Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Friday, 6 January 2006

In pictures: Magical land of ice and snow

Ice festival

Plunging temperatures and blocks of ice mean only one thing in China's north-eastern city of Harbin - the annual ice and snow festival.

The usual festivities have been dampened by the memory of last November's toxic spill into the Songhua River which poisoned the drinking water of some three million people.

The Harbin festival has become a major tourist attraction and this year the organisers are trying to break a number of World Records, including the biggest ever ice sculpture.

A man dives into the river

But the nation's hardiest swimmers remain undaunted and have taken the plunge into the waters of the Songhua despite the spill and temperatures of minus 20C.

But the main focus is on fun - and when the cold gets a little bit too much, freezing customers can take refuge in an ice bar for a warming slug of vodka, red wine or just tea.

This year's festival has Russia as its theme to kick off the "Russian Culture Year" in 2006 so onion-domed cathedrals and replicas of Red Square...

...and the Winter Palace have replaced traditional Chinese designs.

The sculptures use up 120,000 cubic metres of ice and 80,000 cubic metres of snow.

Despite the woes of last year's toxic scare, Harbin is hoping that the magic of ice will help dispel the winter gloom.

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