Discover your inner zen on a stroll through the park next to Xi’an’s Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
Take a snowy train journey from Beijing across 1,200 kilometres of frozen northern China and you’ll eventually arrive in Harbin, capital of China’s northernmost province Heilongjiang. Its location is somewhat bleak, flanked as it is by Inner Mongolia, Siberia and, erm, North Korea and its climate is one of the harshest in Asia with winter tempertaures dropping to -30ºc and beyond.
So why would anyone make the journey up here? Well, apart from the attractive Russian architecture and laid-back European vibe, every winter Harbin plays host to an incredible ice sculpture festival. Now in its seventeenth year, the festival has grown to become the biggest of its kind in the world, surpassing similar events in Norway and Canada. Each year takes a different theme – in 2016 it was The Silk Road – and sculptors from around the world travel to Harbin to exhibit their work, the result being a spectacular, beautiful city crafted entirely from ice.
©Square Lamb 2016. All rights reserved.
I’ve done a fair bit of travelling, tramping through time zones and crossing cultures and continents, and I think it’s safe to say that in all those journeys I’ve never encountered a city so utterly devoid of appeal as Beijing. Dour, drab and overcrowded, the Chinese capital seems – like Brasilia or Rabat – to serve mainly as the political and administrative centre of the country whilst leaving all the sparkle and shine to the likes of Shanghai. Even its name conjures up images of smog and communism (unlike its predecessor Peking which conjured images of brightly coloured ducks). Sadly, whenever I did see something interesting or pretty – the traditional old hutong (alleyways) or Tianenmen Square – it was invariably so jam-packed with pushing, jostling tourists that I was unable to appreciate it properly. This made it rather difficult for me to photograph: my main aim as a photographer is to capture the little moments of everyday magic happening all around me and my best shots are taken in places that charm and inspire me, and Beijing failed on both counts. Nevertheless I did my very best to capture the essence of the place, such as it is; I visited the tourist attractions as detailed by the usual travel guides, went off the beaten track a bit in search of flea markets and street art…but I was unable to enter the Forbidden City as, apparently, all the tickets had sold out by midday: a fact you might want to bear in mind if you’re planning a trip there.
Despite it’s many shortcomings, however, Beijing does have one glorious, shining, 6000-mile-long jewel in its tarnished crown: the Great Wall of China – which made the trip well worth it. Apart from that, here’s a motley selection of photos from a city which I am thoroughly looking forward to never visiting again!
Guards outside the Gate of Heavenly Peace