This article tells of an ice-cold feast for the eyes that takes place every January in northern China. It is written specifically for English speaking ex-pats living in China but could easily be adapted for a more general readership.
The Harbin Ice Festival
If you can get some time off next January, pack up plenty of warm clothing layers and fly from Shanghai Pudong to Harbin in the far north. January 5th is the start of its month-long, annual Ice Festival, when the city opens the doors of its fantastic Ice and Snow World, and holds the Ice Lantern Exhibition in Zhaolin Park. It is the culmination of several months of work, designing and making works of art with ice and snow.
While you will see the ice sculpture exhibits in Zhaolin Park, the festival’s snow sculpture exhibition is held in Sun Island Park, on the northern banks of the Songhua River that flows through the town. In recent years, Harbin has opened its snow and ice sculpting competitions to the international art world, and the festival is patronized by a cosmopolitan mix of artists and tourists from many countries. All the sculptures in snow and ice are amazing pieces of work, with intricate and delicate designs often as part of colossal themes like episodes in history, classic works and folk tales.
All of this is possible because of the arctic climate of this capital of Heilongjiang Province, close to the Russian border. But you’d be wise not to put off a visit for too many years in case climate changes take effect. This has been a concern in the last couple of years when temperatures have been a little higher than normal from time to time. it meant that officials were worried about the ice strictures melting before the end of the month long festival. It hasn’t happened yet, though.
It would take some doing anyway, as the structures are all life-size or even larger. One of the sow sculptures in 2007 was over 800 feet long and in places over 90 feet high. In Zhaolin Park and the Ice and Snow World you’ll find life size replicas of actual buildings that you can enter and move through.
The tradition of putting lights in ice as lanterns in this area goes back at least to the 17th century. Local residents froze water in buckets and then warmed it just enough to remove the ice.
The festival exhibits in the Ice and Snow World are seen to best effect after the daylight has gone. If you are among them at twilight, you will have the pleasure of watching the lights gradually come on. Out of the gloom, one structure will suddenly blaze out in glorious Technicolor, while its neighbors remain as dark silhouettes until it is their turn. Later, you might stand high on a replica of the Great Wall to watch a dizzying firework display competing with the lighted panorama below.
Apart from wandering around and gazing spellbound at these creations, there are other activities you can take part in, or just watch. Recent years have seen people enjoying horse drawn carriage rides around the area. Sun Island Park also has dog sledding available.
You can even go on safari in Harbin, because it is the home of the Siberian Tiger Park, important for the conservation of this endangered species. Visitors are driven around it in a tour bus from which they can see the activities of the various groups of tigers that live there.
So Harbin is definitely worth a visit of at least a few days at this time of year. If you want to have a longer vacation, why not have a two-center break and take in some skiing as well. The Yabuli Ski resort, which was developed to host the third Asian Winter Games in 1996, is less than two hour’s drive away.
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