One might expect people living in subzero temperatures to escape to some warmer destinations or simply, hibernate. But the residents of Harbin in Northeast China do neither. They instead turn the hostile icy environment into such an amazing winter wonderland that millions of tourists from all over the world actually brave the chilly temperatures to experience it.
Now in its 29th year, the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow festival did not officially open until January 5th. However, many visitors arrived early to try catch a glimpse of the hundreds of sculptors putting the finishing touches on their life-sized creations. And, they were not disappointed!
That's because just like previous years the over 2,000 ice and snow sculptures carved by the world's best artists featured some astounding works of art. Among the most outstanding ones is a 'Crystal Castle', that stands a whopping forty-eight meters tall, an idiosyncratic 'thermometer' that reaches high up in the sky and an impressive 'Snow and ice World' that closely resembles a Disney theme park. What's even more stunning is that all these sculptures were created within the assigned two week window.
Though the intricate carvings are impressive what is even more so, is their size - Even the smallest buildings make a normal person appear pint-sized in comparison. While the white sculptures look spectacular during the day, they are even more magical at night thanks to the bright colorful lights that are embedded inside and the firework displays that light up the skies.
For those that are seeking out something more daring and active there is zip-lining, an organized swim in the nearby frozen Songhua River and even ice golf and ice archery. To keep their younger patrons happy, the officials offer a myriad of activities ranging from sledding to giant ice slides and even mini-trains that traverse through the woods.
Believed to be one of the largest in the world, the popular ice and snow festival first took place in 1963. However, it was forced to take a hiatus shortly after, during China's decade long Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In fact, it was not until 1985 that the locals decided to resurrect the event and they are probably glad they did.
That's because over the years the festival has become increasingly popular both in its homeland country, as well as, the world. Last year, the event attracted over a million visitors and the number can only increase for the 2013 event which will remain open until February 28th. Not a bad achievement for a place that is nicknamed 'Ice City' thanks to its bone-chilling January temperature that averages -1°F (-18°C)!
Resources: telegraph.co.uk, chinadaily.com, atlasobscura.com