Harbin – The Winter Wonderland

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When my husband first suggested that we visit the Northern Chinese city of Harbin to see the famous ‘Harbin Ice and Snow festival’, I must admit I wasn’t too enthusiastic. My lack of enthusiasm was because, if I were to describe myself, I am a total sun and beach bunny and I am not a fan of cold weather. The average temperature in Harbin in January is about minus 25 degrees centigrade! Since he was so enthusiastic, and since I saw pictures of the festival on the internet that was fascinating, I reluctantly agreed.

I started preparing for the trip by reading up what other’s who had visited had to say about how they braved the weather and about the festival itself. I read several blogs that mentioned the ideal clothing for Harbin. I shopped for warm clothes and shoes based on my reading. I was also concerned about exposing our three year old daughter to those extreme weather conditions.

The day when we had to leave finally arrived. It is a three hour flight from Shanghai. On landing in Harbin airport, I started bracing myself up to step out of the airport. We were all well bundled and padded up, however, the cold winds that hit my face were signs of things to come. We reached our hotel, which was very warm and comfortable. Harbin has central heating facilities and almost all indoor areas are heated.

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When we first arrived at the Ice and Snow festival (it is outside the city) what we witnessed was something words cannot capture. I realized that all the pictures that I had seen so far didn’t do justice to what had just unfolded in front of my eyes. It was mind boggling to see how artists had created intricate structures with ice blocks taken from a frozen river. They had carved out famous buildings from across the world and wonderful figurines. The magnificence of the structures made me forget the minus 25 degree temperature for a while. It was like an entire city built in ice! I felt like Alice in wonderland! They had also created the world’s longest slide in ice. Our three year old daughter seemed to enjoy the snow too! As the sun sets, these structures start lighting up (LED lights are fixed inside the structures) and it creates a magical sight. The experience of having witnessed this winter marvel will stay with me forever and I consider it one of the best experiences in my life.

I’d like to share some tips on how to prepare for a trip to Harbin. Although I can say that nothing really prepares you for it, these tips maybe helpful to survive the cold.

Don’t let the cold put you off from visiting this winter wonderland. One can easily brave it. The ice and snow park has many eateries where one can go and take breaks from the cold.

Keep a thermos flask filled with hot water and keep sipping some.

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Dress in at least 5 layers –For the top half of the body, woollen thermal underwear, with a nice, thick plaid shirt, woollen sweater and preferably a down jacket that comes below your waist. For the bottom half of the body, woollen thermal underwear, and thick pants like corduroy pants or woollen pants. 2 pairs of thick socks and good snow boots. Shoes require good grip as walking on snow and ice can be slippery. The typical Chinese hat with ear flaps is ideal to cover the head. Wear a thick woollen scarf around your neck. 2 pairs of gloves are required to keep your hands warm. One can also use heat pads in socks and inside gloves. Using a mask is advisable to protect the nose from freezing. If you are travelling with young children, remember to dress them up in one more layer than yourself.

Keep taking breaks to go indoors and warming yourself up. A 20 minute break helps you to stay out for about half an hour.

Charge your phone/camera batteries fully and if possible keep spare batteries as taking pictures in such cold temperatures tends to drain the batteries much quicker than usual. Also remember not to use flash while taking pictures. Use of flash kills the battery almost instantly.

Carry plenty of moisturiser for the entire body. The skin tends to become dry very fast. Also carry plenty of lip balm.

Overall, Harbin I would say is a must visit place if you are visiting China during the winters.

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