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Escaping summer heat
( 2003-08-17 15:04) (China Daily)

Although Heilongjiang, China's most northern province, is best known for its ski mountains, ice sculptures and extensive pastures, it is also a wonderful summer resort area to enjoy sightseeing and all sorts of recreational activities.

In scorching August temperatures, you may hike deep into the forests in the frigid-temperate zone to breathe in the cool fresh air.

Grass-skiing, forest-hiking, hot-spring spas and observing wild animals are all good reasons to visit.

Driving east about 56 kilometres from Harbin, the provincial capital, takes you to Erlong (two dragons) Mountains in Binxian County, where two mountains wind around a sizable lake.

At the centre of the lake sits Pearl Island.

The shimmering waves and the shadows of birds cascade off each other. A myriad of ripples appear on the lake as a gentle wind blows and the waves rise and fall to wash against the bottom of the cliff along the lake.

In late August, visitors are able to see the mountains dyed in glorious hues by the mixed forests of coniferous and broad-leaf trees and the valley sparkling with flowers in all the colours of the rainbow.

Shining through the light clouds and the leaves, the afternoon sun casts shadows of varying shapes on the earth.

If you are lucky enough, you could be welcomed by some squirrels jumping from one tree to another to pick nuts.

As for the scenery, there is a legend widely spread among the local people: Long long ago, the king of this place had a pretty daughter called Pearl. A monster wanted to capture Pearl and bring disaster to the kingdom. The king announced that if someone could defeat the monster, the hero could marry his daughter. Two brothers fought together to defeat the beast, but were reluctant to vie for marrying Pearl. The princess was so sad she killed herself, and her soul became the island. The two young men died later and became the two mountains surrounding the lake.

Now, the mountains have become well-known for skiing. In the freezing winter with an average temperature of -15 to -18 C, the snow can be as thick as 30 to 50 centimetres and covers the 300-metre-high mountains. Skiers can enjoy an intoxicating ride here.

In summer, the mountains are transformed into wonderful grass-ski slopes. Beginners can first try the short and level runs, while more experienced enthusiasts can ride the steep and slippery runs on top of the mountains.

With poles in hand, you whistle downhill with the rich, bright green landscape providing a feast for your eyes.

Besides grass-skiing, visitors can also try bungee-jumping from the precipice down to the smooth but deep lake, or climbing nearby cliffs.

Volcanic wonders

Heihe, a bustling border town facing the Amur Prefecture of Russia across the Heilongjiang River and 413 kilometres from Harbin, is most famous for the Wudalianchi scenic volcanic area in the southwest of the city and at the western foot of the Xiao Hinggan Ling Ridge.

The scenery here is spectacular, with oddly shaped peaks, rocks, caves and the sites of a dozen shield-shaped and 14 cone-shaped volcanoes.

If translated word for word, Wudalianchi means "Five Large Connected Lakes."

The lakes were formed after the volcano erupted in this region in 1719-20 (the most recent eruptions), when five streams of molten lava, pouring down from the crater, partially blocked the Baihe River, a branch of the Nemor River.

The five lakes are linked from south to north. Among the five, the third lake from the south is the largest, covering a total area of 8.4 square kilometres, while the second is the deepest, boasting a depth of over 9 metres.

Each lake is a different shape and size from the next. They are natural sinks for many kinds of minerals, and each lake turns a different colour in the sunshine, whether green, blue or yellow.

Seen from above, the five lakes resemble five emeralds inlaid among the 14 volcanoes and encircling Mount Laohei, forming an integral whole with the surrounding landscape.

The best way to visit the lakes is by boat, allowing the opportunity to appreciate the reflection of the heavily wooded mountains on the lake surface.

Mount Laohei, the highest of the 14 peaks in Wudalianchi, is the most frequently-visited dormant volcano in this region. A brisk hike to the peak of the highest volcano rewards you with a panoramic view of the whole area.

The 516-metre-high hill is made up of old black lava and travellers start their trek up to the rim of the hill winding along cracked and lined lava and pumice stone, from the eastern or northern routes.

The hiking itself is pleasant and easy, among lush trees and vegetation, and is unlikely to take you more than an hour. The dense forest of pine and white birch trees grows in the valley casting thick shadows all around, with birds chirping.

The mountains also have a few additional treats, including a number of caves that contain ice sculptures all year round. Entering the caves, you feel as if you're immersed inside a beautiful crystal palace, surrounded by ice sculptures that shine luminously against the colourful lamp light.

The temperature within the caves is generally around -10 C, so you will need to take precautions.

Mineral water

Wudalianchi is also famous for the natural mineral water that gushes from the mountain springs. Among the many springs, the Nanquan, Beiquan and Fanhuaquan are drinkable while Nanxiquan is for bathing.

There are many folk tales about the springs. One says that an Oroqen hunter once shot at a deer. He tracked the injured deer to one of the lakes and saw it bathing its wounds with the water. The deer soon stopped bleeding and ran into the forest. The hunter tasted the cool water, finding it made him much more energetic. Ever since, whenever the hunter felt ill, he came to drink the spring water to recover.

Although it is a legend, Wudalianchi's mineral water now really enjoys a fame in the world equal to Vichy mineral water from France and Caucasus mineral water from Russia.

Scientists say the spring water contains 40 types of minerals, and is very good both for maintaining health and treating ailments. It has been proven to have certain curative effects for a number of diseases.

This has encouraged sanatoriums and health centres to open in the area, receiving thousands of people each year.

'Forest capital'

If you are fascinated with forests and wildlife, you should not miss Wuying National Forest Park and Fenglin Nature Reserve, lying at the southern end of the Xiao Hinggan Ling Ridge, 56 kilometres northeast of Yichun.

Acclaimed as "China's Capital of Forest," and "Home of Korean Pines," Yichun is a world of lush trees in summer.

With an average height of 400 metres above sea level, the Wuying National Forest Park, which covers 141 square kilometres, features trees from the frigid and temperate zones including the Korean pine.

Between 400 to 500 years old, the Korean pines, most of which are taller than 30 metres, block the sun and cast dark shadows on the ground.

The park is part of the Xiao Hinggan Ling Tree Farm, where you can see how the staff of the forestry centre work.

A century-old steam-train, which was used as the area's main transportation in the 1950s and 1960s in the forest, has remained in place for the tourists. You can take the train through the park to view the impressive green scenery.

In both the Wuying Forest Park and the Fenglin Nature Reserve, it's easy for you to see more than 220 species of birds and 63 kinds of wild animals. So never be frightened if you see a Siberian Tiger in the distance.

If you still have time, Pingshan Forest Park is a good ecotourism destination worthy of visiting.

The place is blessed with beautiful mountains, luxuriant vegetation, clear water and fresh air.

About 40 minutes drive southeast of Harbin, the 462-hectare park in Acheng City is the largest deer farm in the country. More than 600 red deer and sika deer have made their homes here.

Bathed in afternoon sunshine, you can take a seat on the grass to find deer a very short distance from you.

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