Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Beidaihe Wetlands

A visit to Beidaihe was definitely not on the cards when we set off last weekend. Our actual destination was the Shanhaiguan Pass, located at Qinhuangdou, the north eastern coastal shore of Beijing at Hebei Province.

Shanhaiguan Pass literally meaning “Mountain and Sea Pass” is the first pass for the Great Wall of China on the eastern front, where the Wall ends 20 meters into the sea. (More of that in the next post).

We stumbled upon Beidaihe on our way looking for a place to stay after visiting Shanhaiguan. Most of the hotels at Qinhuangdao were really expensive and there is only one international chain hotel, namely the Holiday Inn and a simple deluxe twin bed room was quoted at RMB950, which is even more expensive than that located in Beijing.

Calls made by our driver cum tour guide cum friend, found the newly opened 5 star Sheraton Hotel and apartments (by the same developer) at Beidaihe. We took a three room apartment which was just opened 2 months ago for only RMB768 (RM380).

Beidaihe, is a coastal summer resort located approximately 3 hours drive from Beijing. This is apparently where most of the locals, especially government officials and the well-to-do Chinese go for their summer and beach vacation to relax. There were plenty of local hotels and the town was brightly lighted up with bulbs of every colour possible. Judging from the Russian words that were put up everywhere as well as a fair amount of Russian tourists also suggest that this is a rather popular tourist destination for the Russians.

The beach which is the main reason for most that were there is not exactly what we expect. Having seen better beaches back home in Malaysia, not to mention the exotic ones located at Bintan Island or Maldives, we find the beaches rather dirty, rough yellow sand with murky waters. Resigned to the fact that there is nothing much to see, we had our breakfast and decided to drive around town for one last time, before we go back to our hotel, packing our bags heading back to Beijing.
 And then, there she was, the vast wetlands of Beidaihe, stretching out to the Bohai Sea. And there were group of photographers along the stretch with their tripods and umbrellas focussing on something out there. I had to stop to see. I told our driver to drop me there and come back to pick me up later. I hurriedly got down, got my gear and made my way towards the sight of the wetlands. As I got closer, I realised the subjects that got the attention of all these photographers….BIRDS of various species.
These are bird watchers and nature photographers and most seemed rather serious in their passion if not professionals. Expensive cameras mounted on sturdy and huge tripods and lens longer than my arm and thicker than my thigh, lens and cameras that I can only dream about.
The longest range camera I had was only my Nikkor 18-105mm kit lens and I have to make do, since bird photography has never been my forte or my interest. I was there for the scenery and my Sigma 11-20mm f3.5 wide angle and my kit lens would be just perfect for those.
Beidaihe is supposed to have nice and clear skies with a mild climate all year round. Unfortunately, that was certainly not the case when I was there. The skies were overcast and gloomy, blanketed by a thick layer of smog that covered the clear blue skies and made everything in the distance blurry.

As a photographer for landscape, this could not have been a worst case scenario. I don’t mind overcast and gloomy skies with dramatic rain clouds brewing but a dull grey sky has really nothing much to offer.

Looking at the wetland, I can only imagine how much more mesmerizing and amazing she would have been if only I catch her on a bright sunny day, with blue skies and cloud formation clearly reflected on the still waters, intermittently disturbed by flocks of white cranes and birds that I don’t even recognise, landing, basking and picking up small fishes (I presumed) and taking off in beautiful formation.

But there are still plenty to focus on despite the setbacks.
I found out later that Beidaihe is THE PLACE in CHINA and also one of the four havens for bird watchers in the world because of variety and numbers of migratory birds that come by here at different times of the year. Honestly, I have never seen large flocks of wild white cranes anywhere else, so free and uninhibited.

Dachaoping where I happened to chance upon is reputed to be the best spot in Beidaihe and rightly so, judging from the beauty of the landscape and the sheer number of birds there. 
It is easy to get totally lost in the vast piece of breathtaking landscape and sometimes forget, what some other professional photographers termed as `supporting cast’. I closed my eyes for a moment and when I reopened them, I saw other parts of this beautiful place, like the two below, a small patch of tiny white flowers `screaming’ as they were, wanting recognition among the long orange and red weeds  ……

and the lines of very green shady trees next to the wetlands.

This is not exactly a place where most foreign visitors visiting Beijing would end up due to her location and neither would I recommend you to come all the way here just for the wetlands, especially if you are not a bird enthusiast and you have very few days to spent in Beijing. But I am glad that I have stumbled upon a gem and an opportunity to have pictures to remember her by.

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