I thought I’d written about the DMZ before but apparently not. Oh well, I’ll get to it sometime.
I have a bit of fascination with North Korea. It’s hard not to given it is the most isolated country in the world. Stories in the press talk about how tyrannical a regime it has and I’m not disagreeing but somehow, I get the feeling that there are people – North Korean or otherwise, regardless of wealth and status- who do appreciate the country’s current status. China’s not exactly best known for its human rights records and it’s in a sort of a strange situation in that regard, sharing a border with North Korea.
Previously, I have been to the DMZ in South Korea and the tour does feel incredibly biased. I’ve read too that China is a better entry point to North Korea and they have better diplomatic relations too and I am keen to try that out someday. Our tour guide tells us a week’s tour would cost us something like US$200 if we know the right places. I don’t know if he’s just saying that.
Anyway, there are a few border towns between China and North Korea that we didn’t get to visit. What we did get to visit was Changbaishan, the volcanic mountain range that, according to a Chinese friend, used to belong to North Korea until they sold it off to China.
There are several paths up to the peak of Changbaishan and the mountain’s sacred for many Koreans and is the rumored birthplace of Kim Jong Il (he’s also stated to have superpowers so go figure). Visitors would disembark from their vehicles at the base of the mountain and transfer to a local bus that takes them up to the top. I was told by a friend that there had been accidents where the buses glided right off the roads and into the abysses below but the tour guides made no mention of that. The day we went was rather fogless so that probably helped.
Since it was -30 degrees in winter, the waterfalls are all frozen. The falls aren’t huge but there’s a degree of majesty in how the waters remain as they were at that one moment in time when the weather took a turn for the worse.
Parts of the stream was still flowing and it reminds me of those documentaries of polar bears hunting for prey in the semi-frozen lakes. Up towards the peak, the streams are actually hot springs which remain warm to the touch despite the surrounding cold. While I don’t think anyone sane would strip down for a dive anytime soon, one does wonder how hot the springs get in regular weather.
Snow really reminds me of Mr Softee ice cream cones and people in Northeast China must be pretty used to whipped cream-style snowcaps by now because the locals talk of Snow Village like it’s one of many similar villages in the area. It’s easy to see why that might be so too, given the climate.
There’s a nature reserve in the area which houses what is termed as an underground forest which refers to a forest that’s situated below ‘ground’ level.. Because of how the environment is structured, vegetation and trees ended up growing in an alcove which makes for a sight worthy of many a fantasy novel.
Perhaps the most interesting sight though, is Tianchi (Heaven Lake) located way at the peak. According to our guide, the peak is only fog-free 100 days in a year so we were unbelievably lucky to be there on a completely clear day… albeit one where the lake is frozen over. Half the lake lies over the Chinese border and the other half is North Korean which makes this quite fascinating for its geographical significance.
Supposedly the lake is home to a sea monster but that’s another story for another day.