Categories: Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Ever since arriving in the region I’ve been repeatedly asked about my favorite place in China. Being the good psyc student that I am I am usually able to reflect back the question, and many of the responses I get include Suzhou as a wondrous place in China with the ancient gardens and long canals, a place filled with poetic beauty and traditional Chinese charm. Naturally, I was eager to visit, but …

 

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

 

It’s my fault, really. I shouldn’t have anyone to blame but myself. Sometimes I tend to forget that China has strikingly different parts, and that my ability to hold a basic conversation in Mandarin doesn’t guarantee everything will go smoothly. Coming into Suzhou with a fast train from Shanghai, a story by itself, I didn’t do enough homework. I just figured I’ll work things out when I get there with the Lonely Planet or Wikitravel. But, as we exited the station I wasn’t sure which of the gardens to go with and how to best go about transport. Taxi drivers were hard to come by and even harder to convince to take us anywhere for anything short of daylight robbery, and there were endless hordes of pushy sales people trying to get us on all sorts of cheap tours. It starts off as being unrealistically low, and adds up as you being to go into the details. I think it was one of the first times I felt like I was experiencing invasive India in China. After some time and a discussion we figured – what is there to lose with those tours? even if we only took them as cabs to the nearest attraction that by itself would be okay. So we made the mistake of finally agreeing to one of the touts who was the least pushy.

 

Naturally, there is a good reason why those tours are "cheap". There are "shopping stops" that are impossible to avoid, even though many of them weren’t able to talk to us in English. Jade, carpets, wood, you name it, they have it and they will force you to go through it. Sure, we saw some gardens, and even took a boat ride through the canals, but it was all on strict time-management, in uncomfortably loud Chinese, and all aimed to make you purchase something at the end. The other foreigner in the group gave up quite fast, and some of the ABCs left with a cab. We held through, though, somehow.

 

That tour thing was the horrible part. But, with all that said, I did get to see a few nice things in Suzhou. It’s not anything I haven’t seen in other parts of the region, certainly not the legendary beauty I was expecting, but still – something worth seeing if you’re in the area.

 

So, first off, the Lion Forest Garden.

 

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

 

Here’s from the official website intro :

Remains of the 14th century man-made mountains, covering 1,152 sq.m. and being the largest of all at Suzhou, can be still seen today. Noted for its labyrinthine mountains with winding pathways and caverns, old pines and cypress trees, awesome peaks and jogged rocks of grotesque shapes resembling dancing lions with striking and unusual poses, it possesses with pride the true delights of mountain and forest scenery in limited space with a flavor of Zen Buddhism. […]

The Lion Forest Garden boasts 22 buildings of varied types, 25 tablets and plateaux, 71 steles inscribed with the famous Calligraphy Collection of the Listening to Rain Tower, 23 brick carvings, 5 carved wooden screens, and 13 valuable old trees.

A group of Zen Buddhist disciples of the famous Abbot Tianru had it built in the 2nd year of the reign of Zhizheng (A.D. 1342) under the Yuan Dynasty. It was then called "the Budhi Orthodox Monastery". Because there was s forest of bamboo, grotesque rocks resembling lions in the garden, and indirect reference to a Buddhist story of the Lion, it was renamed the Lion Forest Garden. Soon after its birth, the garden became a popular place for scholars at Suzhou, who came here to write poems and paint pictures.

 

It’s all quite colorful and tranquil…

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

 

 

There are also some interesting buildings to visit or sit in, like this tea house…

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

 

Walking around you’re bound to come across quite a few arts students, trying to capture the beauty of the place…

 

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou 

Lion Forest Garden : Suzhou 

 

 

If you feel like seeing it live…

 

All in all, a pleasant visit, especially if you’ll be clever to avoid the train station touts 🙂

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