By He Na (China Daily)
A lake in the crater, Tianchi is the most beautiful part of Mount Changbai which straddles China and the DPRK. Zhu Xingxin / China Daily
He Na travels to Mount Changbai in Northeast China's Jilin province in search of mythical beasties.
One of my favorite films is The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (2007), which tells the story of friendship between a little boy and his unusual dinosaur buddy. The fabled Loch Ness Monster depicted in the film is an alleged plesiosaur-like creature, living in Loch Ness, a long, deep lake near Inverness in Scotland.
I am always looking out for a chance to pay a visit to the monster's home, but Scotland is too far away.
Recently, a piece of news about a college student who claimed that she shot an image of a water monster at Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) on Mount Changbai in Northeast China's Jilin province aroused my curiosity about lake monsters again.
Statistics from the Mount Changbai Tianchi Monster Research Center show that more than 1,000 tourists from home and abroad claim to have witnessed the Tianchi monster during the past 30 years, among which a dozen lucky ones took photos and/or video. However, there is still no conclusive evidence of the beast's existence.
Fascinated by the possibility of seeing the water monster myself, I decided to visit Mount Changbai.
I spent three days among breathtaking scenery that made me linger without any thought of leaving.
Mount Changbai is situated in Antu county of the Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture in Jilin province, an area that borders the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the south.
A dormant volcano, the mountain boasts rare animals, marvelous lakes, amazing hot springs, and rolling coniferous forests.
The most beautiful part of Mount Changbai is undoubtedly Tianchi, a lake which was formed in the crater of the volcano.
At 2,189 meters above sea level and with an average temperature of 7.3 C, the lake is the source of the Songhua, Tumen and Yalu rivers.
How to experience all four seasons in a short time? The climb from the foot of the mountain to the volcano lake is one way. You will not only observe the obvious change in plant life as you climb higher, but will also feel the astonishing variations in temperature.
I was wearing shorts and T-shirt and had slapped on a thick layer of sun lotion at the foot of the mountain because it was very hot. However, the higher I climbed, the colder I felt. I couldn't help but put on my jacket.
At the foot of the mountain, there was still a cloudless blue sky. Sunshine was everywhere. But on the way to the lake, the sky over my head became gray with clouds, a cold wind sprang up and it began raining. Some other visitors had already put on down clothes inside their raincoats, and I really regretted that I missed the advice of our tour guide.
Walking along the shores of the Tianchi is a very interesting experience, as it's common for sunshine and rain to occur at the same time. It may be raining hard one minute, then you'll find the sun shining warmly the next. Sometimes, you can even watch rain in the west and sunshine in the east simultaneously.
The changeable weather on the mountain means that even if you start out on a sunny morning, it's more than likely that you'll be walking in the rain by the time you reach the summit.
Local people believe that in the face of Tianchi, everyone is equal and there are no differences. Tianchi only shows her face to those she loves. Our tour guide said that a former State leader had been to Tianchi four times, and only on his last visit was he able to enjoy a clear view of the lake.
Maybe Tianchi was moved by my strong will to follow the monster story.
The clouds suddenly disappeared when we arrived at Tianchi, and the sky was like jade. The water was bright blue and flawless. The surface of the lake was marble-calm without any ripples. It was like a fairyland that can only be found in tales, or else, I was dreaming.
But I was not lucky enough to see both the lake and the water monster in that morning.
At present, there are three routes to Tianchi, from the northern, western and southern slopes respectively.
If visitors want to enjoy the beautiful alpine flowers that bloom along the borders of the DPRK, the entrance from the southern slope is highly recommended.
I climbed the mountain twice in two days by the northern and western slopes respectively. If you have enough time, I strongly advise you to try at least two different routes to appreciate the beauty of the mountain from different angles and viewpoints.
In addition to Tianchi, there are a number of other attractions, which you should not miss:
Changbai Waterfall, hanging 68 meters down a cliff, is one of the highest volcanic waterfalls in the world. Watching it from afar, it appears like a white ribbon suspended in mid-air. As you approach, you can hear the loud roar and feel the chill of the water.
Changbai hot springs is another major attraction. A special chemical found in the area means that the rocks around the hot springs have been dyed bright colors. Most of the springs have temperatures higher than 60 C, with hottest reaching 82 C. That's seen Hot Spring Eggs become a unique treat for visitors. Visitors can also bathe in the hot springs which are very effective in the treatment of some ailments, such as arthritis.
During the peak season, from June through September, hundreds of flowers bloom on the southern and western slopes. It is very cool on Mount Changbai, so it's an ideal place to escape from the summer heat.
The locals say that it often starts snowing in October, and the best time to view the snow and to ski is between November to March. The ice and snow begin to thaw from April onward, but visitors can still find snow in the region in May.