Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Most people travel to Changbaishan National Nature Reserve in Jilin province to see the famous 'Heaven Lake'. The pristine body of water sits within an epic volcano like tea in a cup and is surrounded by acres of protected reserves. The lake is also split down the middle to mark the border between China and North Korea. I have five days left until my foray into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, but that story comes later.

It's a big task to get to Changbaishan, so when you arrive you feel compelled to make the most out of it. Several days of harrowing bus and train rides led us to the big city of Shenyang, then the tiny town of Baihe, and from there we made our way to the reserve. Like most big attractions in China, the ticket prices are unpredictable if not high, and the crowds are swarming and unavoidable. But like most crowds in China, they all follow the same road. This places blesses the open-eyed, and slight detours will reward you with solitary enjoyment of a space in time which is nothing short of inspirational. We took a right turn from the Changbai waterfall (the longest volcanic waterfall in the world) and found ourselves unaccompanied on a serene boardwalk - totally alone for almost an hour.

When we finally met back up on the stone path with rest of the reserve patrons, we stopped for an impromptu picnic of Oreos and jelly fruit cups and leftover breakfast buns. We stumbled into some crazy-hot hot springs, wandered off the track down to a raging river and simply enjoyed breathing the clean country air all the while. I get the feeling a lot of people go just to see the lake and the DPRK border, but the reserve itself as an entity is a bank of natural wonder - the majority of which continuously goes untapped.

We were exhausted by the time we reached the lake itself, but climbing the crescent, and having that incredible expanse of water virtually materialise in front of us, well, it reinvigorated us. I feel as though looking down the volcano walls was like looking down and back through time. The water sparkled in places for apparently no reason. The rocks were magnificent and came in colours and shapes like nothing from this world. I would not have been surprised if I saw a pterodactyl swoop overhead - or a Nazgul for that matter. Any manner of creature could have surfaced in that unbroken mirror of water, and I would have believed it. The Heaven Lake is almost magical. Standing so far from the water's edge, simply ogling, I sure felt like a muggle.

It was wondrous. Truly wondrous.

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