6 of the best winter wonderland views in Asia
The illuminated ice sculptures at the Harbin International Ice and Snow festival have been luring people to the Heilongjiang city for almost three decades.
The ice lantern garden party at Zhaolin Park is a festival highlight, featuring close to 1,500 larger-than-life translucent ice structures that shimmer with multicolored lights at night. The ice lanterns are designed with a different theme each year and vary from famous landmarks around the globe, to mythical beasts.
The Harbin International Ice and Snow festival 2011 opens on January 5 and will last for a month.
The Yabuli ski resort, located near Harbin, is a great favorite among powder hounds for having China’s largest ski terrain. Club Med recently opened its first Chinese resort at Yabuli.
Getting there: Travelers can fly in to Harbin from over a dozen domestic airports. There are also international flights to Harbin from Hong Kong, Russia, Niigata, Japan, Seoul, South Korea, Khabarovsk ,Vladivostok and Los Angeles.
Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama, Japan
If you gasped at this picture of how lovely Shirakawa-go looks lit up at night, you’re not alone -- the villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama in Toyama are renowned for their charming winter panorama.
Village huts in the region, built in gassho-zukuri style with steep roofs to prevent snow buildup, are unique in Japan.
Ogimachi Village is the largest village cluster in the region, and has close to a dozen gassho-zukuri farmhouses that have been converted into minshuku, or family-run inns. The owners of Shimizu Inn speak English, making this place one of the most popular among travelers from abroad.
Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama are UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites.
Getting there: To get to Ogimachi, take the JR and get off at Takaoka station. The Kaetsunou bus to Shirakawa-go or Gokayama should reach Ogimachi in around two hours and thirty minutes.
Hokkaido port town Otaru woos tourists with architecture that dates back to the early 20th century, and its canal, which is famously lined with Victorian-style gas lamps.
During the winter festival of Otaru Yuki-Akari-no-Michi, or Otaru Snow Light Path, the city becomes achingly pretty. Locals place floating candles in the canal and distribute close to 15,000 snow candles and lanterns to light up the city's narrow pathways. Illuminated snow sculptures can be found at the Temiya Line site.
Otaru Snow Light Path 2011 falls from February 4 to 13.
Getting there: Otaru is along the JR Hakodate Line from Sapporo. The fastest train from Sapporo is Airport Rapid, which reaches Otaru in half an hour.
Dal Lake, India
During the summer months, Dal Lake draws tourists with shikara (gondola) rides, lavish Victorian houseboats and the Mughal gardens along its banks. In winter, winter-sports enthusiasts descend on the lake and its surrounding areas in search of perfect powder.
The Himalayan state is home to Gulmarg, an increasingly popoular ski resort that is almost perennially blanketed with several feet of fresh powder.
During winter, temperatures at the lake can dip as low as -11 degrees Celcius, and the lake occasionally freezes over, much to the fascination of domestic tourists.
Travelers planning to stay overnight in a houseboat on Dal Lake are advised to book rooms on the spot after checking out the options. Chicago Group of Houseboats and Young Bombay are popular.
Getting there: Dal Lake is located within Srinagar city. To get there, take the train to Jammu, which is located some 300 km away from Dal Lake.
The other-worldly beauty of Huangshan has fascinated China for centuries. Legend has it that Tao priests attained immortality by practicing internal alchemy there. Many call the mountain range the cradle of Chinese art, and the inspiration for Chinese poets.
Many people maintain that winter is the best season to see Huangshan, with rime settling on pine trees, thick reliable snowfall, and a robust sea of cloud visible from hilltops.
Bei Hai, Yupinglou and Yungu are all famous snowy landscape vantage points with hotels on site.
Getting there: There are direct buses running from Shanghai's South Bus Station to the Huanghsan Bus Station in Tunxi, the downtown of Huangshan city. The journey should take around five hours. Alternatively, there are daily flights operating from Shanghai to Huangshan.
Tibet might have a reputation for extreme winters, but some seasoned travelers prefer going then, when tourist crowds are sparser, hotels are cheaper, and they get to gawp at religious devotees making pilgramages to Lhasa.
Travelers who plan their trip around Losar, the Tibetan New Year, get to celebrate with the locals. In Lhasa, Tibetans stage dance performances outside the Potala Palace and hang colored prayer flags on temples and mountaintops during the 15-day festival. Losar’s date shifts yearly on the Western calendar, and will fall on March 5 in 2011.
Monlam, or the Great Prayer Festival, is another winter celebration worth trekking out for. Monks and artisans create colorful butter sculptures and burn them at the Jokhang Temple during the Butter Oil Lantern Festival, a Monlam highlight.
Those wary of Tibet’s infamous cold might want to avoid the northern and western parts of Tibet, which have harsher winter conditions.
Getting there: There are daily trains to Lhasa from Beijing, Xining and Chengdu; all the trains to Lhasa arrive in the evening.