City that Played a Role in the Russo-Japanese War Now a Tourist Hot-Spot


HARBIN the hotspot

Tags: Getaways

The capital of Heilongjiang province in the north of China is a mix of historical and adventurous sights

HARBIN the hotspot

Sightseeing in a Chinese city normally involves going around man made attractions unless it’s a historical city like Xi’an or Beijing. Harbin, the capital of China’s Heilongjiang province in the north, bordering Russia, has a combination of both.Like, for instance, the Unit 731 museum that reminds the Chinese people of Japanese atrocities towards them. Like the Nazi concentration camps of Europe, this one too has been turned into a memorial. With notes, photos, videos and other displays, the place has the feel of death and torture all around. There are also audio guides for visitors that help to understand what went on there. History, at times, can be so painful.

Moving from the sombre to the spectacular, there is the marvellous St Sophia cathedral. This cathedral should be visited twice — once during the day to understand its design and construction and to visit the museum that it currently is, and once again in the evening to enjoy its illumination and the lovely musical fountains around the square. The church was first built in 1907 for Russian soldiers who returned after they were defeated by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese war. This beautiful edifice is very similar to St Basil’s in Moscow but not as coloruful. The predominant colorus in St Sophia are brick red and a dark shade of green.

Incidentally, another illuminated structure — the grand Flood Memorial Tower on the banks of the Songhua River —- is quite impressive as well. Harbin’s most happening place is Zhongyang Dajie, the ‘no vehicles’ and ‘pedestrians only’ cobbled street that leads up to the memorial tower. The road is full of life with stores lined up on both sides selling Russian ware — from vodka to Matryoshka dolls — as well as a significant representation of American designer labels. But the highlight of this street are its two elaborate food courts and the variety of snacks and desserts available are just great! Hundreds of stalls sell a variety of local delicacies — fried, sautéed, stir fried, steamed or just ready to eat.

Out of the hustle and bustle of the city is the gorgeous Sun Island Park — the venue for the famous ice carving festival. Battery-operated trolley cars are available to take visitors around but most people prefer to walk. The park is basically a nice place to stroll around and have fun in the water slides. But the best thing here is the ice carving museum that’s open round the year. There’s a mind boggling variety of snow sculptures and ice carvings of people, animals, castles and temples. Pride of place, though, goes to the huge Peking Opera Mask Heads with the exact colour combinations of the original.

Away from the park and the city is the Siberia Tiger Park. Along with tickets to the park, visitors can also buy food for the tigers — chicken, beef, goat etc. A minibus with large windows took us around the park which was a big open area with electrically operated gates in between. It was a great drive — the scores of tigers, all well fed, relaxed in the sun, some roamed around lazily, some played with each other and some even tried to climb up our bus. At one point during our drive, it was feeding time and we watched closely how a jeep drove in and the driver started to throw the meat. The tigers snapped up the food with amazing agility — no fighting or snatching from each other in a protected, secured, fair-share-for-all environment.

After the drive, we visited the protected wired bridge to check out the other inhabitants— lions, white tigers, leopards, cheetahs and jaguars.

All in all, the holiday in Harbin was well spent with sightseeing, eating, shopping, and of course, the final encounter with the big cats.




About B Kranzler

Bryna Kranzler is a graduate of Barnard College and Yale University. At Barnard, where she studied playwriting, she received the Helen Prince Memorial Prize for Dramatic Composition. Her first play was a finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Competition, and was scheduled for production twice: the first time, the theater owner died, and the season was shut down; the second time, the director committed suicide. For the benefit of the arts community, she got out of playwriting and earned an MBA from Yale University to make up for her misspent youth. She spent 15 years in marketing for health-care, high tech and consumer products companies before returning to writing. The Accidental Anarchist is the winner of multiple awards, including the 2012 Sharp Writ Book Award for General Non-Fiction, the 2012 Readers Favorite Award for Historical/Cultural Non-Fiction, the 2012 International Book Award, and National Indie Excellence Award for a Historical Biography, and the 2011 “USA Best Books” Award for a Historical Biography.

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