Friday, January 7, 2011

Changsha: Yuelu Academy

Tucked into the lush forested base of Yuelu Mountain, near the west bank of the Xiang River in Changsha, is an amazing school with over one thousand years of history... Yuelu Academy, a must-visit for any China traveler interested in capturing ancient essences. Now part of Hunan University, the expansive and architecturally rich school is truly a sight to behold. Endless courtyards, gates, lecture and teaching halls, a library, music room (with daily performances), temples, pavilions, verandas, galleries, pools and gardens... make sure your camera battery is fully charged.

I arrived on a warm sunny morning in late April, with birds singing and a light breeze keeping me comfortable. As I walked through the grounds, with all their intricate detailing, it was easy to imagine robed scholars of the past strolling by. This was the traditional China I had hoped to find before I had ever booked my very first flight, and I could understand why so many Hunan University students were relaxing or studying there. Perhaps more beautiful than Yuelu Academy architecture and gardens are the towering trees blanketing the area, as if painted skillfully by master artisans. The peaceful, contemplative ambience was incredible, and I didn't want to leave.

I wanted to include more photos, but I think just a little tease is best. A modest 30 yuan entrance fee matches the lack of overcommercialized noise that come with some of China's famous tourist destinations. Behind the Academy you can catch a bus or tram to the top of Yuelu Mountain, where you'll find many locals and university students enjoying the views of Changsha far below and across the river (before hiking back down two scenic roadways). Food and beverages are available up top and at various stops along the way down... highlights are Aiwan Pavilion and Lushan Temple.

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