A place where rein­deer reign dear

China Daily - - LIFE - By XU LIN and YUAN HUI lengji yis­aren

Vis­i­tors to one of China’s chill­i­est des­ti­na­tions can en­joy scald­ing hot­pot in the open air and fla­vored ice for dessert.

Some bold male vis­i­tors strip down to their waists for pho­tos in front of ice walls.

Lengjid­ian in the In­ner Mon­go­lia au­tonomous re­gion’s Genhe city holds the record for the coun­try’s low­est recorded tem­per­a­ture — that is, -58 C in 2009.

The Na­tional Cli­mate Cen­ter re­cently is­sued a cer­tifi­cate to Genhe city as China’s (“the pole of cold” in Chi­nese), after an as­sess­ment by ex­perts.

Its moun­tain­ous land­scape is sheathed in snow, and trees are coated with rime.

The near­est vil­lage to Lengjid­ian is called Lengji, about 13 kilo­me­ters away from the “pole”. It draws vis­i­tors who en­joy farm stays, lo­cal cui­sine and dog sleds.

The set­tle­ment was a forestry­op­er­ated tim­ber­land un­til the com­mer­cial felling of trees was banned in 2015.

A huge ther­mome­ter an­nounces the tem­per­a­ture near the vil­lage gate. Win­ters hover around -40 C.

Genhe’s Aoluguya Ewenki eth­nic town­ship is home to China’s only rein­deer-herd­ing tribe. The an­i­mals were their main mode of trans­port un­til the 1950s.

The roughly 300 mem­bers of the lo­cal Ewenki tribal branch raise about 1,200 of the deer.

China be­came the ninth coun­try to join the As­so­ci­a­tion of World Rein­deer Herders when Aoluguya be­came a mem­ber in 2008.

Vil­lagers were re­lo­cated out­side of the forests to pro­tect the wood­lands and im­prove their liveli­hoods in 2003. Many work in the tourism in­dus­try. Some rein­deer.

Vis­i­tors can en­joy bon­fire par­ties, watch rein­deer-sled races and learn about the herd­ing cul­ture.

They can also send post­cards fea­tur­ing rein­deer from the Christ­mas post of­fice.

Genhe city is next to Oro­qen au­tonomous ban­ner. It’s said to be the birth­place of Xian­bei, an ex­tinct an­cient eth­nic group.

It’s to­day home to the Oro­qen peo­ple, an­other eth­nic group with a small pop­u­la­tion in In­ner Mon­go­lia.

The Oro­qen peo­ple in tra­di­tional at­tire per­form shamanic rit­u­als to of­fer sac­ri­fices to the god of fire at the an­nual (“as­sem­bly” in the Oro­qen lan­guage) ice-and­snow fes­ti­val held be­tween De­cem­ber and March.

Vis­i­tors can en­joy large ice sculp­tures, ride on horses with hunters (guns were banned years ago) and visit the Oro­qen eth­nic­cul­ture still raise mu­seum.

They can also join such win­ter sports as horse-sleigh rid­ing, hik­ing and a lo­cal ver­sion of soc­cer.

The Oro­qen peo­ple make such house­hold uten­sils as bowls from birch bark. This ne­ces­sity has evolved into sou­venirs for vis­i­tors.

The gov­ern­ment sup­ports the tra­di­tion’s preser­va­tion and pro­mo­tion.

“Tourists pre­fer birch-bark hand­i­crafts made us­ing tra­di­tional tech­niques, be­cause they’re stitched with horse hair rather than glue,” says 37-year-old He Lei, whose aunt taught him the craft as a child.

“Worms won’t eat them. And they’re good for stor­ing tea.”

Vis­i­tors who make the jour­ney to Genhe city and Oro­qen au­tonomous Ban­ner in win­ter will dis­cover how its cold cli­mate has shaped Ewenki and Oro­qen cul­tures, and they can ex­pe­ri­ence the warmth of its peo­ple.

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