Can’t face the distance, price gouging and arctic conditions of Harbin’s Ice Festival? Fortunately, the industrious residents of Longqing Gorge have established a worthy alternative: the Longqing Gorge Ice Sculpture Arts Festival, which attracts visitors in the dark heart of winter, while providing Beijingers with a comparatively convenient and high-value winter wonderland.
The ephemeral statuary on display is made entirely from ice drawn from the adjacent reservoir. Clean and translucent, the ice glows lucidly in the evenings. As a compliment to such time-honored ice park standards as Lego-land ice block structures, in the past, Longqinghas displayed ice dragons, ice mushrooms, a giant ice Chinese chessboard, an ice maze and even a plastic 101 Dalmatians display with blinking eyes. If you count filing copyright infringement lawsuits against Chinese villagers among your hobbies, Longqing Gorge Ice Sculpture Festival is definitely for you.
For speed freaks, the ice park offers a long ice toboggan ride and a freeze-burn-your-britches ice slide.
All of these treats are a warm up for the biggest attraction: the international ice and snow sculpture competition, usually housed in a tent. Expect several constellations made up of large ice structures around which orbit smaller human-sized sculptures. The most impressiveaspect of the festival, these hand-carved sculptures depict all manner of animals, birds, sea critters and legendary beings. Whether they’re sphinxes and mermaids or buzzards and dancers, the local ice chiselers’ skill, sense of humor and imagination are on full display.
In fact, this wealth of artistic talent might just make Harbin blush. This is not entirely surprising if you know that Longqing’s ice slangershave held the festival for over 20 years. The modest display of "fossilized" crabs, fish and crawdads frozen into blocks of ice, waiting to be served in the spring at a local restaurant, reveals a festival-freezer type of innovative thinking.
The most beautiful feature of the ice park is probably the "natural"frozen waterfall dripping down from the dam wall. This eyeful of bristling ice sabers creeps down gracefully about 20 meters, looming over a mock plum tree in full blossom. Who would have thought that scarlet-dyed corn kernels masquerading as plum flowers could bring tears to your eyes? The scene achieves an idyllic harmony by combining the artistic energy of water, humans and vegetables. It is the perfect aesthetic climax to a far-out day.
Baihua Cave 百花洞
The 320m long cave, named Hundred Flower Cave in English, claims to house over 1,650 types of flowers, shrubs and trees. In reality, the flowers are fake but if you love Chinese kitsch,you’ll adore this spectacle. (RMB 10)
Shenxianyuan Temple 神仙院
Shenxianyuan Temple is also known as Immortal Temple. See if you can spot the stones on the cliff that resemble a chessboard. Also worth noting is the tree that lies near the cliff’s edge. Supposedly, rubbing against the trunk of this tree cures illnesses but getting close enough is extremely dangerous as the tree leans out over the cliff face, thus resulting in potential injury. Ah, the irony. (RMB 30)
Jingang Temple 金刚寺
Look out for a hill that resembles a pen dipping gently into the water as if it were a pool of ink. Close by, there is a karst cave, called Minting Coins Stove. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), two brothers created fake money here in an effort to save the poor. (RMB 10)
1. Longqing Gorge is close enough to Beijing for a day trip, but staying overnight is advised, especially if you are going there by public transport.
2. Stay warm and don’t forget to pack a hat, gloves or mittens, a scarf and warm socks.
3. Visit the ice festival after dark. Seeing the ice sculptures lit up at night is well worth braving the bitter cold.
Wang Gui Feng Nonjiayuan
A restaurant famous for its farmyard-style casserole (香土火盆锅). It’s a traditional winter dish in Yanqing County consisting mainly of tofu, cabbage and streaky bacon cooked over an open stove. Accommodation is also available here for less than RMB 100 per night (slightly more expensive on weekends).
27 Guchengdajie, Guchengcun, Jiuxian Town Yanqing County (6919 1329 Chinese only); 延庆县旧县镇古城村古城大街27号王桂凤农家院
Wang Jia Diyidayuan
Savor some delicious and hearty casseroles. Accommodation is available here for less than RMB 100 per night (slightly more expensive on weekends).
53 Guchengdajie, Guchengcun, Jiuxian Town Yanqing County (6919 1625, Chinese only); 延庆县旧县镇古城村古城大街53号王家第一大院
The area has some small guesthouses and hotels that cost an average of RMB 100-200 a night. Consider Happy Holiday Hotel (three stars) for something more "upscale". A standard double room starts at RMB 338 per night.
Happy Holiday Hotel. Longqing Gorge, Yanqing (5105 5555/5688/5086, Chinese only) www.happyholiday.com.cn (Chinese); 北京快乐假日大酒店
Longqing Gorge Ice Sculpture Arts Festival
Daily mid Jan-late Feb. 8.30am-9.30pm. RMB 100 (adults), RMB 50 (senior citizens and students), free (kids under 1.2m). (6919 1020, Chinese)
Located 90km northwest of Beijing.
By bus: Take bus 8 from the 328 bus station near Qianmen and Andingmen subway stops (weekends only). Alternatively, take bus 919 from Deshengmen to Yanqing County (延庆县), then change to bus 920 to Longqing Gorge.
By train: Take the S2 diesel train from Beijing North station to Yanqing County and get off at Nan Ciaoyuan station (南菜园站), then change to bus 920 to Longqing Gorge.
By car: Take the Badaling Expressway (八达岭高速公路) to Yanqing, then get onto the Jingzhang Highway (京张高速公路) and follow the signposts to Longqing Gorge.