We left Beijing by train to Harbin, Hēilóngjiāng Province located in the north-eastern part of China. It is near the Russian border. It is very cold in Beijing, why go further north to even colder weather? The taxi driver told us today has been the coldest to date this year. Well, we wanted to witness the annual International Snow and Ice Festival held in January and February.
The train station are packed with throngs of people as it is nearing the Spring Festival when the whole country goes on a long holiday – the biggest movement of people for a single event. So, it is best to get there early for screening. We had already pre-purchased all our train tickets.
Once outside Beijing, the scene is rural. Surprisingly, the terrain is flat. Now, I related Leo’s stories about the Mongol’s occupation of Beijing. It was snowing in part and the landscape bleak. Navindd pointed out to coal-powered (perhaps nuclear) power station with its unique towers.
Harbin is neat and obviously very cold. Our hostel was nearby the most famous street, Central Street (Zhōngyāngdàjiē). A cobble stone pedestrian street now filled with ice and snow sculptures. At night time, they are all lit like Christmas in the park. This long street begins from the banks of the, now frozen, Songhua River. Life is moves at a slower pace than Beijing but much colder.
Harbin is close to the Russian border (Valdivostok). Hence, there has been a small population of Russians living earlier. The most obvious signs of Russian influence is the beautiful St. Sophia Orthodox Cathedral , now a museum, built in 1907.
The cold, below 30 degrees was bearable with the appropriate layers of clothing. However, the annoying part is, having to remove all the layers every time we entered a shopping mall, restaurant and even the public bus. It gets very hot as all these places are heated. Protect your cameras in sealed plastic bags to aclimatise
One day we decided to go to an ice park, by mistake, as we thought we were going to the Ice festival. We ended up at a park outside Harbin. To make to most, we went skiing. None of us had any experience. We suited up with the gear provided and immediately onto the ski field with a guide. The sun had already set. It was freezing. On a long down hill slope, I fell numerous times. With much difficulty, got up only to fall down on the ice again and again. However, on my second run, I was flying down the slope a a great speed. Fearing for my life, I decided to end this free sprite ride, I tumbled onto the ice to stop. After a few unceremonious tumbles, I was relieved. Now with frozen toes and finger, I fumbled into the office. I was unable to get my gear off due to the unbearable cold. However, there were some ice carvings, all light up. That was my skiing experience!
A great skiing area is Mundajiang, a town few hours out of Harbin towards the Russian border.