Thursday, October 10, 2013

Exploring Suzhou - Silk Museum & North Temple Pagoda

The Indian fascination with silk is well known - no surprise that India is the largest consumer of silk in the world! It is also well known that silk fabric was first developed in China - thanks to Empress Lei-Tzu who dropped a cocoon into her steaming cup of tea! Suzhou has been one of the most important centers of China's silk industry for centuries - not only for the softest fabric, but also for the exquisite silk embroidery! So for all silk-lovers, the Suzhou Silk Museum is one of the top attractions here! I've been wanting to go for ages, and Anand Kaka's visit was just the perfect time!

Before that, however, the most famous spot in Suzhou - Tiger Hill! This time around, we hired the services of an English speaking guide - I was hoping to get a real sense of this historical location, but was really disappointed! The guide only parroted information about Tiger Hill - most of which is available online. Any other questions were met with a blank stare - what a waste of 200 RMB! Another rip-off is the buggy ride - it was supposed to be a ride around the entire site, ending at the pagoda on the top of the hill. Actually they took us straight up with no stops on the way - completely missing the Mountain Villa, the bonsai gardens and the tea gardens! Anyway, this was more of a check on the list - and we were off on our next cab ride to the Silk Museum.

Live silkworms
The Suzhou Silk Museum is located on Renmin Street. After the crowds at Tiger Hill, the museum appeared to be almost deserted. There are some interesting displays of samples of ancient silks, different weaving patterns from the various dynasties, the silk and damask costumes of royalty, the land and sea silk trade routes and the huge silk looms where you can watch the rich brocades being made. The live silkworms are probably the biggest draw, but for the most part, you would have to be a die-hard textile fan to appreciate the charms of this museum! They do have a little shop where you can buy bedspreads, silk quilts, silk embroidery - be ready to dig deep into your pockets, though - the price tags are fit for royalty!

North Temple Pagoda
A hop, skip and jump away from the Silk Museum is the North Temple Pagoda. Like the Tiger Hill pagoda, this too is one of the iconic symbols of Suzhou. One of the most ancient Buddhist temples in Suzhou, with a history dating back 1700 years - this 9 storey pagoda with a height of 76m is the tallest pagoda south of the Yangtze. It is a very picturesque location - the octagonal pagoda as a perfect backdrop to the Laughing Buddha or Maitreya statue at the entrance. What I liked best was that you can actually climb up a rickety wooden staircase to the upper levels - a bird's eye view of the surrounding gardens, and even a glimpse of the SIP high rises in the distance! A very tranquil spot right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of Suzhou!

Guanqian Jie

Another must-see tourist spot in Suzhou is the Walking Street or Guanqian Jie. This street is one of the Four Most Famous Walking Streets in China - the other 3 being in Beijing, Shanghai & Nanjing. It is a very popular spot not only for tourists, but for locals too. To be honest, I for one, don't find this street to be very special - a prosaic touristy shopping area is really all that it is. The main street is lined with brand stores, both international and Chinese - the big attraction is the new Marks & Spencer's opening soon. The Xuanmiao Temple which opens onto the street hosts a kind of bazaar in its courtyard - again very run of the mill souvenirs - pearls, wall hangings, silk scarves, and half a dozen others! A number of Western restaurants - Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonald's, Costa Coffee - make this a good place to break for lunch. For the more adventurous, there are a number of Chinese places - from the very upscale to the street vendors! Playing safe as usual, we had a rather late lunch at Pizza Hut - ready to call it a day!

Next week is Golden Week - we have a number of different activities planned in and around Suzhou, so lots more updates coming up! That's all for now!

1 comment:

  1. To me the most exciting exhibit was the Silk Road. May be you could add that photo.
    The more I read about the Silk Road and see movies related to it the more fascinated I am on the history of Silk. This museum is definitely a top attraction of Suzhou.