I could catch glimpses of the clear silhouette of the skinny pagoda, visible against the green backdrop of the mountains, and as I zigzagged through traffic, I decided to just go for it. My bike was running on a full night’s charge, and I was feeling good after successfully picking up my train tickets. I bought a savory shaobing 烧饼 to snack on (baked unleavened flatbread stuffed with meat) from a stall with a tandoori-esque oven by the road and headed in the direction of the tower.
A landmark of Liandu District in Lishui, Xia He Tower can be seen across the bridge overlooking Nanming Lake. I’ve been wanting to visit this skinny pagoda for a long time as I would often see it off in the distance while driving around town. My excuses were that I was always either too busy or afraid that my old used e-bike’s battery wouldn’t survive the trip out.
Yesterday, I found out that my last class of the day, an English club, was canceled and I abruptly found myself with the afternoon off. I decided to go to make the fifteen to twenty-minute drive to the other side of town, across one of the bridges, to the train station. It was a bright beautiful day!
Getting there proved to be a bit tricky. I found myself driving around construction (there’s always so much construction going on in this town) and unpaved roads. I ended up a little ways on the high way near the water and paused along the shoulder to read a sign. I could see the tower, but did not know which road to take or if there was a clear walking path. Apparently, other drivers of both cars and e-bikes were not happy with me for stopping, as I received lots of honks. It’s not like there wasn’t room in the road, they just like to drive off and in between the lines
I zipped across to the other side of the highway. There were men working in a fenced off scrap metal shop at the base of the mountain and more men working construction further down. I stopped one dude in a hard hat pushing long tubes in a wheel barrel for directions. He pointed me in the way of a break in the fence where an old couple was puttering around, and I saw that there were concrete stairs going up. I thanked him, parked my bike and went forward.
The older couple didn’t acknowledge me at all as I went past. There were two dogs that began barking at me, a smaller one chained inside a shack and another larger dog chained up in what looked like a small field with little terraces with random wooden boxes. I walked past the old man who was stooped over and putting a lid on one box. Once I realized the boxes contained bee hives, I pushed past pretty fast up the concrete steps. The steps dead-ended into what I assume was the bee-keeper and his wife’s house. Slightly disappointed and confused, I turned around and kept looking for a path. At this point, the tower was above me somewhere, but I couldn’t see a way up. Scrambling up the side of the mountain didn’t look very safe.
I came down and asked the old man where to go. He wasn’t really paying attention to me, with a rising cloud of bees around us. It’s amazing neither him nor his wife wore any protective gear! Looking at the bees and waiting for his answer, I started to feel a bit panic-y. He finally motioned with his arm and gruffly told me to go in front, so I sighed and left them. I wondered why they didn’t stop me from entering their land. I was also suuuper thankful nothing stung me.
I walked along the highway again, and found the guy I had asked earlier resting with his buddy by the side of the road. He seemed surprised to see me, and I mentioned that they told me to keep going. He pointed to another possible concrete stairway, and I thanked him again and hurried off. This time, it seemed much more promising as the stairs were steeper and continued on for a bit.
Climbing, I came upon a graffitied little house with “Buddha” written on the side. Guardians were painted on the door, and outside were used candles and incense sticks. Curious, I tried to open the door, but it was sealed. Another old, unused building lay further up. I also passed a grove of mandarin oranges. By now, I was high enough to see the Liandu, Lishui skyline in the horizon. The sun was just beginning to set, which made the water below sparkle.
Around another bend, I finally made it to the tower! No one was here, except for a few little long-tailed white and blue birds. I gazed up, tracing the patterns on its bricks. Surprisingly, the bricks were blue with characters on them. The main one I could pick out was “大.“ I sat at its base and admired the view.
By the looks of the scattered orange peels on the ground, someone or something had been snacking on the nearby oranges. It was peaceful, and I felt happy in that I finally accomplished what I’d been meaning to do for the past year and a half.
As I sat, with the sun setting, I messaged one of my coordinators, Vivian, to see if she could tell me more about the tower. She was surprised I had gone there, as she hadn’t been there since she was a little girl. From her, I was able to garner the name of the tower and its location, which allowed me to do more research off of Baidu (the Chinese google equivalent).
The tower I was under is on top of Buddha Head Rock, on Biyun Mountain. It was built during the Wanli period of the Ming Dynasty (1585-ish) and is now considered a “provincial cultural relic.” The legend behind the tower is that it was built to lock down a demon.
As the story goes, there were two rival demons, a dragon demon and a tiger demon, and they each lived on opposing mountains. During the day things were peaceful, but at night they would fight, moving closer to the river and causing the water to rise up and flood every year . One day, a flood they created killed a blacksmith’s family. In retaliation, he created two spikes and nailed each demon to a mountain. This caused the floods to cease. The spikes transformed into towers, one of them being Xia He Tower. I don’t know where the other is at the moment.
The tower has eight sides and nine floors. Supposedly, it’s the only one built in a pavilion-style with blue bricks. I read online that you can climb the tower, but the door wouldn’t open for me. The tower was renovated in 2002 after decades of damage from the elements and its top cracking from being struck by lightning many times. The Xia He name comes from an old town it was built near.
Little moments like this make me happy. There’s so much more I have yet to discover about Liandu (and Lishui overall). It’s hard to fathom the changes to the town and landscape that have been done here over the centuries, but it’s neat finding and learning about little surviving bits of history in plain sight.
Hodgepodge of photos taken near or on the way to the tower:
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