagoda, pavilions, drum tower, bell tower, where he paid to climb and strike the bell 3 times and a lunch of noodles in the beautiful surroundings of their restaurant. His laowai appearance In the temple and its dining hall caused a stir and he found himself again the object of interest, consternation and for some, joy. He finished his tour and then set off to walk the 2.5 km to his next venue, the legendary ‘Lingering Gardens’. Enroute he spotted a huge temple enclosure and wonderd if he could fit another activity into his crowded day and crossed the bridge to explore. Though he decided not to go inside, he felt the fates had lured him there, as just at the point he arrived there was another serious heavy down pour and he was provided , just in time with shelter. Shelter, it transpired he really needed as the umbrella would not open. If he had still been out in the street he would be soaked to the skin. As the rain lightened he quietly thanked the gods for their kindness, made a some use of the broken umbrella and went on his way. He passed a row of shops and some ladies called to him and he asked if they had an umbrella, they asked for 20 yuan and he got it down to 15. He was not going to bring the purple monstrosity home with him but it would offer better protection than what the broken implement could. He found the lingering gardens haunting, there were echoes of the gardens he had already seen but in the rain and fading light, somehow this intricate design this maze of halls ‘Celestial Hall of Five Peaks’ , pavilions ‘Refreshing Breeze Pavilion’ and corridors left a stronger impression on him, It felt almost alive, a living breathing entity, as the winding merging paths and bridges took him through a more ancient and decaying vista. It was late as he made his way back to the hotel but he did manage to stop at a snack bar Peng had recommended for him to try Iced Mung Bean Soup in peppermint water. What a treat! Cool and unexpectedly delicious. He was foot sore by the time he reached the hotel after 34000 steps and even though he had a shower to revive himself lying on the bed to recover was a bad move as he drifted off into a long satisfying sleep.

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