'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade' - This certainly seems to be the motto of the people of Harbin, one of China's coldest cities, where temperatures can dip as low as -4° Fahrenheit (-20° Celsius). That's because instead of hibernating during the coldest months of the year, they host one of the world's largest and most spectacular Ice and Snow Festivals.
Now in its 28th year, the month-long festival that opened its doors on January 5th, is sprawled out over 150 acres. In the past, the themes have ranged from ancient Chinese culture to Disney characters. This year, as a tribute to the record number of Chinese nationals who visited Russia in 2011, the festival is dedicated to carving the beautiful country - entirely from ice!
Just as in the past, local and international sculptors from all over the world hand carved the amazing life-size sculptures and buildings using compressed snow and blocks of ice sawn off from the surface of the nearby Songhua River. To ensure that they look equally spectacular at night, the creations were enhanced with decorations like traditional lanterns, high technology laser beams and even colorful lights, embedded inside the ice. The result as you can see, is a magical winter wonderland that mesmerizes visitors.
While the first Harbin festival took place almost 50 years ago in 1963, it was put to a halt after only a few years during China's cultural revolution. In 1985, the locals decided to resurrect the event and things have never looked better - The sculptures have become increasingly more complex and the event more popular. Last year's event which cost $900,000 USD attracted over 1 million visitors. This year's festival, which has cost twice as much, is expected to bring in even more people.
Besides admiring the sparkling sculptures and even sliding down some of them, visitors can participate in a range of activities that include hot-air ballooning, ice sculpture competitions, ice swimming, as well as, other winter-related sports and even . . . . . . . get married. For it seems that the festival's group wedding has become a favorite way for couples from all over the world to tie the knot.
Though the official start date for the month-long event is January 5th, visitors can get a sneak peak at the sculptures much before that and often after the closing date of February 5th, as long as, the weather co-operates and doesn't turn all the hard work into wet mush!
Resources: uk.ibtimes.com, nj.com-thestar ledger