City that Played a Role in the Russo-Japanese War Now a Tourist Hot-Spot
HARBIN the hotspot
May 21 2015
The capital of Heilongjiang province in the north of China is a mix of historical and adventurous sights
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.